See the Sea – a unique sailing cruise aboard the Zawisza Czarny tall ship

When I „saw the sea” for the first time, I realized how different ideas of what the cruise really is I had as a totally blind person. Those who have not tried cruising will never understand it. It is not possible to describe that, it’s not even possible to give a blind person an idea of sounds, a spark of anxiety, a flavour of uncertainty, the will to overcome one’s weaknesses… The memories of the cruise compose an electrifying mixture of experiences. The project presented here aims to include blind people in the circle of friends of the sea.

{Roman Roczeń,
a sailor and a singer, the originator of the project}

„See the Sea” is an innovative project of “See the Sea” Foundation of Tomek Opoka. The project involves a sailing cruise in which blind and visually impaired people constitute half of the crew, most of them for the first time at sea. The project was started in 2006 as a non-profit activity of the Foundation. Around the project, there are volunteers and sea people, captains and officers with enormous sailing experience who have spent many hours at sea crossing thousands of nautical miles. Our project from the beginning presumes that all activities, except observing and navigating watch, are performed by the people with sight dysfunction together with non-disabled people – this contributes to the integration of the two environments.

For us, people who see (often in a range of colors), going to sea itself represents a great adventure which brings concerns. Everyone who was at sea will tell you that the list of dangers is long. Starting from fog, storm, wind… which are only atmospheric conditions. And if additionally you have sight problems… You don’t see anything and suddenly someone tells you that you can go to sea. How is this possible? Normally people take you for a crazy person when they hear you cast off lines and leave. But there are people who do it and don’t perceive it as something strange.
There are countries where sailing is a national sport with no barriers. Nothing limits people, only their own imagination. In Poland some think that if anything is different than on TV, it is not normal. Will that ever change? It will not be easy but it’s possible…

„See the Sea” project shows that such thinking can be changed. Where there’s will, there’s a way. In cruises under „See the Sea” project both the seeing and the visually impaired are the crew. Together they are a team which acts perfectly well. Through this project what seems impossible becomes possible. Every day we face the dilemma: is it possible? can we make it?
Best to our knowledge this is first such a project in the world. Through all the years the cruises were organized on a scout training ship Zawisza Czarny (only in 2016 the cruise took place on five smaller yachts as a new sailing formula). This training ship was built in 1961 based on a fishing vessel launched in the Polish shipyard in 1952. Since the beginning of the 1960s it has served Polish scouts.

It is a very brave, but already well-worn ship. S/y Zawisza Czarny has been adapted by our Foundation to the needs of the blind and the visually impaired through installation of the sound rudder and GPS compass. During the 11 years of the project’s existence around 460 people with visual impairment took part in the cruises. We sailed the entire Baltic Sea, a large part of the North Sea and a small part of Mediterranean Sea.

On board Zawisza Czarny we hosted Polish ambassadors and diplomats in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Latvia. In 2012 in Antwerp we hosted Polish members of European Parliament to whom we handed a petition to harmonize the rules of sound street crossings – pedestrian crossings. In 2014 and 2015, the President of the Republic of Poland took the honorary patronage of the project. Patronage of the project was also provided by Polish embassies in the Kingdom of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland and by the Union of Sailors. Polish Radio Program 1, Polish National Television, television and commercial channels surrounded the project with media patronage.

Although most famous Polish captains like to say that Zawisza Czarny is “the least comfortable Polish sailing ship in use,” it is also the one that has unforgettable atmosphere and tradition you can virtually sense on board. We have chosen it for the “See the Sea” cruises for its unique forecastle, whose structure encourages integration, as it combines the functions of a bedroom, a dining room, and a living room. Unlike in case of other cruises of this kind, Zawisza Czarny is not a special ship for the disabled. Apart from special “speaking” equipment for the blind, it has not been adapted for them in any other way, so as to provide our crew with the genuine experience of the cruise, and let them really “see” the sea. We train our visually impaired crew members in the so-called “hard skills”, such as navigation and steering, reefing, cordage, operating mechanical equipment, and at the same time develop their “soft” skills, like the courage to take up new challenges, new patterns of behaviour, starting and maintaining interpersonal relations in hardships of the sea life. Thanks to the invaluable experience they get from participation in the „See the Sea” project, the visually impaired youth significantly improve their prospects of living their everyday life to the full.
Our other goal is to train more professional sailors to work with the blind and visually impaired. Their practical knowledge will open way for more and more people with eye disorders to take part in similar undertakings in the future.

„See the Sea” project also aims at raising the public awareness of the ability of the visually impaired to get involved in various tasks even in difficult circumstances, and thus break the lingering stereotype of the visually impaired as hardly able to function in the society of the sighted.

Project goals:

  • Allowing people with sight dysfunctions to establish direct contact with open sea and sailing through participation in sea cruise.
  • Influencing integration of non-disabled people with blind people and visually impaired people.
  • Influencing the awareness of non-disabled people of the range of possibility to perform daily activities or special tasks by the blind and the visually impaired on a level similar to their own.
  • Popularisation of the knowledge and capabilities to work with the bling and the visually impaired on the open sea among the maritime professionals.
  • Providing Polish and European material and non-material maritime culture and art as well as knowledge about the traditions and history of sailing to the blind and the visually impaired.

Projects’s beneficiaries:

Blind, visually impaired and non-disabled people from entire country.

Expected outcome of the project:

  • Rehabilitation of people with various forms and degree of eye damage through active participation in the life of a sailing ship.
  • The necessity to deal with the hardships previously unknown and those related to work at sea, these are significant psychological values, the most important of which are: increased sense of agency, self-esteem and awareness of own competences, as well as overcoming fear and resistance to acquiring new experiences.
  • Exchange of experiences and views with other participants with sight dysfunctions and, above all, establishing and shaping social bonds, often broken or changed in relation to the possessed disability and / or withdrawal of visually impaired people from performing social roles.
  • Integration of the people with sight dysfunctions with non-disabled people.
  • Presentation of the problems of functioning and rehabilitation of the blind and the visually impaired
  • Developing attitudes of understanding and acceptance and overcoming prejudices or social stereotypes about people with this type of disability (e.g. stereotype of the blind as helpless and demanding help from sighted people or the myth of the blind having supernaturally sharpened senses other than sight).
  • Popularisation of issues related to visual disability in wider social circles.

Project development

  • visually impaired people had the opportunity to shape their skills in carrying out the basic activities of everyday life and moving around the new space which is a sailing ship.
  • through joint implementation of entrusted tasks and responsibilities, as well as participation in the proposed tourism and cultural events, integrating the environment of people with sight dysfunctions with non-disabled people.
  • an important aspect of the implementation of this objective are also training and pro-social values for non-disabled participants of the project.


  • E. Skrzecz (2008). Żeglarstwo morskie osób niewidomych na przykładzie projektu „Zobaczyć Morze” (praca magisterska). Warszawa: Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego im. Józefa Piłsudskiego.
  • A. Suszek (2015) System usprawniający pracę osób niewidomych na jachcie żaglowym. (praca magisterska) Wydział architektury i wzornictwa kierunek wzornictwo architektura statków wodnych- Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Gdańsku

Prizes and awards:

  • December 2006 – Special Prize of Polish Television S.A. „Cruise of the Year 2006” for Cpt. Janusz Zbierajewski for leading the “See the Sea” cruise in the Baltic Sea on „Zawisza Czarny” with the participation of blind sailors.
  • February 2012 – Captain Janusz Zbierajewski became the laureate of the first edition of the Captain Leszek Wiktorowicz Prize – Captain Leszek Wiktorowicz was an outstanding sea man, builder and long-time commander of „Dar Młodzieży”, educator of many generations of Polish sailors. Captain Janusz Zbierajewski won the recognition of the jury through the fact that he was the only one who agreed to conduct cruises on Zawisza Czarny in “See the Sea” project with the blind and the visually impaired constituting half of the crew.
  • May 2013 – Roman Roczeń and Robert Krzemiński receive Polish Flag from the President of the Republic of Poland as a sign of the presence of the Republic in the seas and oceans, evidence of personal courage and a symbol of the highest values.
  • December 2013 – Robert Krzemiński is awarded in a plebiscite organized by the “Chance for the Blind” Foundation as the „Idol of the Environment of the Visually Impaired”. The prize was awarded for opening the possibility of sailing to the visually impaired.
  • November 2016 – Award in the competition “Application without Barriers 2016” for the Best Mobile Application adapted to the needs of disabled people. – This application enables persons with sight dysfunction to perform the functions of a helmsman on a yacht.