Enjoying an equal life on the ocean waves

Adapted equipment aboard the Tenacious allows people to take a full part in learning how to sail a traditional wooden ship, no matter their physical abilities

Living quarters are tight but fully accessible. Ramps at every doorway: “simple things” that do away with differences in ability.Living quarters are tight but fully accessible. Ramps at every doorway: “simple things” that do away with differences in ability.

As soon as you step aboard the Tenacious, berthed at the Grand Harbour Marina for winter, all physical differences fade away.

Wide corridors, five lifts, ramps, a talking compass and low-lying desks make it easy for anyone, no matter their physical abilities, to keep watch, scrub the deck, steer the ship and haul the sails.

“No individual can do anything alone but everyone can do something if we work as a team. Aboard this ship, everyone is equal: the boat is equipped to ensure that disabled people, even if on wheelchairs, are deaf or blind, can make their way around safely.

“In this way, no difference is made between people of different abilities,” says Captain John Etheridge as he steps on a raised timber baton that makes blind people aware they are walking in the middle of the deck.

Capt. Etheridge, 59, was aboard the ship when it sailed out on its maiden voyage in 2000, four years after it started being built.

Tenacious is the largest wooden ship of its type and disabled people took part in its design and construction.

The 65-metre sailing boat is owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a UK charity that promotes integration of people of all physical abilities through sailing adventures.

Tenacious and its sister ship, Lord Nelson, are the only two square-rigged tall ships in the world specifically designed for disabled people to sail side by side non-disabled people.

Capt. Etheridge explained that the boat, which is based at the Grand Harbour Marina and travels to Sicily and back, has a permanent crew of eight and the other 40 voyage crew spend an average of 10 days aboard. Half of these have a disability.

No individual can do anything alone, but everyone can do something if we work as a team

Trips can even take up to 60 days on Lord Nelson, as it travels from New Zealand to Argentina.

The captain walks along the wide gangway on the upper deck, which has low pin rails to tie the sail cables and a low navigating desk.

On the side, at level with benches overlooking the sea, small embossed arrows help blind people know which way the ship is directed.

The navigating compass comes in several formats, including large digital figures and audio for people with visual difficulties.

The height of the compass can also be adjusted according to the height of the person, especially if they are sitting in a wheelchair. The ship takes up to eight wheelchair users.

“It’s simple things which we usually take for granted... the best things are usually the simple things,” Capt. Etheridge insists, pointing at a tiny ramp outside the doorway to the lower cabins.


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