Gail’s Story – Wish I could do that

Sunday morning, bit of a lie-in – for some reason my meandering mind took me to ships. Tall ships – I thought that I’d never been to a Tall Ships event, even though I have always loved looking at pictures of them.

Cue the IPad to look at some photos – I googled tall ships and came across some wonderful photographs – one of which was a photo I recognised as having been posted by a relative on his facebook page. It was an image of a real life tall ship anchored just outside a small town on the North East coast called Seaham Harbour. My Mum and Dad were both born there and I remember holidays of the beach there with that magical nostalgia and fondness of childhood memories.

Further browsing took me to the website of a charity called the Jubilee Sailing Trust. Oh, I thought, you can book a day on a Tall Ship if you go to Southampton. Wish I could do that. Further enquiry led me to voyages! The Jubilee Sailing Trust at the time had two tall ships fully kitted out to allow disabled access to all areas of their ships, to enable both able bodied and disabled people experience crewing on various voyages. You could volunteer to ‘buddy-up’ with someone less physically able than yourself.

My only thought was ‘I wish I was the kind of person who did that kind of thing’ –I’d never moved beyond that thought – but then for some reason that thought developed in my head – ‘WHY am I not the kind of person who does that sort of thing?  What was the difference between me and them?  Lots of things cascaded together – I was approaching my 60th birthday, I’d been gifted some money from my Great Grandma that I’d put away with the thought that I’d do something meaningful with it, maybe some to charity and a short holiday. On the Website there were details of a voyage starting in Southampton and ending at the Tall Ships Festival in Sunderland (5 miles from my parents’ birthplace). It set off exactly one month after my 60th.  This meant so much to me because of the family connection.

I’d worked hard at losing some weight but had never played any sport, never ran, never cycled, never learnt to swim properly. I’d never been in a canoe – but I’ve always loved being on and around any kind rowing boat, ferry or canal boat. 

Then next thought – the difference between the kind of person who  does do that sort of thing and me is that they click on the button that says ‘book a voyage’ ……. So I did!

I boarded the ship – crying! 60 years old, wearing sunglasses to hide my tears of fear and feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of what I was about to do.

What followed was one wonderful week taking my turn to be on watch duty – in the middle of the night, at dawn, at sunset. Taking my turn at galley duties, peeling carrots on deck, swabbing the decks,  learnt how to handle the ropes and the sails, met fellow crew volunteers from all walks of life and all ages from 17 to 92, form Sea Cadets to a retired Consultant, a woman my age on her 9th Voyage despite having Multiple Sclerosis, 6th Formers from a private boarding school and Opera Set designers; an engineer learning to cope with disability after a catastrophic industrial injury. All of us supporting one another through challenges. Sharing our life stories.

I was just recovering from the most awful sea sickness when the captain announced that it was our last chance to do an assisted climb up the rigging to the platform. No, I said, I haven’t eaten for 3 days, I’m feeling weak. Then I thought, hang on, when will I ever hear those words again. And I watched disabled crews winching themselves up in wheelchairs or trusting us to winch them up by ropes and a pulley.  So again, I said ‘yes’, learnt what carabiners are and how they work –  up I went – never in my dreams did I think I’d do anything like that.

Since then I’ve canoed 10 miles down a beautiful river, taken a canal boat out for the evening and then in a mad moment I signed up for a tandem paraglide whilst on holiday. Each time I just applied the same principle – I just took the first step  – the hardest step is to make the decision to have a go – the rest just followed.

To some this will be chicken feed, for others (me included) it was life changing. Go on. Step a little way out of your comfort zone. Try it!