A visually-impaired sailor from County Limerick set off yesterday morning on the first leg of a challenge to sail around Ireland in two months to raise awareness and funds for Irish Guide Dogs and the RNLI.

Chris Egan from Ardagh who is a member of Foynes Yacht Club successfully circumnavigated Ireland with fellow sailor David Bevan in 2013 after they were both diagnosed with cancer. They raised €25,000 then for two cancer charities and the RNLI.

However, since then Chris was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that causes significant visual impairment and will eventually rob him fully of his sight. He has underwent training with Irish Guide Dogs in the use of a long cane for mobility and training on independent living skills which will lead him to getting a guide dog further down the line.

Undeterred by the personal challenges, Chris is determined with this fresh adventure to raise awareness of how visually impaired people like himself can learn the skills required to lead a normal life.

Chris is taking on the challenge with fellow sailors and friends David Bevan and Jim Humphreys, who are experienced mariners and members of Foynes Yacht Club. Together, they will sail Tranquility, their 38ft yacht around Ireland throughout May and June hoping to return to Foynes in the first week of July. Weather permitting, the plan is to sail 60 nautical miles every day stopping at several coastal locations along the way.

Chris said: ‘Our adventure is called Gangway for Guide Dogs. For me, as well as raising awareness and funds for Irish Guide Dogs and the RNLI, this challenge is also about promoting sailing for people like me who may have been sailing for years but who have acquired a disability.

‘We are not expecting any massive challenges other than the normal challenges you experience at sea and the weather conditions. We are looking forward to the trip, are nervous in another sense but we hope most of all it will be great fun.’

Speaking as he waved the crew off in Limerick this morning, Brian Curtin, RNLI community fundraising manager and a crew member at Valentia RNLI said: ‘This is a fantastic challenge and one cannot but be inspired by Chris’s determination, encouraging attitude and his generous willingness to raise awareness and funds for ourselves in the RNLI and Irish Guide Dogs.

‘As a volunteer lifeboat crew member myself, I am all too aware of the dangers of the sea and the difficulties people can experience so for Chris to be doing this to also encourage other sailors with disabilities, is admirable. I would like to wish Chris, David and Jim the best of luck during their trip. I know RNLI crews across the country will be wishing them fair winds and following seas when they encounter them on their voyage.’

To keep up to date with how the sail is going, where the crew will be stopping, and to find out more about the RNLI and Irish Guide Dogs or how you can donate, updates will be posted on the Gangway for Guide Dogs Facebook page or log onto https://gangwayforguidedogs.raisely.com/

Katie Keohane, Irish Guide Dogs regional co-ordinator, is supporting Chris, his crew and the wider volunteer team throughout this challenge and added: ‘In undertaking this extraordinary challenge and campaign together, Chris and his team in very real terms will be building public awareness of how Irish Guide Dogs is helping visually impaired people to transform their lives and learn the skills required to lead a normal working and social life.’