First – a bit about the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST).
The charity was formed in 1978 and has two tall ships (Lord Nelson and Tenacious) that have been specially adapted so that anyone over 16 can crew.
The crew is made up equally of able-bodied and disabled people – some who have never sailed in their lives before.
They operate a buddy system so that an able-bodied person is buddied with a disabled person and they look after each other whilst on board. Sailing is a great leveller and it is not unknown for the able-bodied crew member to be the one that needs the most support!
Lord Nelson – Sail the World voyage in October 2012
In October 2012, Lord Nelson embarked on a remarkable Sail the World Voyage travelling 50,000 miles, visiting over 30 countries on 7 continents and crossing the equator 6 times.
I joined her for the last leg of that voyage from Halifax (Cape Breton, Canada) and can honestly say that I have rarely worked harder or stepped so far out of my comfort zone.
JST work hard to make it a very relaxing environment to work in whilst, at the same time, making sure everyone stretches their comfort zone. Consequently, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time working in the rigging, as well as helming and working at deck level to brace yards and hand sails.
I had an interesting start to my voyage as I was introduced to my new watch leader Sherwood.
“What do you do when you’re not sailing?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m a local Councillor,” he proudly replied before asking me why I looked so pale.
Anyway, Sherwood decided that I looked confident and at ease up high so he assigned me to rigging duties quite quickly (what is it about Councillors trying to finish me off……??).
“Peter will show you what to do.” He promised.
So I followed Peter as he climbed the mast and then out on to the yard to untie the gaskets that hold the sails.
Bizarre encounter #2 coming up. Peter explains to me that the first thing to do is climb out as far as you can, stepping out onto a small bit of rope called (for reasons I never quite established) a Flemish Horse.
Peter asked me to tell him how far it was from his foot so he could step on.
Peter: an inspiration
Next, the block that is attached to the clew of the sail has to be released from its anchor point. Peter asks me to tell him how far the block is from his hand. OK. I’m a bit slow to catch on but now it’s starting to dawn on me that this guy is visually impaired.
What I did not realise until we spoke about it back on deck, was that he had 95% vision loss and his climb was achieved through a combination of memory and feel. What an amazing (and inspiring) guy he was!
Brilliant crew members
For the first part of my voyage I did not have a buddy (probably because it was my first voyage with the Trust) but I became good friends with a number of great crew members – many of whom, were disabled.
Kate was a wheelchair user but this did not deter her from climbing the mast. She achieved her climb by rigging a pulley system to the wheelchair and hoisting herself up through sheer muscle power.
Another crew member guided the chair on to the platform some 80 foot above the deck.
Natalie, with two plastic hips and partly confined to a wheelchair, undertook an assisted climb with a safety rope attached in case she slipped. She didn’t need it.
My friend James (Stoke City fan) from Staffordshire
But my favourite without a doubt was James from Staffordshire (pictured with me in the bar at Horta).
James has a condition known as quadriplegia, which is a form of cerebral palsy affecting all four limbs. As if in some way this did not present him with enough of a challenge in life, James also supported Stoke City FC.
What made James special – apart from his sense of humour (goes back to the Stoke City thing, I reckon) – was that he was one of the best helms aboard the Lord Nelson, and had no fear of heights as he undertook assisted climbs in the rigging.
Strength and teamwork
Even the able-bodied crew had stories to tell.
There were army personnel recovering from the traumas of the Afghan War, others who had lost loved ones and were dealing with their grief in different ways, and youngsters who were leaving home for the first time in their lives.
Most of us were way outside our comfort zone to start with but confident in all aspects of sailing and teamwork by the end.
Our voyage should have taken us from Canada via Iceland and the Faroe Islands to London but in the event Hurricane Cristabel was following the same route north so we decided to go to the Azores instead!
It was absolutely the right decision because James and Kate would not have been safe on deck in hurricane force winds and we would not have enjoyed sailing with them confined to decks below.
As it happened, Horta on the volcanic island of Fiail offered beachside tapas bars, sunny skies and cheap beer (so I’m told) and we enjoyed a wonderful 3 days there before sailing to London where we had the rare privilege of seeing Tower Bridge raised for our arrival.
Sailing to Southampton
To complete the circumnavigation, we sailed to Southampton where I was buddied up with a wheelchair user.
Robert had multiple sclerosis and had very little use of his legs or his left arm. Despite that we made sure he was involved in all the deck work – acting as anchor the ‘heavers’ as they hoisted sails.
He proved to be a very able helm and again we rigged his chair to get him up to the first platform on the mast.
Robert was a popular crew member and used a dour expression to portray his quick dry wit. That said, there was no way he could not keep the smile off his face as he descended down from the mast.
You can find out more of my seven-week voyage on Meridian 360.
Jubile Sailing Trust Website: Our Mission – JST