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.
The JST was founded in 1978 by Christopher Rudd. Rudd taught disabled people to sail dinghies, but was soon convinced that disabled people should be able to sail tall ships on the open sea as well. Rudd collaborated with other like-minded people to try and make his vision into a reality. A grant from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal gave the project impetus and led to the name Jubilee Sailing Trust. The group then experimented on square rigged sailing vessels and it was found that square rigged ships were ideal. This is because it required a large number of people working together to run the ship, and there were a large number of jobs that people could do. So, having found that disabled people on a tall ship could be very successful, it was realised that a purpose-built ship would be best suitable. Naval architect Colin Mudie then designed what would later become the Lord Nelson, the first tall ship in the world to be purposely built for the disabled. The Lord Nelson had its maiden voyage on 17 October 1986, and demand to sail on her was high.
So high in fact that another ship was soon needed. In 1992 fundraising began for the second ship which would later become Tenacious. Eventually tenacious had her maiden voyage on 1 September 2000, 1548 days after her keel was laid. Tenacious is built of wood and disabled people were even involved in her construction working alongside professional shipbuilders.
Now Lord Nelson and Tenacious have sailed hundreds of thousands of miles around Europe and the North Atlantic, and carried hundreds of disabled and able-bodied sailors. 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.
The JST runs voyages from loads of 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.
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.
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. But you would probably get bored, so I will do my best to tell you about the best bits.
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 apart from us, 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.
Okay, let’s talk about prices. The Jubilee Sailing Trust offer a number of different voyages and some are more expensive than others. For example you can have a five day voyage starting and ending in Southampton for £495. If you want to go somewhere more exotic you can go on an eight day voyage from Valencia to Portimao for £795. But obviously you would have to get to Valencia yourself for the start. Alternatively you can just go on a voyage for the day from Southampton, Poole or Jersey for £145. There are a number of different starting locations in the UK such as Southampton, London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Poole or Jersey. Internationally, you can sail from La Palma, the Bahamas, Seville, Bermuda, Portimao, the Azores or Bruges. Check out this webpage for the available voyages. JST do offer a bursary system for people who may not be able to afford the advertised prices. You can apply for funding if you need it.
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