I ‘pulled’ on SV Tenacious
When I signed up for a Tall Ship
voyage, I was looking for Captain Jack Sparrow, not Captain Bligh. I knew I would pull – big ropes, little ropes, maybe pints, because I knew I would be working as crew. What I didn’t expect was to gaze down from forty feet in the rigging, and think – What the hell am I doing up here?
SV Tenacious and SVS Lord Nelson are ‘three mast barques,’ used by the Jubilee Sailing Trust to enable people of all abilities to be part of the crew on a voyage. Those in wheelchairs, or with partial or no sight, can with the help of a buddy, join in the fun (and the really hard work.) Lord Nelson and the younger Tenacious, the only two of their kind, were built with equipment to enable all crew to sail on equal terms.
I am a mature woman, some would say very mature, and I do know a bit about boats. With my husband I regularly sailed the French coast and Channel Islands. Now single again, I was hoping this voyage might provide some yo-ho-ho, the odd rum punch and perhaps a little adventure.
Our voyage started from Southampton. I walked the length of Dock Gate 4, to berth 36, as advised, but no tall ship was in sight. I walked on – and on. I found Tenacious, eventually, hidden behind and dwarfed by a container ship. I was hot, flustered and incredibly tired when I finally boarded. I found my bunk and lay down to recover. The tannoy crackled. ‘All hands on deck.’ It could not possibly be for me. I was wrong!
I arrived on deck to hear that in the complement of fifty, there were only ten males. (What?) The females included twenty Irish schoolgirls, sixteen years old, nubile and wearing short shorts and tight T shirts. Oh, just great!
Due to a hitch, the ship would stay in Southampton and head for Cherbourg next day. It would mean, the captain beamed, that we could practice climbing the rigging immediately: the ratlines and yard-arms awaited. Deep joy!
First in line for the ratlines, (thin slats of wood about half a mile apart,) was a nubile schoolgirl. She set off like a rat up a drainpipe. I have a good head for heights, but there are ladders and there is rigging that sways and wobbles. I found that though I could look down, I didn’t like looking up! When the climber ahead panicked, I was told to stop: I clung on – and on! With the aid of a permanent crew who were calm and infinitely patient, we got sorted, and I lurched from certain disaster to apocalypse now and survived. You are not hooked on for the first forty feet, to make it interesting!
We met the chef that evening: a truly excellent cook who modelled herself on Gordon Ramsey. If you want to commit suicide, tell her you don’t like onions! On mess duties once, together with three delightful girls, I managed to macerate the next day’s greens. Who likes greens anyway? Even George Bush the elder didn’t like broccoli. ‘Gordon Ramsey’ went ballistic!
Duties aboard include pulling the hard, hairy ropes, sail setting, night watches, mess duties, (think veggie peeling, laying tables, pulling trolleys, and washing up for 50); scrubbing of decks and cleaning of bathrooms: (pulling chains!) Consolations include excellent food, a well stocked bar, visits to foreign ports, and the company of like minded people. Many a friendship is cemented during a long watch on a cold night.
One of the girls confided that she’d crawled into her bunk at four am, fully dressed, but for her mac and shoes. ‘Me too,’ I said, ruefully. ‘But,’ she whispered at four pm, ‘I’m still wearing all the same stuff.’ ‘So am I,’ I told her, aware that I’d made the choice between a wash and change, or breakfast. (There was no contest, really.) ‘The world hasn’t come to an end,’ I said. We bonded.
There were three people with wheelchairs, as well as others less challenged. They joined in everything. They got the chance to go up the mast, chairs and all – hauled by permanent crew and volunteers. Two were encouraged to leave their chairs behind and climb the rigging, aided by a crew member. He supported them and placed feet on the ratlines with infinite care and kindness. Up they went, on the same path as mine, and had pictures to prove it. Friends and family back home would envy them for a change!
Given the hard work – was it worth it? I now know that I can go the extra yard, and be calm in a crisis. I got a huge boost to my self esteem. There was no hunky matelot hauling on a rope and panting for me, but maybe next time…….
What really made it, was seeing the joy on the faces of those less physically able – and that, as they say, is priceless.
I’m glad that I pulled on Tenacious!
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