Luckily hubby and I were not needed on watch last night which meant that after the fireworks we were able to settle down for a first full night’s sleep on board. Thanks go out to the watch members who did have to get up for harbour watch between 4 am and 8 am.
The bed is quite comfy – I was fearful it may be a little hard, however it was not. It is difficult to describe apart from soft enough to slightly sink into the mattress and hard enough so it gives you support. After all it is just a mattress lay on top of a board! The fear I had was that the mattress would be hard so that when I lay on it all my areas of hurt i.e. my ankle, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows would be pressed down onto the mattress by the rest of my body causing them to hurt even more. This was one of the reasons I did a lot of research a couple of years ago to purchase a new mattress, I need something that allows my body to sink into a little bit (for example a memory foam topper) and not too soft that it does not give me enough support which would cause back ache. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this mattress, although not perfect, was a lot better than I imagined – I slept. In fact I slept the whole night through, which is highly unusual for me. With the pain from CRPS and Fibromyalgia I usually wake a couple of times in the night and it takes me a long time to relax enough to sleep. Having such a busy day full of varying degrees of stress, excitement and activity meant my pain levels were through the roof and I did not expect to sleep all night, least of all fall asleep almost straight away. I had not kept my foot up enough during the day which meant my foot was swollen and painful, so much so that I could not get my little shoes on that I had brought with me nor could I get my sailing boots on – thank goodness for bringing along my old faithful snow boots which I wear in the depths of winter and the height of summer! Hubby was in the bunk above which is like a pipe cot with a thin mattress layer – even he said he felt comfy and slept reasonably well.
So first night on board a success, now time to face the activity of the day and I am sure it will be a busy one as we will be leaving port around lunch time to join the rest of the ships on Belfast Lough for the parade of sail. I am really looking forward to this, I am also kind of dreading it too as I know that once we leave port that will probably be it until we reach Alesund in however many days time – it could be a couple of days at sea or it could be eleven days at sea. No matter what happens we have to be in port by the 15th July at the latest. This is what I have always wanted though, the opportunity to be at sea under sail for more than just a couple of days. To really settle into the ships routine without landing in port every couple of days. This was my dream and I hope we will be longer at sea than just a couple of days. What I think I am dreading is how I am going to manage the watches with my medication, how I am going to keep my foot elevated especially as it was not elevated enough yesterday, how I am going to get about the ship in the wheelchair if it is rough, how I am going to get up and about on my crutches when we are at sea because I still need to walk to keep the strength up in my legs – I am so fearful of falling and injuring myself especially as I know that any injury can cause a spread of the CRPS. These are all fears that I will either overcome or find a way to work around. It is going to be challenging, I have no doubt of that, and I am up for that challenge. To stop myself worrying about all these things I have been practicing mindfulness, however as I said yesterday sometimes all my worries flood back and I have to just push them aside again, one way to do this is write them down and forget about them – so that is what I have done – written them down and forgot about them!
We were told yesterday to not worry about setting alarms as we would be woken when we needed to be woken. As the ship works around the clock alarms would disturb those that do not need to be disturbed, people who may have only gone to bed at 4 am after the middle watch of midnight to 4 am. Our natural body clocks meant hubby and I were awake before most people – getting up early is not an easy routine to get out of, and bless my hubby he had gone and fetched me a cup of tea which was so nice of him. He was even showered and dressed, ready to face the day and this was all before 6 am! So we were both wide awake, showered and dressed before the “bing bong” went off to wake the crew to get ready for breakfast at 8 am. I think that was around 7:30 am when the bing bong went off along with the chirpy good morning voice of the Medical Purser. Once the “bing bong” has been sounded the Medical Purser walks the ship to make sure people are rising from their beds – no lie ins here – ships routine has to be maintained and it takes all the crew to do it.
Breakfast was up on deck with a selection of cereals, porridge, fruit juice, toast, fruit and cooked breakfast. I went up on deck on my crutches, I did not want to use the wheelchair in port especially as I don’t know how many days we will be at sea and if it will be rough weather – I will be using it all the time then. I used the chair lift to get up on deck and then sat on one of the benches overlooking the starboard side. Hubby fetched and carried for me, I don’t know what I would do without him. He just knows how much spoon conservation it takes to get through a normal day and I am sure I will need more than my usual quota to get through an exciting day such as this. It was lovely to sit there looking out across the river admiring our neighbours – Cisne Branco and Europa. Europa is such a pretty ship, I have told no end of people that she sails to the Antarctic every year. I was telling visitors to the ship last night and other voyage crew members this morning. She is certainly one of my favourite tall ships. My favourites have really only been those that I have sailed on in the past, although I do get excited when I see any tall ship and festivals like this are tall ship heaven to me. I know very sad, however I think that once you have sailed a tall ship, and if you get the bug like I have, they become part of you whether you have sailed on a particular tall ship or not.
We were able to chill out a little this morning on the ship and get to meet other crew members that we did not meet yesterday. Forward Port Watch has received some bad news, F our watch leader will not be able to do the race with us, he is returning home today because his wife, who was with him, has had a flare in her knee and is not well enough to undertake the voyage. This is a shame as we had not even had the chance to get to know them both. Our new watch leader B has introduced herself to us though. A lovely, bubbly young lady who had been watch leader on the voyage that brought the ship to Belfast, she was contacted and was able to return to the ship to become our watch leader for the race. We have a lot of young people in our watch, with F and his wife leaving that makes me and hubby the oldest! In fact we could be the parents of all our watch except maybe one other person! I feel old.
Preparations for leaving port started around mid morning. Hubby is one of the lines men so he shall be going ashore to bring in the gangway and to help cast us off. It is a lovely day for it, I am so glad it is not raining. After breakfast I went and got the wheelchair – to give myself somewhere comfy to sit up on deck to watch the preparations and help where I can. Also with the wheelchair I can move around and take my seat with me so to speak. I am being good, every opportunity I get I have my foot up, whether that be on a pin rail, the side of the boat, or on anything that juts out enough for my to wedge my foot on. I am also wearing my nice new sailing boots, the swelling has come down enough to get them on with my splint. They are really quite supportive, which is good, and comfy to wear. My foot has stayed warm which is a bonus as I always have ice-cold pain in that foot. At the moment it is warm and sore but not at the burning pain stage so I am a happy person. Mind you I would have been a happy person even in excruciating pain. I have waited eight long months for this day to arrive and I just want to be a part of it all and not holed up in my bunk through pain. I will push myself, I absolutely intend to push myself to my extreme limits, to make sure I take part fully in the sailing of this beautiful vessel, to make sure I don’t let my watch down and become a burden and a waste of space, and to make sure this voyage is as great as it can be so hubby and I will have some fantastic memories. I know there may be times when I have no choice but to stop, that’s just the nature of the CRPS and Fibromyalgia beast that lurks within my body ready to snatch my enjoyment and life away. I know I will have to go to bed between watches no matter the time of the day to try to recover lost spoons that I will no doubt be throwing over the side by the handful. I just know I have one chance at this and I will take as much as it can throw at me and more if I can. I want to be a part of my watch, a part of the crew, and race this ship to Norway.
After a fly past by the Red Arrows, slowly, one by one tall ships left their berths and after lunch it was our time to get underway. Hubby had already helped slip a couple of mooring lines and bring the two halves of the gangway on board, which seemed such a cumbersome challenge. It was now down to dock workers to release the remaining lines and we were away. There was a good crowd on the quayside to see us off, waving at us and cheering us on. There were some people in the crowd who knew people on board. My family was not on the quayside because they would be along the coast at Carrickfergus and Whitehead. So although I won’t see them, I know they will see me – well they will see the ship.
After the mooring lines were brought aboard and stowed, hubby and I went up to the bow of the ship to enjoy the sail out of the harbour and onto Belfast Lough. Past the iconic Titanic building, Samson and Goliath the two great big yellow cranes, the film and television studios, the ferry port, the container yard, the oil rigs in for repair, and some of the other tall ships.
I am on a tall ship and I am going to sea on a tall ship for the third time in my life, a chance to do something I never thought I would be able to do again. There are just no words to describe how I feel about this trip of a lifetime – amazing, exciting, challenging, worrying, crazy, unbelievable, happy, thrilling, breathtaking, impressive, intriguing, moving, overwhelming, exhilarating, spellbinding and mind-blowing – everything all rolled into one. My mind is full of emotion, so much so I could cry, in fact over the last 24 hours I have had tears a few times, tears when I broke the ship yesterday, and tears in my eyes several times for the enormity of it all, the opportunity that should never have been if it were not for the Jubilee Sailing Trust, and simply tears because I am so happy. Happy to be on a tall ship again, happy that my hubby is here to experience it this time and just happy to be experiencing a tall ships race. It certainly has been an emotional roller coaster these last few days, what with dinner on board Santa Maria Manuela a couple of nights ago, my parents coming over that same day, coming on board on Friday as a visitor, signing on as crew yesterday and now leaving Belfast with all the other tall ships. I knew this would happen, I knew the excitement would be too much to bear, and I knew I would be emotional. It’s a big thing to sail a tall ship as it is, it is a ginormous undertaking doing it as a person with a disability. I think I have done well to keep all my emotions in check, now is the time to let them go, to allow them out, and then I shall be able to settle into ships life and enjoy the sail.
Sailing out onto the lough I got out of my wheelchair and sat up on one of the edges that run round the bow so I could see better. To see the ships ahead of us and the coastline. As we neared Carrickfergus we waved in the general direction of the sailing club, I even sent my son a video of us waving. We passed out of sight for a short while behind the Stenaline ferry that was anchored up and I said to hubby “they will think we were swallowed up by the ferry.” I found out afterwards when looking at the photos my mum and son took from Carrickfergus that my son had said a similar thing – that we had been swallowed by the ferry and then popped out the other side. Funny how I knew that is what he would say!
We continued in a big loop towards Bangor and then back towards Whitehead to start heading North towards the start line of the race. We have set a couple of sails, braced the yards and been enjoying the scenery. I have never sailed up past the Gobbins before, I could just about make out the bridges on the cliff face, only just though. We sailed on up past Islandmagee, then on further past Larne towards the north coast. I have helped with setting a sail – doing the old “two, six, heave” – a chant that sailors use to co-ordinate pulling as a team; I have also let loose the royal yard during bracing – this is a very light yard right at the very top of the mast. As I was only letting out the rope it was an easier task for me to do than pulling on a rope – or sweating and tailing as some of the crew were doing on the other side of the ship. All this rope handling was done from being seated in my wheelchair, the only problem I found was squiggling my way into a gap to get a hold of a rope, I did it though and absolutely enjoyed it. The sails were going up, the sea was gentle and calm, the sun was trying to shine through the gaps in the cloud and I was having fun.
We were on the last dog watch between 6 pm and 8 pm this evening, a nice short watch to ease us in and a beautiful evening at that. The weather was grand, the sun was shining, the coast was beautiful, and then hubby took the helm and steered us straight into a rain cloud. Not his fault really as that was the direction we had to go in. Thank goodness for our wet gear otherwise we would have been soggy wet and cold. I just hope the short sharp burst of wet weather is not a sign of things to come!
I think I will be sleeping well tonight, it has been a fabulous day setting sail, sailing out of Belfast Lough on a tall ship, seeing the coastline around Islandmagee and towards the north coast, I am almost scared to go to sleep as I don’t want to miss anything, but sleep I must to be able to do it all again tomorrow.