Sailing away……

View out the porthole from my bunk before leaving Antigua

Tenacious journey part 2

So there we were, a trifle early, at the ship, and a person called out to us to come on up.  Eeeek we were really about to board Tenacious.  

The first challenge was the floating pontoon, attached to the main dock.  Where the ship was docked, an extension had been attached, by metal gangway stairs, then onto a floating pontoon, then more gangway stairs up to the ship.  The six of us, wheelchair, cane, and luggage, had to guide, wheel, and hump our way up to board.  This was no mean feat as the pontoon was really rocky and none of us were prepared for that this soon.  Never the less, with a bit of help from the Permanent Crew, we got there.  We weren’t on for long and we had already met several people, and realised we weren’t the first.  We were split up immediately into pairs of support and buddy, met our watch leaders, then stowed our things in the appropriate bunk rooms.  Next we went along to the lower mess to meet with Stevie the ships Nurse, and hand over our passports.  We were then ushered to the other side of the room where we received our wet weather clothes, climbing harness, and safety belt.  These were to be stored on our hooks with our bunk number on them, in a different part of the ship.  This felt all quite rushed.  We then got to unpack our bags into one little cupboard with two shelves, and stow it around our bunk in compartments available there too.  We also had a hook for coats or towels, a clothes line above the bunk for washing, and a pole and a rope to help get up onto the top bunk.  The man in Branden’s bottom bunk took one look at his size, and quickly swapped bunks with him.  I also had a top bunk, and wondered how I would haul my 50 something body up onto there with no ladder, but I got surprisingly good at it.  A matter of having to I guess, but I also got worse and worse at remembering everything I needed, and was dismayed to find my self climbing several times, needlessly. 

The permanent crew getting ready to help people up the gangway to board

Now the bunk rooms held about twenty people, all women on one side, and men on the exact mirror image other side.  The other four Bermudian contingent, were in separate bunk rooms with two beds in each, in another corridor.  This was for anyone who needed personal one to one care, or the disability bathrooms. The first task was to make up the bunk. You get: one mattress, one duvet inner, two pillows, two pillow cases, one fitted sheet, and one duvet cover.  I was already dying of heat exhaustion, so I rolled up my duvet and stowed it in a gap, then made up the bed with the duvet cover as the flat sheet.  That worked well for me during the trip, and only once I woke a little chilly, but pulled on a hoodie to sort that out.  Now its really important to remember where you put everything straight away, because when its quiet time after 8pm, there’s only red lighting.  After hitting my head a few times on the knees, trying my best to silently find everything I needed, with my red light on my head torch; I realised I had to be more organised the next day. I did wonder how Branden was getting on.

We also got a watch card.  The watch card is actually important for immigration, and can be requested if they board the ship, as proof that you are crew (the captain has your passport).  I was in FP (forward port) watch, my mess duty day was day 8, and all the black squares were every watch that I was to join my team and take part in.  It looked a little like a cross word puzzle.  Branden and I were on the same watch, which I was relieved to find, but his mess duty day was day 4.  I guess I wasn’t going to be much support that day!  Once we were all settled and unpacked, there was a big meeting of everyone on board to meet the Permanent Crew and the Captain, then we all had dinner.  It was lucky my lovely husband wasn’t on board, because it was curry, so he would have been off again just as quick.  

After dinner it became obvious that Branden was having a few second thoughts.  I quickly gained permission to go ashore, so he could get some wi fi and ring his mum.  We managed this by asking the Antigua Yacht Club if we could borrow their wi fi, who were absolutely lovely about it.  They also had a chat with me about how amazing Branden was with his cane, and I had to laugh because every where we went in the Caribbean, it was like people had never seen a white cane before.   After a chat and a rum, homesickness abated a little, we boarded the ship for the second time, with the understanding that if it was all too overwhelming the next day, we’d pack and leave again before sailing.  On discussion later, it really was overwhelming. There were a lot of people, lots to learn quickly, lots of being ushered about with a bit of urgency, lots of noise, and suddenly managing it all on a seemingly unstable surface.  I felt a few collywobbles myself.  

The first night, we stayed on board at dock. The next day when immigration cleared us, we were suddenly off sailing!  Everyone pitched in to set the sails, and the watches started properly.  New terminology was learnt, things like 2/6 heave, well, slack and come up, which sail we were hoisting, putting out or moving, and why we were doing it.  The watch leaders are fantastic. Watch Leaders are just volunteers who are in charge of the 8 people in their watch.  They have sailed before, and know enough to be able to help with training, and are very kind and supportive because they have had to learn just like us.  Our watch leader was Harriet, who had eternal patience with us, and gave everyone opportunities to try everything out, and was very fair rotating us through the different jobs.  My watch had me, a 50-something New Zealander who had never ever sailed before, my buddy Branden who is Bermudian and has vision impairment, my watch leader from England, a Canadian couple who spoke both French and English, an English lady who was a wheel chair user, another English lady who was profoundly deaf and lip reads, and a new employee of the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST) who was there as part of her induction.  I have to say that everyone I met on the ship was lovely, always helpful, and a joy to talk to and get to know.

Once we got underway, we were sailing to St Barthélemy.  Then it was happy hour.  Happy hour so early in the morning, I hear you ask…..that means cleaning time.  Depending on what watch you are on, depends on what part of the ship you are rotated to for cleaning duty.  It might be cleaning the salt off the main deck, or polishing the wooden railings, or cleaning the walls and toilets and showers downstairs, or washing the floors.  Everyone gets a job that’s not on watch, and pitches in.  It doesn’t take very long, and is ability appropriate.  We then sailed through the day and night.  Our first official watch was a really nice one called ‘last dog’ from six to eight at night.  We got to see the sun setting, and we all had a go at steering at the helm.  I didn’t really like doing it, but took my turn when it was needed along with everyone else.  

That night I went off to bed feeling a little queasy, like I’d eaten too much dinner.  I tried to go to bed early because our next watch was at eight in the morning, and we would have to get up early for first breakfast.  There are so many people on board, that meals are split into upper mess, and lower mess.  The upper mess are the permanent crew, whoever is on watch next, and the ones on galley duty, who eat first.  Then the rest of the crew eat second either in the lower mess or outside on the main deck if it’s fine.  It all works.  There are no alarms, unless there’s a real one to react to.  So waking is done by the watch going off duty, who wobble your pillow a bit until they know you’re awake, about half an hour before you’re expected for watch or breakfast.  It works well.  I was already awake on our third day.  Sailing through the night made me a bit unstable in my bed, and when I tried to sit up I felt extremely unwell.  I thought I was a bit dehydrated and after a trip to the loo, had a drink of water.  That wasn’t a good idea because up came the contents straight away.  I’m not usually one to throw up, so it was quite a shock to me.  I used the ‘paper bag system’.  This is a cellulose lined paper bag, kept close at hand, which when used, is thrown over the leeward side of the boat.  For those that don’t know that’s in the direction the wind is blowing, not into the wind.  Even though we were in the Caribbean and it seems like polluting, it’s all approved as it’s biodegradable and the fish enjoy their feast.  I felt a lot better.  I got dressed, and went and made a cuppa, and whoa not again, up came that too.  Hmmm.  I took, one look at breakfast and off I went again.  It was time to throw away the natural remedies, my sea bands, and ginger tablets, and get some real help.  I explained to Stevie that I didn’t bring any sea sick tablets because I’m allergic to anything that’s anti-nausea, but I felt much better being up on deck and went off to my watch.  

We sailed the ship into Gustavia Harbour.  Branden was at the helm, and did an expert job using the talking compass.  He was as proud as Punch with himself, and even though I was a bit green, couldn’t be happier for him.  Stevie rang a doctor ashore and had some sea sick tablets he recommended that I could take.  I didn’t realise but she kept me close and busy for about twenty minutes after taking them, to check I didn’t have that nasty anaphylaxis reaction, and after about an hour, I felt much better.  Now the crew was getting busy to go ashore.  It was shallow in at the dock so we had to anchor out to sea a little.  Going ashore was by transport on inflatables which held about a dozen people at a time.  It was good fun.  We had to wait a bit though because important visitors were coming on board to have a look around, and Branden wanted to be an ambassador for the JST, and met some people from a disability group, and helped show them around the ship.  I actually didn’t do much, but it was really nice Branden got to do it.  Then it was time to go ashore, and I have to say getting onto the inflatable in choppy water was no mean feat.  We climbed down the metal ladder on the side of the ship, and then stepped backwards onto the inflatable, then sat down and held on tight.  Having the JST’s important people in the inflatable with us meant we kept dry butts on the way over, but not so lucky on the way back.  I really enjoyed the team work of when people were transported in their wheelchairs, and the ones sitting on the side held them tightly in place as we went over the waves and bumped our way to shore.  For those who needed support but could climb themselves, a hoist was put around their chest and shoulders, and we were ready on the rope to take their weight if and when they needed it. If the person couldn’t manage the ladder, they were hoisted down to the inflatable on a sling, gently by us on the ropes, with the person being hoisted up first, the chair being placed into the boat, and then the person lowered into their chair.  It was a great team effort and wonderful how inclusive everything was, not just some things.  

So once on land, the drill is, buy a drink, and snaffle the wi fi, catch up with everyone, go exploring, then meet at a restaurant for a party.  A party!  So Sir Stelios, from the Gustavia Yacht Club, had invited everyone off the ship to a restaurant, and we had drinks, and presentations, and yacht club polo shirts gifted to us, and nibbly food, and then it was off back to the ship again.  Sir Stelios has sponsored over 80 people to sail on Tenacious, and it was so lovely to meet him, along with the CEO of the JST Patrick.  What a day! Racing through the dark in the inflatable later that night was exhilarating, and yes we got a bit wet.  It’s all part of the excitement.  The cook Micah had put on a spread of bread and filings so we could make a sandwich for supper if we needed it. Thank God, my appetite had returned and I was starving! Then it was off to bed as we were sailing again in the morning.  

The dockside, Gustavia, St Bartholemew

It was hard to believe that was only the first three days. For those of you that followed me on the JST tracker you will know where we were headed for next, but that’s part three of my trip!

More soon – Sally

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