MY TALL SHIPS RACE JOURNAL DAY 1 (04/07/2015) – Loads of luggage, scary steep gangway and I break the ship!


Well what a day.  Finished our packing first thing this morning and headed to the Belfast docks.  A journey of about half an hour seemed to go by really slowly yet in the blink of an eye we were there.  I am feeling very nervous, wondering how we will get on.  


We arrived at the blue badge parking in Corporation Square and all loaded with luggage we wandered to the ship.  Well poor hubby was all loaded with luggage and pulling a very flowery holdall, I was in the wheelchair!  Arriving at the ship, the first thing I noticed was that the gangway was so much more steeper than yesterday.  I certainly could not have ascended the gangway on my crutches like yesterday, so I experienced my first pull up the gangway in my wheelchair.  There at the top was my hubby pulling on the rope with other crew members.  Before I had even stepped on board the ship, teamwork was already in play, and hubby was already taking part.


My first time on one of the ships four lifts

My first time on one of the ships four lifts

We were shown down to our bunks, which are small and compact to set about unpacking and making our beds up.  Thank goodness I packed the way I did, made things a lot easier having all of our clothes sorted into packing cubes.  It literally  was just a case of lifting them out of the bags and putting them in the cupboards – they fitted just perfectly and it did not take long at all to unpack.  I even had five minutes to put my feet up!


We decided to go back up on deck to see what was happening, where I proceeded to break the ship!  My crutches were attached to the back of my chair as usual.  I hate going anywhere without them because there are always places I can’t get to in my wheelchair so I like having the ability to hop out and go on foot with my crutches.  I think it’s so I can still have that feeling of independence and to be able to get myself about if all else fails.  Hubby wheeled me to the lift to go up the stairs.  This is a platform that literally goes up the slope of the stairs.  What I did not realise was that the head space on the lift was lower than I expected!  We came down on the lift with the crutches attached to the chair, which was fine, so I thought nothing of going back up the lift with them on the wheelchair.  How wrong had we judged it – the crutches attacked the ceiling on the way up and broke the wooden trim.  I was mortified.  I got up top and just wanted to run and hide.  I could not get over the door jam in the wheelchair myself which left me feeling trapped.  With the stress and excitement of the day, and not knowing what to expect, plus being in a totally alien environment with a disability I just burst into tears wanting to go home.  Promptly I set into the mode of I can’t do this, what a waste of money, this is going to be awful, and I am not going to be able to cope in this environment. My mind was awash with a load of negative thoughts.  Hubby, bless him, did his best to reassure me, then went to fetch one of the permanent crew to come and have a chat with me and I am glad to say this did help to put me at ease.

After our chat I was still very unsure of my ability to do the trip, however I could logically and calmly think about things and made the decision to ditch my worries and apprehensions by taking on the challenges and everything that goes with such a voyage one step at a time.  To push all my worries about rough seas, sleeping onboard, getting about, managing seasickness, my dietary needs, whether hubby would be alright, and even the journey home, to the back of mind.  They were still there niggling me a little bit and when my worries crept back into my head I focused my attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment – a technique known as mindfulness which is an ancient buddhist practice of meditation where I am in more control of my focus of attention by choosing what I focus on, rather than passively allowing my mind to wander onto thoughts that cause worry or distress.  By practicing this I am able to fully immerse myself in the present moment.  Looking back on my voyage as I type up my journal I can see that I practiced mindfulness a lot during the voyage, and practiced it really well, so much so that I had no fear of doing something amazing later on in the voyage – I won’t give it away at this stage though!


The platform lift goes up these stairs – that is what the grey rails on the right wall are for. In an emergency the lifts are not used in case of power failure and wheelchair users are extracted manually using a pulley system of ropes, which you can see leading down towards my back, with guidance from the two people at the front of the wheelchair.

We had to have a safety briefing on our first day and I became the “victim” for the extraction crew to practice getting a wheelchair from down below and up the stairs to the weather deck without using the stair lift.  It wasn’t too bad, and although I don’t look too happy in this photo I was glad of the opportunity to participate.  Plus it gave the permanent crew the opportunity to break something of mine – the wheelchair!  Not really, they had to remove my anti-tips – affectionately known by me as stabilisers – as they would have caught on the stairs and made the extraction nigh on impossible.  I was glad to find that out now during a practice run and not in a true emergency.  So I am now stabiliser free, feel like a kid who has just learnt to ride my bike and I am now riding without stabilisers.  It’s scary as I now have the potential to tip my wheelchair all the way back until it is flat on its back on the floor!  The anti-tips are remaining off for the duration of the voyage purely for safety reasons ironically!  I would rather fall over backwards than drown in the bowels of a ship during an emergency.  I have also ditched my footplates, so much easier to manoeuvre around the ship without them because I am not so long.  Oh and I have left my crutches in the cabin – I am crutch free.  So not only have I lost a safety feature from my wheelchair I also feel like I have lost my safety net of having an alternative to use if I can’t get to somewhere in my wheelchair.  I don’t think I will need the crutches though, everywhere on the ship is accessible with the wheelchair.  I feel so much lighter being stabiliser, footplate and crutch free – I feel like I have shrugged off a heavy coat.  Maybe this will be a turning point in accepting that I can use a wheelchair and not let it bother me if I can’t get to do something because of it.

We met our watch leader F and he gave out our watch cards.  Every voyage crew member is assigned to one of four watches and we are on the Forward Port watch.  No doubt soon will get to meet our other watch members.  Our watch cards show us when we will be expected to be on watch and also our mess days.

Watch card for Forward Port watch.  The red line across the squares is mess duty, when on mess duty you don't go on watch.

Watch card for Forward Port watch. The red line across the squares is mess duty, when on mess duty you don’t go on watch.

The crew have done climbing the rigging today as well.   So proud of my hubby, who was adamant he would not be going aloft, he put on the harness and went up to the Jacobs ladder and came back down.   Absolutely amazing and I am so pleased he gave it a try.


Hubby aloft

I will be going up the rigging on an assisted climb, this will be towards the end of the voyage though.  I am sad and disappointed that I could not get up the rigging today.   Sitting there watching everyone else climb brought back to me the challenge I set myself eleven years ago to get to the top of the mast if I ever sailed a tall ship again.  I spoke with one of the permanent crew about my challenge and we are going to see how it goes when I go up on the assisted climb – maybe in the wheelchair to the first platform, then maybe an assisted climb to the second with a rope attached to me.  I personally will be proud to get to the second yard.  We shall see what Alesund (pronounced Oolesund) brings!

We’ve had our dinner.  Relaxed up on deck and down in the bar.  Now just waiting for the fireworks before heading to bed.  Our first watch should be 4 am to 8 am, however only two pairs of people are required for a two hour watch for each pair this is because we are in port, so depending on who is chosen may mean I can hopefully get a good night’s sleep!

We head out tomorrow and then we will be at sea for about 9 days.  This ship will be our home!



First blogged on 5th July as First day on board


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