Holidays - A Readers Experience

by Kiara Lynch

about to go aloft

About to go aloft

On 20th August 2005 I set off on one of the best experiences of my life to date. I flew from Dublin to Amsterdam got a taxi to the docks and I got my first glance of ‘Tenacious’. Well worth the travel! My friend Evelyn who came with me was gob -smacked too 'that’s our boat?'

I’ll tell you some of the basics. I heard about the ‘The Jubilee Sailing Trust’ through my local advocacy group for people with disabilities, called the Disabled People of Longford (DPOL), to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their help and encouragement to take this opportunity. The voyage was from the 20th-26th August aboard ‘Tenacious’ joining in Amsterdam on the 20th and docking in Canary Wharf, London, on the morning of the 26th.

When we boarded it was chaotic, there were people everywhere, some introducing themselves, others asking questions. We dropped our bags down to our bunks then had a meeting with the permanent crew who introduced themselves and told us what they didn’t do and what we’d be doing. It was a lot to take in. The hours of travel were beginning to take their toll by that stage but then we met our watch leader and the rest of our watch and the excitement hit me like a bolt of lightening, here I was on board a tall ship in Amsterdam harbor in the middle of an international tall ships festival … was it possible things could get better?!

Kiara on the bridge at a lock outside amsterdam
Kiara on the bridge at a lock outside Amsterdam

Each watch consisted of ten people including the watch leader who was someone who knew a bit about sailing and could keep a reign on the nine who hadn’t a clue! When our watch was on duty we helped the permanent crew with everything, steering the ship, watching port and starboard side, keeping the log, letting down the sails, heaving up the sails, going aloft, lots to do, and of course making tea and coffee for everyone!

It was great fun always work to be done, but because it was work that meant the difference between the boat sailing problem free or not it didn’t really feel like tough work that would leave you exhausted, it was hard, admittedly, you had to concentrate and put in the effort but the feeling of being out on the sea knowing you are part of the reason the ship is out there is more than its own reward.

The week passed very quickly, I was always doing something and if I had some time to kill there were fifty other people on board to get to know! I got to know a good few of my fellow sailors! The permanent crew made us all feel so welcome and willing to help the clueless sailors we were! When we docked in Vlissingen (a port about 70 miles south of Amsterdam and also in the Netherlands), we went ashore and had a few pints with the voyage and permanent crew who had some brilliant sea faring tales!

The wheelchair users got to go aloft on Wednesday morning, after they got me all hooked up in safety gear they heaved me up to the crows nest where I got to see the most amazing views of my life!! It wasn’t all lying out on deck soaking up the atmosphere thought (it was all most definitely fun though!).

JST (Jubilee Sailing Trust) the organisation ‘Tenacious’ is run by are a charity run organisation, so there were only nine permanent crew members on board, the bare essentials, however there were forty of us and they made use of that fact! Everyday we had ‘happy hour’ being Irish and 21 hearing ‘happy hour’ well I was a happy camper …. Until I started to hear a bit more about the ‘Tenacious’ style of happy hour, it consisted of each watch taking part in cleaning the ship, washing the decks, cleaning windows, mopping corridors, hovering bunks, cleaning the heads (sea talk for toilets), cleaning the railings, you get the idea – lots of work, but with everyone helping, and it was only an hour, you didn’t feel like you were doing chores at all it was actually a bit of craic not as good as I imagined a true ‘happy hour’ to be but not bad at all!

Then there was the galley (sea talk for a kitchen), feeding fifty people breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday was no mean feat! But our cook Triona and her assistant Meg somehow managed to serve us up lovely meals daily, they did need a bit of help though so everyday there were at least four people on mess duty, which meant you got up at 7am helped lay tables, clear up after everyone ate, dry up dishes, put them away, restock tea coffee and juices basically anything Triona and Meg needed a had with, mess duty only lasted from 4pm till 2pm the next day so it wasn’t so bad and as always it was good craic getting to know your fellow ‘messers’, and Triona and Meg.

We kicked off at 3am Friday morning … luckily for us we weren’t on the watch that was on duty so we got to sleep and Sandy came down and woke us at dawn! We threw on our clothes and headed up deck to see the views sailing up the river Thames at dawn … Wow! When we docked in Canary Wharf at 7.30am on the Friday I was well and truly done in, but if given the choice I would have jumped at the chance to stay a few more days, but the gangway went down and it was time for home. It wasn’t until I got home, got into bed, and slept for fifteen solid hours that I realised how exhausted I was!

Sailing is definitely an experience I would recommend to anyone, but for someone with a disability sailing aboard ‘Tenacious’ is perfect. Personally, compared to some of the places on land that I have been to who advertise themselves as ‘wheelchair accessible’ I found ‘Tenacious’ when it was heeled (ship talk for tilted), more accessible than most of those places on land! For a working tall ship it’s as good as it’s going to get, taking into consideration you are actually at sea. Yes, you have to be prepared to rough it a bit more than you would in your own home but its well worth it. Even sailing in the middle of a choppy sea it was extremely wheelchair accessible with big bathrooms and good showers you didn’t have to be Spiderman to use, the bars are placed where you need them. I can’t praise the experience enough! Many of our voyage crew had done a sail before so they were full of handy tips, and the watch leaders were a great help too. There is always someone about if you need a hand with anything. What I found the absolute best was that no – one assumed what you could or couldn’t manage it there was always someone more than willing to give you a hand, all you had to do was ask, and they helped you do it, they didn’t do it for you.

On board every person with a disability must be ‘buddied’ with an able bodied person. The idea of the buddy system is that there would always be someone to help if needed. Evelyn buddied me but lots of people on the trip came on their own and were buddied with other voyage crew they had never met before so it was a great chance to get to know new people. For able bodied people who did the sail on their own it was big learning curve and I’m sure they would now be much more aware of the needs of someone with a disability which is what the world needs! Although I could have managed the sail on my own while being buddied with someone else from the voyage crew, for me, experiencing it with Evelyn whom I can have a pint with in five years and throw in a random comment about ‘Tenacious’ and she’ll get it, was half the fun.

One of the issues is travel, you have to meet the boat wherever it’s docked. For us we went to Dublin Airport with all our luggage, and in Amsterdam we got a taxi to the docks, it was excellent to have someone giving me a hand with everything, that said, I would probably have managed all that on my own if I really had too, the real killer was when we docked in Canary Wharf, we had to walk to the tube station then find an accessible route to get to Heathrow (although the first mate, Mark, had given us a good idea of one, but we still had to get to the various accessible stops he’d told us about!), get back to Dublin, get home, it was a lot of work and without Evelyn I would have found it very near impossible. Having experienced sailing I’ve got the bug and I really want to do it again, next trip I’d like to do maybe ten days instead of six because as the saying goes time flies when you’re having fun! The JST (Jubilee Sailing Trust) have a very good website with all the voyage details, length, cost, location etc. and their contact details are there too - www.jst.org.uk. Through the JST I’ve discovered there is an Irish disabled sailing association, their website is also excellent www.sailforce.ie. So if this article sounds interesting check the websites out, you won’t regret it! I’m at kiaralynch@gmail.com if anyone would like to contact me to ask any questions about the trip, I’d be more than happy to try help you out.

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