A Tenacious Tale

23rd of June, 2017

I can sniff adventure; it flows through me like a river....so when Ben from the Jubilee Sailing Trust contacted me I was all ears. The Tenacious Tall Ship was embarking on our Kiwi shores as part of its world tour.... the invite was to join this incredible vessel for the East Cape leg, Wellington to Auckland. Twelve days of open water sailing, there was no hesitation. Bring it on!! Like my predecessors before me I feel empowered to discover new lands aboard these historic beauties of the ocean.

The Tenacious is a special vessel, built in 2000 by a crew of all abilities, to promote the integration of all physical abilities through tall ship sailing in the open sea. This wooden masterpiece has accessibility for all, including wheelchair users.

Wheelchair users? Wowser that means me....after a canyoning accident in 2010, I was unfortunate to break my C5 vertebrae, changing my physical abilities. This includes quite a lot of lost function from my upper chest down, arms and hands. But also other things that may become an issue at sea in the winter, temperature control (non-existent), balance & holding on, getting around & bathroom facilities. These could hold someone back if they had a disability, lucky for me these are awesome challenges to overcome as I do with my other adventures. I don't see myself as disabled, owning an adventure company “Makingtrax” for all abilities here in Kiwiland. www.makingtrax.co.nz Disability is just a word, but a word that can hold people back. We all have our issues; mine doesn't tend to slow me down too much, just very obvious to see.

Warm gear, toilet chair and my amazing personal assistant Sofia, we're ready to roll.... Tenacious is waiting calmly in the Wellington harbour, the southerly winds cool the steel in my neck, rain saturates my lap and wet push rims give me time to appreciate the ship in all its beauty. Like the ancient docks of the centuries prior, the beast is in its element. With curiosity flowing and anticipation growing - I never researched, winging it is all I know. So excited to get aboard and discover my home for the next two weeks, the crew tie a rope to my chair and hoisted me up the gangplank to the scrubbed teak decks above. Expecting a rag tag bunch of seas dogs, I was pleasantly surprised to meet warm smiles of a welcoming crew. 

Tradition aboard a tall ship goes back centuries and is alive today, as we meet our watch leaders and get given our provisions; it comes plainly obvious this is no cruise ship. Watches are four hour shifts where the teams crew the ship, morning, noon and night- at the helm, lookout, weather observation and deck security. Navigation, chart plotting and radio communication we leave to the pros. As time flies in the brisk wind the crew of scallywags arrive and basic training commences. The anchor will soon be raised, definitions and directions pins, sheets, yards, tailor, fast, ease. Important jargon is the least, using these terms is what gets this beauty rocking. Tall ship, hands on, simple as that. Above us the ropes drape like a March Poll on steroids off the upper rigging, Jacobs Ladder is the stairway to it all. Harness divided and the scallywags are released aloft.

The clanging anchor chain indicates freedom to the waves, under the hum of prop power; we are escorted out the Wellington harbour by the local pilot boat. Dark clouds loom, the brisk southerly, white capes and dark ocean waters give Tenacious a mystical departure. Settling into life at sea takes a bit of getting used to, as the rolling ocean took its toll...with the help of fish pie, my vision blurred, nausea creeped in and saliva filled the back of my mouth. Always one to be cool under pressure... hiding this is not going to be possible and the first time in my new life...the fish pie fought back. Lying horizontal was the cure, with the help of little sea lollies the first evening was spent listening to the waves slap and the purring generators, white noise and rocking cradle, sleep came deep and fast. Sadly we missed the first night watch of Midnight to 4am. I'm sure my watch team was coping without this salty sea dog, and his trusty assistant.

The accommodation aboard Tenacious needs to have a story within its self. Our room consists of a bunk, enough room to stow our rags, curtain for privacy and an accessible bathroom opposite, with hot water!! Life a sea isn't as difficult at all. Whenever I needed help getting in and out of bed the awesome crew were always available to assist my assistant Sofia. Unable to transfer solo due to my limited strength having the crew more than willing to help without blinking an eye was amazing. I've came to the conclusion that everybody is willing to help, and with help comes experiences. Missing out due to not being man handled doesn't exist in my world. Ramps, lifts and rails throughout Tenacious join the levels to doorways to sea air. Depending on the angle/lurch of the ship, I'm free to roam with limited assistance. Tenacious is a big ship so most of the time it slices through the ocean, leaving me under my own power. However when the swell of the ocean meets with the wind full sail above, it's a totally different story. Quite the workout, keeping my chair upright with me still in it.....before I even get to move around the ship. 

Falling into the traditional life at sea comes with ease, days fly by and our evolution as deck hands grow. Every yard, every sail has a sheet or two, coiled on a pin, to make this beauty beam. The scallywag crew are tailors, fasters and coilers. Sweating those sheets like pirate treasure. When the sun overtakes the wind, it’s up the Jacobs ladder to stow. Happy hour brings shine to teak and brass. Then when you're in the groove, you find yourself on watch.

Now a salty old sea dog, the body accustom to the ocean, a watching I do go. Our first watch the dog watch, from 18 hundred to 20 hundred hours eased us in. Southerly winds off Antarctica gave the setting. Dark clouds, dark sea gave the white caps definition in the night as Tenacious sliced through cutting its groove into the future. Watch brings responsibility, the course is set. At the helm we follow the compass into the dark night. Port and starboard lookouts at duty, gazing into the clearing sky, spotting land, boats and debris, drifting into a trance the horizon disappears and the sea touches the stars. Reality in the pilot house, radars flicker, printer’s message clearing skies, our chart is set, lined on the map that glows in the red light to save our vision. Upon the hour records are updated, directions, wind speed, swell, temperature both sea and air.....it's warmer down there than up here. At the helm my favourite place to be, the watch flies by as I steer out to sea.

The first days brought brisk wind and rain, not a worry as below deck the warmth invites a game. Cards, chess, scrabble the social evenings fly, but seriously the cradle calls as the sea air takes its toll.

Our crew of scallywags is a highlight for me, each an individual with a story or three. Not often you get 50 characters, different interests, humour, beliefs, shapes, abilities and generations... each here for a reason...this holds us like glue. Sociology is here, as group dynamics plays its game, friends are made and little groups form, but being on this ship we meet and relate to a stranger you would never had the pleasure. I love people, everyone is unique, first impression is society's flaw, when you least expect the beauties lie beneath. I'm also surprised of the tall ship following, the jargon, interest and culture. Exciting stories of big storms, lost at sea...the salty sea dog Tony, of home built yachts, of sails done before, home life and the spiritual, stories are shared galore. As do I......intrigued scallywags hear my story how I ended up here in all my glory. It’s not only I that has obvious issues. Three more wheelies keeping it real, different backgrounds, struggles and stories. A trip like this- environment, experience and challenge may open a door; an idea can bring the outside in. I feel a few boundaries are broken as I share with them. 

Galley life is part of the trip, cleaning, prepping and serving. The chef Hammy and her left hand Glenis are too sweet....the responsibility I would hate to think. The food is hearty and flows all day, cakes and biscuits the traditional way. To me the food queens have the stress - of timing, strategies, menus and diets to suit. I would hate to think of sickness aboard, so my hat comes off to these gems, so don't forget to wash your hands.

Life on deck as our journey deepens, the westerly bets the south, and our sun shines strong, bringing warmth to winter on the sea. This environment breeds reflection, hypnotic waves and roll, living in the moment mindfulness is set free. Then the wind changes or the chart is new and the First Mate or Captain shouts for all stations - fore, aft, starboard or port to sweat the sheets for a change of course. The yards are set to and sails are dropped, sheets to pins and tenacious rolls on.

Days flow forward, watch comes and goes, day becomes night, night becomes day. The wind subsides and the scallywags stow sails aft, motors purr as the Tenacious creeps north. Land lovers get a hit as a stop in Napier calls...a night in Port. North is calling and our path waits Tenacious heads out with rumours of high winds at sea. Bay of Plenty, floating islands and mist, on we go minimal sails, course set to Coromandel with 40 knot gusts shelter is sort. That night watch is for the pros as a dragging anchor keeps the crew busy. I venture to the deck as surreal winds moan and hiss through the rigging aft. It feels free back at sea before its gone and just a memory.

An experience as such is to be cherished not forgot, of freedom, new experience, of inclusion and learning, of friends and banter.....for we are a crew....a scallywag crew. What an experience thank you JST and Tenacious and all of you

Jezza Williams
Trax director @ Makingtrax www.makingtrax.co.nz 

© Making Trax 2016 - Taking Wheelchair Travel to the Next Level