Jakub Koucký is an adventurer who dives into everything head first. He never gets bored, loves adrenaline and especially lovers water and the sea. He’s been in a wheelchair since birth, but still manages to do more things than most able-bodied people. He got completely hooked on yachting, which levels the playing field on board.
We talked about what it's like having a disability on a yacht, but also about travelling, sharks, diving and barriers. About those in cities and those we have in our minds. Get inspired. Setting sail and fulfilling your dream is easier than you might think!
Jakub was in one of the crews of the popular Trabant expedition across the Pacific
How did it come about, sailing for the first time? Was it always a dream of yours?
That's many years back. I’ve always enjoyed the water. And indeed all sports. 11 years ago we founded a non-profit organization dedicated to adrenaline activities. And that led me to water more and more. I started to ride on water skis, on rafts ...
And then came diving and everything water-related. All I had left to do was yachting. It was relatively inaccessible at the time, and nobody had much experience doing it. And then, by chance, I met a man who rode a yacht every year. So we agreed to give it a try.
How did it turn out?
And it’s there that I found out that it didn’t take much to be able to control the whole ship. All it takes is for the winch and everything else to be to hand at the back, and then a wheelchair user can not only sail, but actively engage in all things, driving, controlling the sails. Which of course I regularly do.
We were together in Croatia for the first time about 9 years ago . It was an autumn cruise, so sailing with all the trappings, no relaxing holiday or sunbathing, it was really all about sailing.
Stačí docela málo, aby vozíčkář mohl ovládat celou loď
Do you have a skipper's license?
I plan to do it in the autumn.. I'm curious if there are any restrictions on wheelchair users doing it. In other sports, it’s been dealt with a lot, for example, in diving.
The limitations of diving are probably less than on a yacht?
Diving is incredible freedom. It doesn’t matter how much a person weighs or drags on their backs, they can move easily in all directions.
And how do you get around on a yacht?
I board, throw the chair to the stern and move about with my hands. For me it is not a problem, I don't mind it at all.
Being used to it since childhood makes it natural for you?
Yes, and I did a lot of sports and different activities, so I can handle it. For many it's unimaginable being a week without a wheelchair, moving about only minimally. But is that any reason not to go?
I've persuaded people to do a lot of activities and they’re always looking for reasons why not to do it. Eventually they do it and they love it. They discover they can just handle it.
So it's possible for several disabled people to be on board, even when it's beyond their imagination?
Definitely yeah. I usually go with a crew, where half are able-bodied and the other half have a disability. I'm the most wheelchair-bound. And then there are things that need to be sorted out. For example, maybe someone can't get out of the sea to the ship, so that has to be sorted out. They could invent ships with a type of crane, but I think that's how it has its charm and there's no need to adjust absolutely everything. It is just part of yachting.
A narrow gangway sometimes cause problems with a disability
I dive into everything head first and see for myself
What surprised you on a boat for the first time?
Almost nothing …… :)
The only thing I didn't really know if I was going to suffer from sea sickness. Well, of course I did in big waves :) Like anyone else. I don't spend too much time below deck, that would be bad for me fast. I spend the whole week above deck and mostly sleep there when the weather allows.
And what causes wheelchair users the biggest problems?
Probably narrow spaces. Its a problem moving about there properly. And getting across the gangway can cause difficulties.
And the toilets on board are a problem for some. I can fit, but I have to go sideways, I have wide shoulders. Otherwise, I go in the sea. With everything that goes along with it. In the end, it’s the best 😊.
You don’t have to deal with these problems yourself much….
For me, nothing is a problem. I've always at least tried to do things. And you can’t go with the attitude that if you can’t do something you’ll just give up. In fact, I never even thought about what can arise or not. Because I can think for hours and one thing still seems to escape me - the most important one.
I'm the type that dives head first into everything to see for myself. And when there is a problem, I don’t call it a problem but a challenge. It's not an unsolvable problem, it's a challenge and a solution has to be found.
And that's how I try to approach everything and I have to say that a solution has always been found. It's all about a positive attitude. But a lot of people tell me that I am a “special case", an exception that can’t be used as an example. I can't judge that myself 😊.
Bathing in an abandoned cove
And what would you recommend to other disabled people who want to go?
It is important to be really active your whole life. In order to have the power to cope with it.But everything is possible, always.
So far so good, I haven't fallen overboard yet
What boats have you taken, is there a better option for disabled people?
We never went the way of expensive ships, where there is more space to put a wheelchair and move around a little more. We’ve always taken classic boats, Bavaria 45 or 55 for 8 people - 4 able-bodied and 4 disabled.
Have you ever considered a special barrier-free boat?
When we wanted to go on a yacht with “Adrenalin without Barriers”, I asked Jirka Zindulka. He found out such a yacht does actually exist in Greece, but it’s very expensive. And the sponsor backed out of that. So I said to myself that I wouldn’t go that route. It wasn't even a proper yacht, it just wouldn't have been real sailing.
Is there anything a charter company could do when they know that a wheelchair user will be boarding?
A wider gangway would be nice. People on crutches can’t make it on the gangway. Or someone has to transfer them, and that doesn't really work on a narrow gangway anyway.
And I always feel like a nuisance wanting an engine on the dinghy. Lots of wheelchair users can’t paddle and when you have to pull the wheelchairs to the shore, they have to go back and forth four times.
I can't imagine dedicated mooring spaces for the boats. But the charter could anchor the boat as close as possible, perhaps even sideways. Or reserve a short-stay place just to board the crew. But I don't really know if the benefit would be so great.
But it seems stupid for me to speak for everyone. I have few ailments. I'm not even addressing steps. You can get off the wheelchair, but for some it can be undignified…
Do you take anything special along on the yacht?
Well… ..swimmers 😊 And a spring sailing jacket. And that's about it 😊 So I don't really take anything extra. It's best to add things when you're there. It's often cheaper and I don't have to drag it along. As a result, I find that I don't have to take half the things others do. I'm probably a minimalist. And I take a body board with me, but it's nothing special for yachting.
Relaxing on a yacht
Where do you like to sail the most?
We sail in Croatia. We circumnavigate the Kornati islands, they are nice. Then we sail to Vis and return along the coast. We look for hidden coves where we aren’t packed in with others. Much of it is about us adapting. When it's hot, we sail at night and swim during the day. When it’s windy, we ride on the sails for pure enjoyment.
How often do you go?
Once or twice a year. I ride with two captains - one likes the wind and proper sailing, which would be more challenging for wheelchair users or most of them. Even for me it is tough to move when at full tilt. But so far, I haven't fallen overboard yet.
In truth, those who need more help would probably have a problem at the extreme end - you have to help yourself. Especially in tricky situations. Maybe a year ago, we were hit by a hurricane, and it was pretty funny ....
What did you do, did you shelter?
We couldn't. In the evening we had stayed in a poorly sheltered bay. In the morning we found out that something was on its way and we knew we couldn’t shelter and we'd have to set off. And of course it caught us. We were the only ship on the sea, only a helicopter was watching us from above. But it turned out well in the end.
We shone a torch on the wheelchair and sea urchins were already gathering
What are the barriers in marinas?
The problem is getting off the boat to the marina. Once we sank my wheelchair. We were returning in the evening and the pier was higher than the stern. I walked over the gangway, but somebody had to take the chair. My friend carried it to me, stepped onto the gangway, and as he was poised to take a second step he suddenly disappeared along with the gangway and wheelchair into the black hole between boats where there wasn’t much space. We were worried whether he would emerge or not, he might have hit something.
First, the gangway floated up, then him... but, of course, not the wheelchair. We shone a torch on it and the sea urchins were already gathering 😊. The others wanted to leave it there until morning, but it would have been destroyed by then. In the end, we grabbed it with a hook on a rope. The chair survived.
Therefore for the disabled it’s always best for the pier to be at the same level as the stern. And for some, anchoring sideways is best with the right side to the pier.
And the marinas themselves?
They have barrier-free toilets or pretend to have them, they aren’t always properly equipped for the disabled. Some places have superb showers and toilets. Other places have a disabled sign, but then there are still stairs. There’s work to be done.
Jakub sails mostly in Croatia
I don't understand how someone can get bored
How do you break down the barriers? How do you help other disabled people overcome fear, not be afraid to give it a try?
When people are scared, I always try to get them to focus on positive experiences. But it is different for yachting. Rather, people find it strange to remain in one spot for a week and do not know what to do on board for a whole week. They think it's boring. As if you’ll just be lying around like on an ocean liner. They don’t understand that you get to go where you want, and it is superb sailing when the wind blows ……
Are you ever afraid of getting bored on the boat?
I don’t get it. I can't say I ever get bored, even when there is no wind. We toss out a rope, pull ourselves behind the boat and make a toast to Neptune ... Or you just look at the beautiful scenery, other boats, learn, try the sails .... For me it's a breeze.
There’s no place for boredom on a boat
I generally don’t understand how someone can get bored. But today, you can do whatever you want, nothing limits you. You don’t need to be rich to be able to do something ... you can go running, bike, pick mushrooms, read, walk, learn new things. There are numerous options available today.
In the evening I'm sometimes upset that I have to go to sleep. That I'm losing x number of hours when I can't absorb any new information or make some progress.
What else do people fear?
A lot of people think it's very expensive. Believe me when I tell you that if you order your boat in advance and have your own captain it actually costs less than a beach holiday.
So I'm trying to drag friends along. Persuade them to form a group that will sail regularly and get the word out to the world. It’s possible. And it's no problem at all. Like a lot of things when it started, it was exclusive, but now commonplace today. Such as golf or scuba diving.
Do you like scuba diving a lot?
I love diving and I'm sorry that yachting can't be combined with diving. For me it would be a wonderful diversification. I don't like to swim too much. If I could dive too, I’d be completely happy. But it’s true that if you want to enjoy true sailing under the sails, you wouldn’t have any thought or time for it.
I’m tempted by diving with sharks. I was diving with them once in an aquarium in New Zealand. There were about 40 sharks, one was about 4 metres in length with a mouth like Jaws.
Doesn’t it scare you?
I really like sharks and admire them, they are incredible animals. And because I was in Australia, I'm not afraid of them. Once, one came up to me and tapped my forehead with its nose. Well, I had wide masked eyes. When he found out I wasn't food, he swam off :)
Diving and unreal freedom
Have you been sailing elsewhere other than in Croatia?
I went to the Cere yacht club in Prague. There are single-seater racing yachts that they also have in the Paralympics. I was tempted to try out racing, we do not have a lot of yachtsmen in the Czech Republic . But then the opportunity came to travel with Trabant team
, so I had to give it a miss. But I'm still flirting with the idea. And maybe with racing, at least recreationally, I will still get round to it.
Where did you train?
I used to sail on the Vltava River in Prague. It's incredible. I sailed once and the wind had stopped blowing so I was waiting for a gust and suddenly a steamer’s horn was sounding behind me. That was a bit hairy.
What was that boat like? Probably a lot different from a recreational yacht?
It's a single-seater sailboat, small, without a motor. It's a very technical boat, lots of adjustments, lines - it's great. I wouldn’t mind having it in Croatia. But I have so many opportunities that I always jump at what’s most feasible at the time.
On the road is often better than home
Do you have a lot of activities, what else do you do?
I keep darting between work and charity, creating projects, and participating in others. I’ve worked in nonprofit but it’s not really my forte, I'm more of a business type. Years ago I founded my nonprofit Adrenaline without Barriers
. And I went at it differently. We were not looking for partners and sponsors, we were doing it in the form of barters.
One of the non-profit events of Adrenaline without Barriers
When you compare, what's the difference than at home?
Well, I never had a problem getting a job, through people I know, but you can't always count on help. In New Zealand, me and my friend tried to find a job. Within a week the agency found me a job - a part-time job, but for the same money I had as a programmer at home. It wasn't a problem.
In Australia, everything is wheelchair accessible and there is a level playing field for wheelchair users. But then you go to East Timor, where they subsist solely on agriculture and fishing ... Those people don't really have anything. And there is nothing barrier-free. But everything’s still possible there. There you feel a sense of family cohesion, harmony with people who simply have not been so lucky in life. And they are nice and friendly people. I walked across the city on foot, when there was a step, somebody helped ...
What is it with us Czechs? The past? The unwillingness of people, disinterest?
I don't think we can still hide behind the idea that we are 20 years “behind”. People can easily compare with foreign countries. It's nothing new for them. Rather, I think we are moving away from family and "human" values. Everyone looks to earn money and secure their family. Which seems to me hypocritical.
In what way?
Everyone wants his children and grandchildren to do well, but they still don't stop using plastic bags. Which I find weird! I don't have any children, but I think I care a lot more about how it will be here after me than people who have children and leave them with a completely destroyed planet.
And if people can’t even take care of this, then why would they address creating places for people with disabilities or making their life easier. So I don't care about anyone making things easier for me and I don't even think it would be the right way.
I like Australia's system. Wheelchair users pay for public transport. But the transport is truly barrier-free. Why let a pensioner, a wheelchair user and all these people go for free? Why not use the tax and money to redo the stations? I miss the logic here. And of course, if you get something for free, you don't appreciate it.
What are you looking forward to in the summer? What are you going to do?
I wanted to go to Croatia. By car because I only know it from the deck of a boat. And because I'm tireless, I wanted to add something meaningful and map the barrier-free facilities. If I manage it, I'll be glad ...
And I would like to change one thing that really gets to me. A lot of people are looking at barrier-free arrangements needing to be done solely for wheelchair users. There are also parents with children, prams, seniors. Why separate it? Wheelchair accessibility is for every single person. Everyone can end up on crutches, in a wheelchair and grow old.
You've travelled a lot, can you handle more challenging trips now?
Um ... I've been planning to travel somewhere for almost two years. I always wanted to take part in a trip for a foundation. I wanted to shoot video and photos, the proceeds would go to foundations, companies would also contribute. But I enjoy travelling, I don't want to spoil it. So I'm saving up now so I can go without any obligations and travel where I want. And not let anyone dictate to me what I should say in every interview ...
On the road in Bangkok
Australia. I've been there twice and I've always gone through one part. Now I want to connect it all and drive around it. And I want to go alone. I want to have time to take photos, fly drones and shoot video. If I went with someone, it would limit me or them. And I want to pick up on the pitfalls by going alone. How to get around, what to take ... There will be no one to help me with a heavy suitcase. Plus I have contacts there, if I get stuck, I’ll always have someone to contact.
If it’s a success, do you want to continue?
This will be a kind of test run for me 😊 And then I want to continue. South America appeals to me, Africa, I’d love to go to Alaska. I’ll save Europe for my retirement, although I’ve kind of been in retirement since I am 18 😊 ... I’ve already travelled a bit, but now I want to explore more distant places.
I enjoy independent travel. Meeting the locals. Spending time with them. It enriches you. You realize that they have nothing to eat but are still very happy. And here people don't know what to do with all their money, and they're unhappy.
Jakub in Thailand
Apart from the hurricane, have you had any other edgy sailing experiences?
One night voyage in a storm. You can see absolutely nothing and disappear into a black hole between the waves. I finally went to sleep at the stern 😊 And one time we broke free. It’s good to experience it, at least you know what to expect.
Every experience pushes man forward. That's why I plunge into everything head first. Coming to premature conclusions whether something will happen or not… we could all still be in the trees.
Jakub likes water and the sea a lot on his travels
To finish, share with us the most beautiful experience you’ve had at sea
It’s impossible to say. Just being on board is truly beautiful 😊
I love to sail a butterfly. At that moment the ship looks completely divine. And I enjoy the speed, the tilt of the ship. When you know the limits of the boat. That's great and I like it. Playing with it, adjusting it, tuning it… .that is incredible fun for me.
And the sea, fresh air, physical activity and good mood. In any weather. I don’t mind, even when it rains. Just water to water 😊 It belongs together. Man is fully-equipped for it. Even when I’ve gone on a voyage with all the equipment, I’ve still ended up with a wet neck anyway 😊 - and it was great. I really enjoy it.
And I'd love to compete in a race. Something amateur.
Come with us next year at Easter 😊 A boat for tourists was successful this year.
So I’ll wipe the floor with them next year? 😊
We look forward to it. Thank you and we wish you fantastic sailing and travelling experiences!