MOST people like to spend a couple of weeks in the sun for their annual holidays but Peter Mennear opted for a summer break with a difference.
The 31-year-old, from the Park Road area of Hartlepool, spent time on board ‘SV Tenacious’ as it sailed between ports in Norway during this summer’s Tall Ships Races event. Local authority worker Peter reflects on his time at sea and the challenges the trip of a lifetime posed.
DOING the washing up and cleaning toilets is probably not high on most people’s holiday agenda, but it’s all part of the fun for those taking a trip on board the tall ship ‘SV Tenacious’.
I was lucky enough to be part of the crew in July as she sailed between Norwegian ports of Frederikstad and Bergen on the Cruise in Company leg in this year’s Tall Ship Races.
Tenacious is special as she is one of only two sailing ships in the world that enables able-bodied and disabled people to sail on equal terms. Mail readers may remember that she was part of the fleet that visited town during the breathtaking event of 2010.
Tenacious is operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST) whose mission is to bring together people from all backgrounds through the challenge of sailing a tall ship.
The trust’s other ship is ‘Lord Nelson’. She has recently completed an epic circumnavigation of the world, having left British waters in October 2012, with each leg sailed with a mixed crew.
Our route followed the southern edge of Norway and included visits to Risor and Leirvik.
There was incredible interest wherever we went.
Roald Dahl got it right when he said that everyone in Norway seemed to have a boat; we were frequently visited by yachts and motorboats, and when we sailed through the island community of Lyngor, the whole town turned out to wave us through.
On board were 12 permanent crew and volunteers, with 39 ‘trainees’ and watch leaders signed up for the voyage. We were divided into four watches and each took it in turns to be on duty, day and night.
The trainees were as mixed as you are likely to find.
The group included wheelchair users and people who were blind or had visual impairments, and the age range went from sixteen to eighty-three. People came from Norway, Croatia, Denmark, Belgium and all parts of the UK.
As this wasn’t a racing leg, we weren’t called upon at all hours to change sail. But on any voyage you won’t escape from ‘happy hour’ (cleaning the ship), helping with the meals, and of course the various drills necessary to keep you safe.
When we did set the sails everyone had to help hauling on the ropes, and volunteers were often needed to climb the mast and walk out onto the yards.
It wasn’t all hard work though.
Regular supplies of tea and cake kept the crew happy, and averted any thoughts of mutiny.
JST operates a buddy system so that able bodied sailors are paired with disabled crew members, and the ships are fitted out to make the most of everyone’s abilities.
There are wheelchair lifts, adapted bathrooms, and a speaking compass next to the wheel so that blind members of crew can take their turn on the helm and steer the ship. Wheelchair users and others with similar needs are even able to experience going aloft up the mast during assisted climbs.
The varied nature of the crew was reflected in the make up of the tall ships fleet. When we arrived in Bergen we were proud to lead the crew parade and found ourselves at the front of crews from all over Europe.
What makes the tall ships events so special is this mix of the international, the friendly competition, and a genuine sense of adventure.
Personal highlights included any opportunity to climb onto the yards, and steering the ship into the stunning – and busy - port of Bergen under instruction of the watchful and no doubt slightly nervous Captain (thankfully it was better than my reverse parking).
Ultimately what I’ll take most from the voyage was the teamwork and an even better understanding of what can be achieved by people of all abilities.
As well as the Tall Ships Races, the trust sails throughout the year.
To find out more, take a look at www.jst.org.uk