Sailing the Seas with a disability
One of my favourite things about working in a restaurant is the customers, some with great stories to tell- which was the case for the table of eight I recently served. Clearing their plates I was curious to find out if the welcoming group were colleagues or friends, "Both!" they answered cheerfully. They continued to tell me they were a collective of chefs, engineers and sailors working on the STS Lord Nelson which was docked in the Gunwharf Quays Marina, and I soon found out this was a ship with an incredible difference. Commissioned by the United Nations accredited charity Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST), it's main mission is to promote integration of people with disabilities and able-bodied through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing. Whilst serving them a last round of coffees I asked if I could come onboard and take some photos, which they enthusiastically agreed to.
The next day as I excitedly made my way down to Lord Nelson I was taken aback by the grandeur of her compared to the other boats docked in the small marina. I was greeted by a handful of crew members, some of whom I had seen the night before. Stepping onto the ship, Lord Nelson had all the characteristics I envisaged; a soaring high mast at her centre, cascading ropes tied to her side, and a canvas of thin wooden planks for her decking, but as Sam Webster, Marketing Manager of the JST told me, there's more to her than first meets the eye. "Lord Nelson and her sister ship Tenacious are extremely unique, in that they are the only fully accessible tall ships that allow everyone - regardless of ability or experience - to sail together. They have many features such as a speaking compass for those who are visually impaired to navigate the waters, markings on the hand rails and floors to help feel your way around the ship, doors that are specifically designed with water traps to stay level for wheelchair users but still cope with rough conditions at sea, to name just a few! One of the most amazing things to see on board is the assisted climbs - people with mobility issues and wheelchair users being able to climb up the mast."
The JST says their voyages improve lives by providing fantastic leadership and life skills, and improve self-esteem and build confidence. They also have a buddy system where non-disabled and people with disabilities work together when out sailing. The scheme helps promote sharing and celebrating individual differences whilst working together to achieve greater things. The charity says that even though one-in-four of us are close to a person with a disability, there is still an element of prejudice and misconception about ability which leads to making life feel very isolated for individuals. The JST says their two ships help build the bridges of awareness and understanding around disability to break down barriers for the better, and create a more inclusive world... and isn't that what we all want?
For more information about this great charity and sailing days around the world go to http://jst.org.uk/