“I’ve always wanted to climb the mast of a tall ship. You can fix it for me sometime.” Mark said, not long after we first met nearly 12 years ago, repeating it regularly – part of a surprisingly short bucket list. As he’s now over 50 and had another birthday approaching rapidly, I decided that if we were going to do it, we’d better look at sorting this one sooner rather than later and hit Google. I found some wonderful looking sail training holidays but they were way outside my pitiful price range. Never one to be defeated, our friend John sent a forum message out on the internet to fellow pistonheads – somewhat random, but what the hell? Two days later he phoned me.
SV Tenacious – the small(ish) tall ship
“Guess what? There’s this organization down in Southampton. It’s a charity. They say that if we can do a day when they are in port, Mark can climb the mast!” And so we met the inspirational Jubilee Sailing Trust and found ourselves heading down to Southampton, where SV Tenacious was dwarfed by the ports giant cranes and a vast freighter piled high with containers in rusty rainbow shades, while beside her was berthed P&O’s sleek cruise ship, Arcadia. Coincidentally, Arcadia is the only big cruise ship that Mark and I have ever been on, meandering up through the Norwegian fjords – visiting Norway being another item on his bucket list! It was a promising synchronicity.
Once on board, Mark was whisked off by Richard, one of the permanent crew to be rigged up in a safety harness for the climb. Richard, ex-Royal Navy and more bizarrely a former London stockbroker, is now one of eight permanent crew and looks frighteningly fit, probably due to shinning up and down the rigging many times a day. Meanwhile, John and I were greeted by Operations Manager, Andy Spark, the fellow pistonhead who set up the day for us. John busied himself with a camera, I was given a cup of tea and a great vantage point to watch the climb. We were all happy.
Yardarms and futtock shrouds
As Mark reappeared, strapped up, and gingerly tested out the first rope ladder – my very own Peter Pan in a baseball cap – Andy gleefully punctured my composure by explaining he’d only be attached by the harness during the difficult overhangs. During most of the climb, he’d be perfectly free to fall off and crash down onto the deck below. The 142ft mast suddenly became much taller and it all became much more harrowing. Mark inched his way upwards, almost hanging backwards to climb through the gloriously named futtock shrouds (I think that’s the name) into the platform area, then crawling out on ropes along the yardarm. I got a badly cricked neck from staring upwards to follow his progress – but the tea helped, as did Andy’s commentary on the Jubilee Sailing Trust.
Inspiration for all – with penguins
Andy had become involved years before after a motorbike accident left him minus part of a leg and a friend bought him a trip with the Trust. He loved the organisation so much that he has stayed as part of the staff more or less ever since. It is a totally inspirational set up and unique in the world, its two tall ships, Lord Nelson and Tenacious are kitted out to allow able-bodied and disabled sailors to work together on more or less equal terms. Tenacious was even built by able-bodied and disabled volunteers, working together – it took four and a half years and £16.5 million but the results are a triumph. Andy was in at the beginning of the build and as he said ‘I was the very last one out at the end, sweeping the floor of the workshop.’ She can carry 52, a professional crew of eight, the rest are volunteers, half able-bodied, half disabled. They have a nurse amongst the crew and usually have a doctor amongst the volunteers, just in case. And they achieve
incredible things. The Lord Nelson has been around the world and managed to get wheelchair-bound passengers down to the Antarctic to visit the penguins. They regularly manage to get wheelchair-bound and even blind crew members up the mast to where Mark has made it and is snapping photos of us taking pictures of him, the biggest grin on his face!
Time, I think to go on a diet, stock up on Stugeron and Ibuprofen and start saving so we can try a proper seafaring version next time…
Photo/s by www.blokewithacamera.co.uk