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Sailing past disabilities

The Tenacious' Maltese crew members Alfred Xuereb (left), David Callaby, John Xuereb and Josef Farrugia. Photo: Jason Borg

The Tenacious' Maltese crew members Alfred Xuereb (left), David Callaby, John Xuereb and Josef Farrugia. Photo: Jason Borg

Every day for the past week, John Xuereb would wake up aboard a sailing boat and manoeuvre his wheelchair to the morning crew meeting where the daily tasks were assigned.

Whether it was watching out for other ships up on deck, assisting in the mess or helping with the cleaning, chores were rotated among the crew irrespective of the fact that some had disabilities.

"It was a great experience. When Inspire (the Eden and Razzett tal-Ħbiberija foundation) asked me to join the crew aboard the Tenacious I accepted because I wanted to prove that disabled people can do whatever they put their mind to," Mr Xuereb said as he returned from his sailing adventure yesterday.

He was one of four Maltese crew members who joined the 40- strong team on the sailing boat, Tenacious, for a week when it sailed from Malta to Sicily and back.

The 65-metre sailing boat is owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST), a UK charity, whose mission is to promote the integration of people of all physical abilities through the challenge and adventure of sailing tall ships on the open sea.

Tenacious and her sister ship Lord Nelson are the only two square-rigged tall ships in the world that have been specifically designed and built to enable people with a whole range of different physical abilities to sail side by side as equal crew members.

"When I stepped onto the ship, all differences melted away," Josef Farrugia said adding that he too joined after being encouraged by Inspire that worked in collaboration with JST.

"No one asks you about your disability on the boat. You are just a crew members like any other," he said with a broad smile. He explained that the boat was fully equipped to ensure that disabled people, even if they were on wheelchairs, could make their way everywhere and feel safe.

That way, no distinction was made between people of different abilities. They all got to keep watch, help in the mess and even scrub the deck during what was misleadingly called "happy hour", he joked.

"The first time I was told to get ready for happy hour, I went to get showered and changed thinking it would be something fun. When I turned up I was told to start cleaning the windows," he giggled.

His expression beamed even further when he thought back to his favourite part of the voyage - when he got to climb a mast.

This was also a favourite for Claire Fullalove, from the UK, who also enjoyed making her way up the mast. "Being part of the Tenacious team was splendid, I'd say one of the best experiences ever... I also got to know many people from different countries," she said as she stressed that her disability melted away on board.

Mr Xuereb, one of her fellow crew mates, explained that he enjoyed the very fact of being out at sea.

"I particularly enjoyed one night when I was on night watch and the sky was something out of this world. I had never seen such a beautiful sky, free from the pollution that distorts the way we see it from land. I could understand how, in the past, people used the stars to navigate their way," he said. Mr Xuereb was accompanied by his father Alfred and by David Callaby who both enjoyed the adventure although they admitted they were glad to be home.

"It was great to be able to share this wonderful experience with my son," Mr Xuereb said.

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