The ship gently sways with the rolling of the waves. Seagulls cry as they glide through the clear blue sky overhead. Sailors climb the rigging and perch precariously on the yard arm high above as they start unfurling the sails. The captain watches from the bridge as the crew scurry around the deck below. All around the ship there is nothing but water as far as the eye can see.
This may sound like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s not. This ship is actually in the English Channel, and the crew are made up of both disabled and able-bodied people. This is the SV Tenacious, a tall ship owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST) based in Southampton, England. It is one of two specially adapted tall ships owned by the JST, the other being the Lord Nelson. Together they are the only tall ships in the world specially adapted for the disabled.
Since the first ship was built in 1983 Lord Nelson and Tenacious have sailed hundreds of thousands of miles around Europe and the North Atlantic. They regularly take part in the tall ships race through the Baltic or North Sea. They are also frequent visitors to the Caribbean in the winter months.
I was lucky enough to sail on Tenacious myself back in 2006. Every year my school would nominate someone to go on the tall ships for a week, and that year luckily it was my turn.
Tenacious can carry 40 people plus the permanent crew, including up to 9 wheelchair users. The ship is fully wheelchair accessible. There are lifts for wheelchairs to go to the different decks, and the corridors are wide enough for wheelchairs to easily manoeuvre around. There are hoists in the cabins so that people can be hoisted out of their chairs into the bunks (it’s more interesting being hoisted on a swaying ship!) There are eight cabins for wheelchair users, which are quite small but space is limited on a ship. They are still big enough to do what you need to do.
The JST runs voyages from many different places in the UK and Europe. My voyage began in Cardiff and ended in Southampton, with a stop overnight in St Malo in France along the way.
It’s quite difficult to pick out highlights from the week, because the whole thing was just fantastic! I could go on forever about it.
We were all divided into one of four groups called “Watches”, and we each took it in turn to do different jobs on board such as helming, cleaning or working in the galley. Each watch had a watch leader who would make sure that your job was suited to your abilities. Also, everyone is teamed up with either a disabled or able-bodied person in a buddy system. So everyone helps each other out and looks after their buddy, or whoever needs help.
The groups are called Watches because every 12 hours we had to go on watch up on the bridge for four hours at a time. We had to watch out for other ships, take weather readings, steer the ship that sort of thing. We even had to do this at night such as from midnight to 4 AM, which I actually really enjoyed! It’s just so peaceful on a clear moonlit night, when the sea is as still as a millpond. There’s no one else around, and all you can hear is the gentle lapping of the waves on the hull. I remember one night, it wasn’t even dark. It was midnight but the moon was so bright it illuminated everything in a white glow. I tried to take a photo of it but unfortunately the camera didn’t do it justice. At 4 AM we all went to bed, but breakfast was at 8 AM so we didn’t get much sleep that night!
Everybody got the chance to steer the ship. I couldn’t physically use the wheel, but no problem, I didn’t have to. They hooked up this little joystick box thing and I could steer it from that! Just like playing a computer game, except this is real life, and I am controlling a 30 foot ship. As you can see from the picture below it got a bit cold and windy sometimes!
At some point every day was “happy hour” which was when we cleaned the ship (including the toilets). I think whoever called it “happy hour” must have had a sense of humour! Luckily I didn’t have to clean the toilets. Instead, someone gave me a firehose and my carer pushed my chair around the ship while I tried to hold on to this hose which was gushing water with force. The key word in the last sentence was “tried”. I did drop the hose once or twice meaning anyone who was unlucky enough to be in the immediate vicinity was drenched (including myself)! There was one guy on the ship who was scrubbing the deck and he managed to “accidentally” drop his brush over the side! He was blind though, so I guess he had a good excuse!
En route to Southampton we stopped off in the walled port city of St Malo in France. We arrived one beautiful sunny evening, and the plan was to spend a whole day in St Malo. However the following day (14th of July) was Bastille Day, which is a national holiday in France. So this meant unfortunately that we were not allowed to stay in the port all day as they were closing. We did manage to go ashore the evening before and we went to a cafe for ice cream and to explore. The following morning before we left port we went into town for an authentic French breakfast of croissants, which was rather splendid! I would like to go back to St Malo in the future as it is a very picturesque city with lots of history.
After leaving St Malo we sailed to the Isle of Wight where we docked for the night. That evening the weather was just so beautiful. There was not a single cloud in the sky. I had never seen such a blue sky, it was just amazing. While we were docked I got the chance to go up into the crow’s nest. To do this I was transferred into a different manual chair, which was attached to a sophisticated system of ropes and pulleys. I also had to wear a safety harness. About 10 people hauled on a rope to shouts of “2 – 6 heave!” to raise me up bit by bit towards the crow’s nest. Once I reached the summit the view was something else. I could see for miles across the Isle of Wight and the English Channel on a beautifully tranquil summer’s evening.
The following day we set sail for Southampton on the final leg of our journey. Every port we had arrived in throughout the week we had been the largest ship there. This was not the case in Southampton though, as we were dwarfed by the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth the Second which was docked there. Tenacious still drew crowds everywhere she went, and Southampton was no different.
I have to give a special mention to the weather as well. The whole week it was just perfect. There was not a spot of rain. It was just glorious sunshine pretty much every day. The weather was too good in fact. There was not enough wind most days for us to sail, so we had to use the engine. By the end of the week I had caught the sun a bit and was cooked to perfection and slightly crispy. I loved it though. What a fantastic experience, spending a week sailing on the open sea in a tall ship.
You can sail from a number of different places around the world for a week, or even just for a day. Have a look at this webpage for the voyages available and prices.
So, if you want to experience life on the ocean waves, or you just want to pretend to be a pirate for a bit check out the Jubilee Sailing Trust. It might just be the best thing you ever did.
I will leave you with a quote:
“20 years from now you will regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Sail away from the safe harbour. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
In response to the daily prompt: Voyage