Travel report by David Mackney

This summer using the money that ASPA / the OA Club gave to me, I went out to be a part of the crew of STS Lord Nelson, taking part in ‘The Tall Ships Race 2016’, an annual event where tall ships from around the world come to compete. The boats in class A were all traditional boats ranging from 144 to 331 feet long. Lord Nelson was one of the smaller boats at 165 feet, however it still had a crew of 49 people on board. 

The difference with Lord Nelson was it was the only boat in the race that was purpose built to take disabled sailors. It has lifts between decks, a wide bowsprit to allow wheelchair access, and a talking compass so that blind and visually impaired people can also helm the ship. Able bodied crew are given a ‘buddy’ to support and involve them in as much of the day to day activities as they can. It is the only time I have experienced there being truly very little difference between what an able bodied and disabled person could do. 

I joined the ship in Lisbon. Once on board I was shown my bunk and given my duties and told who my watch leader was. Everyone on board the ship was part of a watch, a group of around 9 people who for 8 hours over a 24 hour period are on lookout and helm the ship.  Watches last 4 hours and there is always a group on watch 24 hours a day. Usually you had one watch in the day and one at night, and the ship would be raced 24 hours a day until we reached the line. 

I was introduced to my ‘buddy’ called Ian who had been sailing on board for many years. Having gone partially deaf, he needed assistance with hearing and relaying instructions. The idea is that people can ask for help when they need it, and everyone does what they can. If there is an obstacle then someone helps them until they are able to do it themselves. That’s all the disability was, an obstacle that sometimes people needed assistance to get over so they could carry on with their job. An example of this was going up the mast, where together, we were able to help a blind man climb up the rattlings (the wooden pegs you climb to get up the mast.)  His obstacle was that he couldn’t feel where to place his feet very easily. So we sent someone up next to him who would guide his foot onto the next wooden slat. By doing this he was slowly able to get part way up the mast. 

When not on watch there were many other duties. My first job was helping get the sails ready which involves going up the mast and out along the yards (the long poles that the sails hang from.) When climbing along the yards you had to walk along a rope that hangs below the yard. We had 9 people on the yard at once and any movements made the whole rope swing, along with anyone on it. It was my first time going on the yards and I knew I’d have to get comfortable up there. Whilst in harbour I went up and out lots to make sure I was happy, as whilst out at sea you have the added complication of the boat swaying which is exaggerated when you are at the top if the mast.

Having raced for two days, during my watch we crossed the line at 1.44AM. My watch finished at 4AM, and I was then called again at 6.30AM as we were going into port. You realised you had to get sleep whenever you could and by the end it didn't really matter if that was day or night. When we got to Cadiz, having moored up we went to have a look around before the public were let in.  There was a huge effort by the port to try and capitalise on the income of the tall ships and the tourists that come to see them. (When we left Lisbon there had already been 1 million visitors to see the ships before they left.)

Cadiz had made a massive promotional effort and there was a pop up media centre, concert stage and loads of stalls and restaurants.  As we left the port there was already a 2 hour queue waiting. As the gates opened the port filled up and the ships opened up their top decks for visitors to come and have a look around. The port put on events for the crew of the ships, or you could go to the public concerts they had. We had finished quite early and so I had 2 days to enjoy the atmosphere before I was booked to go home. It was an amazing atmosphere, a brilliant event I would without hesitation do again.

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