Those of you who know me will know that I was born deaf and began to lose my sight about 2 years ago. Although I’ve been registered blind for a while I had still maintained a small but useful tunnel of vision, which had allowed me to continue reading and writing, identify familiar faces, and to still live life visually – although it was restricted. But one morning at the end of November I woke up to near darkness. In the days that followed it began to sink in that my sight wasn’t going to come back, this was then confirmed by my consultant a week later.
My immediate thoughts were fear, I wasn’t scared of being blind, but the restrictions that came with it. Would I ever be as independent? Would I ever be equal to my able bodied peers?
During a tough time I saw a post from the Jubilee Sailing Trust advertising a voyage on the Mediterranean Sea from Palma to Barcelona,which would leave just 5 days later! The Trust strive to ensure that people of all physical abilities have the opportunity to sail on tall ships, with this in mind, feeling I had nothing to lose, I emailed them.
Within 2 days it was confirmed that both myself and my friend Alice, who was to come as my buddy/Carer, would be leaving for Spain within the week! The 2 of us were very fortunate to be receiving a bursary, curtesy of the charity. Thankfully we were left with very little time to dwell on the enormity of the challenge, otherwise, in hindsight, I would have probably chickened out! It didn’t actually feel like we were going until we boarded that plane, even when we actually arrived in sunny Palma, and set eyes on Tenacious and the challenge ahead there was a feeling of disbelief.
We spent a lovely day exploring Palma before boarding Tenacious in the evening. During the first night we met our fellow crew members as well as the permanent crew. Then we had the basic rules and layout of the ship explained to us by the Captain. We were introduced to the members of our watch and our watch leader, and were given the evening to get to know the others onboard and gain a general feel for the ship.
We were both shattered after an early morning flight but the rota meant that me and Alice would be “on watch” from midnight till 2, Tenacious was still at port so our watch consisted of keeping an eye on deck, regularly doing rounds of the accommodation making sure that everything was running smoothly, as well as filling in the log book hourly. Although we were physically shattered we were on a mental high enjoying the unique life on board a ship and looking forward to the week ahead.
Over the course of the week we learnt the nautical terminology, we were taught to sweat, tail and/ or slack ropes. We were taught the protocol for when we were on watch – taking the helm, filling in the log book, being on look out. Most thrilling of all – we got to go aloft, climbing up the mast to set the sails.
Every morning we had to endure happy hour – everybody participated in cleaning the ship. We had to do a mess duty- a night and day assisting the cook in the galley helping to prepare food as well as doing the many dishes!
My duties were no less than anybody else’s.
The ship is designed to facilitate all disabilities. There is Braille on all the doorways. On the deck there is a raised line centrally for visually impaired people to follow. The ropes have leather strips on them which help determine how much of the rope you have hauled or slacked. There’s an audio compass on the helm. There was even Braille playing cards available for when we were off duty!
Furthermore every person on board Tenacious was an open minded individual. There was a real can-do attitude, we were all a team, and if anyone was struggling, disabled or not, there would be somewhere there with a helping hand.
Because of this, for a whole week I lived life equal to everyone on board. This may seem like nothing for somebody who is able-bodied but for me it was liberating. I was just as reliant on others as anyone else on board. Yes I needed additional help here and there, yes I became more tired, yes I had to take consistent painkillers to stay afloat, but for once this seemed insignificant in comparison to all the things I felt I was achieving on a day-to-day basis.
My friend Alice was absolutely amazing, every time I began to falter she made sure I picked myself back up, she was a rock of support, and is an awesome friend. The voyage was hard work, with 4 hour long watches nearly every night, by the end we were exhausted, but proud.
Prior to the trip I was seriously doubting whether I’d be able to live as fulfilling a life as a sighted/hearing person. This trip, for me, confirmed that anything’s possible. The people I met reassured me that, despite barriers, there are always good decent people out there who will give me that equal chance and during the week me and Alice met lifelong friends. The voyage was so much more than a sailing trip, it’s given me hope in a time where I had been experiencing a lot of doubt. I cannot thank the Jubilee Sailing Trust enough for the experience. I speak on behalf of both me and Alice when I say that I highly recommend a trip with JST, not only is it seriously good fun, but it makes you a better, well rounded person.
“A once in a lifetime experience – I cannot wait to book my next voyage!”
Our thanks to our Chairman, and very proud grandfather, Martin Watson for permission to print this article.