Third time lucky.
The first time the Trust ran out of money. The second time was disrupted by Covid. But finally, more than three years down the line, my official buddy Jock and I set sail on this adapted wooden square-rigger — this time for a winter jaunt around the Canary Islands.
I faced the prospect with a degree of trepidation. In 2019 I still considered myself an independent sort, ready to try my hand at most things. But lately, decades of out-of-balance walking have since come home to roost and the end result, an unpleasantly curved spine and a pronounced list to starboard, meant I would probably need more help than before.
But that’s where the Jubilee Sailing Trust makes a difference. Still going strong after 20 years, the Tenacious takes mixed-ability crews on trips following the sun around the UK, the Mediterranean and Caribbean. For our own belated adventure we flew to Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) and, after a couple of days R&R, stowed our kit in a tiny two-berth cabin aboard the vessel. Me with the bare minimum; Darroch, never knowingly underpacked.
We assembled on the messdeck for a slew of briefings and drills. Surprisingly, out of some 25 ‘Voyage Crew’, I appeared to be the only wheelchair user (Charlie, a volunteer Watch Leader, managed almost everything with a crutch). This, I learned later, was a casualty of the continuing funding difficulties faced by the Trust, which means they are unable to offer disabled folk previously generous discounts. For our cruise, they were largely replaced by individual adventurers and Trust supporters.
We were split into watches and handed our watch cards, detailing our duties while aboard. We sailed the next day, heading to the north and then west against the Atlantic wind and swell towards La Palma. In fact we deliberately overshot the island, creating the opportunity to set the sails and beat downwind overnight. We voyage crew were told which ropes to heave or check away, providing the muscle to manoeuvre the boat under the guidance of Bosun’s Mates Chelle and Amy.
For the next six days we shuttled between the islands, taking in visits to Tenerife as well as LPx2. The vessel moved about a fair bit under sail, which appeared dramatic as your correspondent appeared to come within a degree or two of being tipped out (especially when heeling to starboard in the Atlantic swell). However, only once did he require lashing to the wheel during a dog-watch (this is 95% true) and the services of Jock and four companions to regain his cabin afterwards. That was quite diverting.
Other highlights incuded me hauling my sorry ass in a sling up to the forward mast crosstrees, where the Bosun had thoughtfully provided a beach chair. We sat in the sunshine for a half-hour or more, just chatting. I then watched in wonder as shipmate and senior adventurer Bill climbed to the very top of the mainmast, beyond the security offered by a harness, on the way to raising £1,000 for the Jubilee Sailing Trust.
Incidentally, the organisation deserves a bright future but it badly needs help like this. The Tenacious offers a unique opportunity for handicapped and able-bodied folk to work together in a challenging environment, with few concessions made to individual limitations. Yet her future is far from secure. Her sister ship the Lord Nelson has not yet been sold and next summer’s UK programme, peak season for disabled crewmembers on a budget, will provide an acid test.
Back to highlights. The food was brilliant. Cooks Ian and Mike — with a little help from voyage crew messmen — consistently served up quality meals. They baked their own bread as well, including a particularly tasty chilli loaf. And one afternoon, as we stopped work for a smoko (break), they served up a full cream tea. What a treat.
Finally there was Jock. He kept me upright from stem to stern, from Gatwick drop-off to pickup. Thanks pal. BZ