Dizzy heights: Crewmember William Barrie agreed to sit in a wheelchair and be lifted up the mast to show us the ship’s capabilities.  *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Dizzy heights: Crewmember William Barrie agreed to sit in a wheelchair and be lifted up the mast to show us the ship’s capabilities.  *Photo by Sarah Lagan

FRIDAY, APRIL 13: The tall ship Tenacious, currently docked at Front Street, provides living proof that people who are disabled are not necessarily unable.

A crew of 40 mixed ability and permanent crew have just sailed the 213-foot square-rigger on a six-day transatlantic voyage from Nassau in the Bahamas to Bermuda.

The ship, launched by the Jubilee Sailing Trust in 2000, was designed to be accessible to people of all abilities right down to the adjustable tables and chairs.

Yesterday morning, the crew enjoyed an exercise in climbing up the 100-plus- foot masts and taking in the view of Hamilton and the harbour. Among those climbing were a group of wheelchair-users, but none of them decided to stay in their chairs and simply be winched up.

“Then we wouldn’t be doing anything,” said Arabella Barrie.

Can-do attitude

Instead they climbed up the steep ladders using their arm strength and some assistance from the crew. It is a testament to the can-do attitude that is inherent in so many people with disabilities, an attitude that a journey on a ship like Tenacious can often help to garner.

“I defy anyone to come and do a trip on one of these ships and not have it change their attitude towards disabilities,” said Captain Simon Catterson who has been at the helm almost since the ship launched.

“The crew tell us that the big difference between here and other places is that here they are expected to just get on with it — if you can do it then get on and do it.

“In lots of other places the expectation is ‘no you won’t be able to do that so maybe you can do just a bit of it’. After you have been here a while it becomes automatic — it’s just another bunch of people and as with any crew you use them in the best way you can. You don’t even really think about it.”

Not only was Tenacious designed to be operated and maintained by people of mixed ability — it was physically built by them.

“In 1995 the Jubilee Trust decided to do something completely outrageous and build it themselves,” explained Captain Catterson.

“They decided to build it with wood in a yard in Southampton (UK) with a huge crowd of mixed ability people led by a team of ship wrights — it was a fully-integrated project. Certainly in the first few years people would be coming on board saying ‘oh yes — I built that bit.’ It is quite something.”

The trust also built the Lord Nelson in 1987 — the first ship in the world designed and built to accommodate mixed ability crew. Both ships are fully accessible for people of all abilities with wide decks, low railings, wheelchair lifts, a hearing loop, a speaking compass and hydraulic power-assisted steering to name just a few features.

“We can cope with just about any physical disability on this ship,” said Captain Catterson.

• Anyone interested in sailing aboard Tenacious or the Lord Nelson can find out more by visiting www.jst.org.uk or by calling (UK) 023-8044-9138. Tall Ships Bermuda provides financial assistance to young Bermudians aged 17 to 25 who are interested in sailing on a tall ship. For more information, visit: www.tallshipsbermuda.com or email john.wadson@tallships.bm or bmorfitt@transact.bm