Building Connectedness Aboard a Tall Ship

By Eden Beschen
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

Last week I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Quebec City for Rendezvous 2017, a tall ship event celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

I attended the event together with my colleagues from the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST), a charity I have been working with this summer. JST promotes social inclusion, empowerment and education through tall ship voyages, manned together by disabled and non-disabled crew. Their two ships, Lord Nelson and Tenacious, were built to be accessible and are the only two of their kind. The Lord Nelson had traveled to Quebec City for Rendezvous 2017, and the trip would mark my first opportunity to see her in my time working with JST.

When I stepped aboard the majestic Lord Nelson, I was in complete awe of her size; at 31 meters high and 55 meters long, she makes for quite a stunning vision. The intricate maze of ropes hanging from her sails appeared to me as complex as a foreign language, but the ship crew knew exactly what each rope does. I was given a tour by Stephanie, a long time JST patron who had just completed the transatlantic voyage from London on Lord Nelson. Throughout the tour, she frequently spoke of family, teamwork, accessibility and inclusion in describing the JST experience. I also spoke with other volunteers, permanent crew and service users, and those four words were repeatedly mentioned.

Upon going aboard the Lord Nelson, I quickly developed a whole new understanding of the concept of ‘accessibility’. Every inch of the tall ship is accessible. Her hand railings have raised ‘tactile pointers’, which indicate the direction of the front and rear of the ship for those with visual impairments. A talking compass, power assisted hydraulic steering, and a joy stick hook-up for electric wheelchairs allow anyone to steer the ship. Wheelchair lifts are abundant, as are grooves on the floors to secure wheelchairs in case of stormy weather. Even the bar below deck was built in a manner that allows anyone to go behind it and make themselves a drink.

As I continued touring the ship, I learned that, each time a rope is pulled during operation, another must be let out. To me, this process represents what JST and inclusive design are all about. It demonstrates the importance of teamwork, as the crew must work together to keep the boat moving towards its destination. It empowers, as crew members take part in something they may never have thought possible for themselves. Most importantly, the experience brings people together, with some crew members even saying that they think of their fellow participants as family.

I left Quebec City with a heavy heart, not ready to leave the Lord Nelson and her crew. But the experience left me elated about my work with JST. I could barely conceal my excitement when I recounted the experience to friends and family. Before the event, I knew how important JST’s work was, but now I’ve experienced the organization’s impact first-hand. I am incredibly proud to be part of the JST team, and will cherish all I have learned for years to come.

For more information about the Jubilee Sailing Trust, please visit jst.org.uk.