Slept pretty well overnight which I didn’t think I would with the ship being so still. Breakfast was served up on deck, which was nice especially as the scenery is so beautiful. Everyone is in good spirits despite the late night last night and hangovers this morning. First order of the day was to gather on the dock for the crew photographs. My first step, or should I say wheel, on foreign ground since I had my accident seven years ago! Several of the crew had to be woken up this morning so they arrived on the dock a little shell shocked. By the time we all got off the ship our old voyage friend was back – it was raining quite heavily. We had a whole crew photo first then split off for individual watch photos. I had our watch leader B strewn across my lap with H and S holding either her legs or upper body. It made for a good photo which was a bit more fun than just a row of people. The photo summed our voyage up nicely I think – a bit of rain, some laughs along the way and a great team spirit. By the way if you are reading this and was on this voyage and have a copy of the crew photos please get in touch as I would love to have a copy.
After voyage crew photos we had our usual 10 am smoko (tea and biscuits/cake). Then it was time to do the assisted climbs and wheelies aloft. This is where those not confident to climb the rigging, or those needing additional support due to their disability, get the opportunity to go aloft. I was the only wheelie going aloft, the others were assisted climbs where a rope is tied to the harness you are wearing and you are supported by crew on deck holding the other end.
With wheelies aloft it is a whole lot more complicated! First there is a strange contraption that fits under the wheelchair and straps are clipped onto it by the permanent crew. Then there is the transit seat which the person going aloft sits on, this also has straps clipped to it. Both of these are then tied to two different ropes. The metal contraption rope is the one the crew uses to heave up you up on and the transit seat is a safety measure should the first fail for any reason. Whilst I was being tied in and roped up I had a laugh and a joke with the bosun about him not taking lessons off hubby when tying the bowlines no matter how much of a stake in the insurance payout he had been promised (joke by the way for all those insurance types out there). Once all the ropes and straps were attached, all the connections were checked and double checked. A tagline (guide rope) was then attached to the lower part of my wheelchair. The permanent crew gave clear concise instructions to the voyage crew about hand over hand hauling and that was it I was away to reach the giddy heights of the first platform.
I never felt nervous when waiting for the wheelchair to be set up, or when everything was finally connected, and I still did not feel nervous when I ascended. I just thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I can see though why they leave wheelies aloft to the end of the voyage because the voyage crew need to know how to haul on a rope properly, plus the person going aloft needs to have the utmost faith and confidence in the crew hauling on the rope and in the permanent crew with setting up the wheelchair in the first place. After all, your life depends on those assisting you in going aloft and you can only gain that assurance of confidence by working with those people as a team beforehand. I did have this confidence in the crew which is why I did not feel nervous.
First mate R, who would play a pivotal role later on in the climb as well as helping to get me all tied in and safe, asked if I had done wheelies aloft before because I was so calm. I obviously told him no as this was my first experience of doing the climb without using my own limbs to climb like on Sir Winston Churchill and Prince William. He told me there was no way he would go aloft in a wheelchair and my reply was “You have to try everything once.” To which others around me said as long as I would be able to do it again and this wouldn’t be the first and last time – meaning if they dropped me! I didn’t even feel nervous with that being said.
Up I went
Higher and higher.
I twirled around a little bit, however that only gave me a better view than just looking at the plain walls of the pudding factory. A glorious view despite the mizzley rain. As I neared the first platform where A (bosun’s mate) and B (my watch leader) would bring me in I became overwhelmed by the fact that I was up the mast of a tall ship, a feat I never thought I would do again after having my accident and ending up with a disability that has left me with mobility problems. I told B before the climb that I would cry on her and I did. Before I was over the rail the tears were streaming down my face with joy and a huge sense of being highly privileged for having such a wonderful opportunity. An opportunity that wouldn’t exist without the Jubilee Sailing Trust and its two ships Lord Nelson and Tenacious.
Once over the safety rail and onto as solid a ground as you can get on a platform so many feet above the deck of a ship floating on the sea, R the 1st mate was there beside me ready for the next stage. It was only at this stage that I found my nerves as I looked at the rigging and thought how on earth am I going to get out there to do the next part of my self set challenge to climb higher than I have ever done on a tall ship. R was fantastic. He was very reassuring and showed me how to get out around the front of the platform and onto the outside edge. He then helped me clip on so that I could follow him and do the same.
Thank goodness for plenty of handholds that acted like crutches so I could manouevre around the platform. Also thank goodness for the scruffy old snow boots I am usually wearing because they have a steel plate in the sole so they don’t flex as much when you stand on uneven or edged surfaces, plus they support my ankle when wearing a good thick pair of socks and my ankle brace. Before I had even stood up from the wheelchair R had attached a line to the back of my harness which ran all the way to the top of the mast somewhere and back down on to the deck below where several crew members would be gently pulling on this rope as I climbed to take the weight off my legs.
My nerves as I stepped around the edge of the platform were completely in my throat and I was holding my breath, I eventually remembered to breathe through the fear. Remembering that I had done this before with no rope attached to my harness many years ago when I climbed from the deck to the first platform on Sir Winston Churchill via a Jacobs ladder, and again a few years after this when I had gone out onto one of the yards on Prince William, my nerves began to settle. I really should have had nothing to fear it is not as though I could go anywhere if I fell. So breathe I did and started to enjoy the moment and the achievement of being able to climb up six or so ratlines so that I could be level with the second yard which had become my aim during the voyage. My initial aim was to get to the top of the mast, however living on board and seeing those masts each day and monitoring my health I realised this would be too much for me so lessened my challenge to a height that I thought I could get to without killing myself with pain and exhaustion. I was perfectly safe with a rope attached to the back of my harness which the crew down below were heaving on to keep my weight as light as possible so that I could climb – good foot first; plus I was clipped on to the shrouds near me with a short rope and I had R right beside me all the way, encouraging, helping and guiding me.
I knew my boots would take climbing the ratlines as I had already walked on a narrow ridge to get out onto the outer edge without causing additional pain to my normal pain in my left foot. Getting out onto the edge had really been the easy part as I was able to take the weight off my bad leg by leaning heavily on the solid framework of the rail around the platform, plus the guys on deck had some of my weight through the rope tied to my harness.
Once out on the side of the platform I found my first ratline with my right foot (good one) and took that first tentative climb. Hoping my bad foot would hold out to take the step. Hoping that I could take enough weight through my arms to prevent too much weight going through my weaker painful leg. I did not need to worry though as I kind of felt the rope attached to my harness at the back pull me upwards just at the right moment, all my legs had to do was the movement needed to make that step upwards as I was as light as feather.
The second step was a little harder as it was slightly taller than the first and I had to get over the framework that forms the rail around the platform. I thought this step would beat me and all my effort getting out onto the edge of the platform was going to be in vain. However, with R’s guidance and B’s help in positioning my foot in the right place, and the crew below pulling on the rope to take to weight off my legs I did it. Then I did another, and another, and another until I was level with the second yard. This point on the ship had become my focus over the last twelve days. This had become my target as deep inside I knew that I did not have the strength, the stamina or the ability in my left foot and leg to climb all the way to the top of the mast so I had set myself a challenging but achievable height that I had thought long and hard about. A height that I was hoping would not wipe me off my feet for the rest of the trip even though it was almost over. This was challenging because of the height, I am not keen on heights. Challenging because I knew I would have to push through the pain for a short while to achieve my goal in a potentially dangerous situation. And challenging with the fear of leaving the safety of the platform to step out onto the edge around the safety rail. That is scary!
You know what? My normal pain was very much dulled until I came back down to the deck. I think the adrenalin pumping through my body had numbed it out whilst I was aloft. I am so glad I set a boundary to aim for and I stopped at that boundary because if I had done my usual of push myself completely to the limits I would have suffered a lot more than I am suffering now and could have got myself stuck up the mast if I ran out of energy or the pain got too much, even though it was a very assisted climb. I had never factored in the adrenilin acting as a pain killer, maybe if I had of done I would have gone further but as usual with my condition having so many variables I did not know how I would be up there and then what the after effects would be on my pain and fatigue.
Once I reached the height I wanted to aim for I came back down. Again B helped guide my feet and the crew on deck still took my weight. When I was safely back on the platform I gave B a great big hug. She has been a great support through this voyage and I was so glad she was aloft with me to see me achieve what I had wanted to aim for. R did ask if I wanted to climb all the way down. I contemplated it for a moment and declined, knowing that it would be too much for me. The stubborn me was yes let’s go for it, however the sensible me was no, don’ do it. I had after all achieved all I had set out to achieve – to go higher than I have ever been before – and I had done that. I am so proud of myself that I can’t stop crying tears of joy. The whole experience has been overwhelming. I never thought I would sail a tall ship again after my accident and I have. Not only that I have sailed a tall ship in the Tall Ships Race. I never thought I would go aloft again and I have. I never thought I would get higher than I have before and I so blooming well have! All that was left to do was to get all hooked back up in the wheelchair and transit seat and head on back down to the deck below. Check out this link for more photos.
Utterly fabulous and a huge thanks to R (1st mate) and D (the bosun) for rigging me up, making me secure, and for all the encouragement and help.
A big thank you to A and B for being my welcoming committee on the first platform, getting me safely onto the platform, suffering my tears of happiness, giving me words of encouragement, being the photographer aloft, and for physically guiding my feet on the climb.
A huge thank you to R for going the extra mile in allowing me to climb further than I had before, for the guidance when climbing and for all the reassurance.
A massive thanks to all the guys and girls in the voyage crew who hauled and eased the ropes to get me up and down the mast, and for heaving on the rope to take the weight off my legs for my climb, couldn’t have done it without you. There is no way I could have climbed with my full weight on that bad leg and you guys and girls pulling on that rope took up my weight so all I had to do was move.
A tremendous thanks to my hubby for enduring a tall ships voyage so that I could go aloft again, and for running around on deck and off the ship to take photos of my achievement so I can look back and recall this moment when I am old and grey. I do wonder though if I will ever be able to look back at those photos without a bit of moisture in my eyes. I still can’t believe I have done it and I am so proud of the achievement. Also thank you to hubby for all the encouragement he gives that helps me get up in the morning and live life.
Oh and thanks to my occupational therapist who assessed me for my wheelchair over eighteen months ago. She said it would give me freedom, I bet she would never have imagined just how much and how high!
It has been amazing and to think this morning when I first got up I nearly cried off going aloft. So I suppose I should thank the inner me for never giving up no matter how hard the outer me tries to make me give up with all its “I can’t do this.” Well I blooming well can and CRPS and Fibromyalgia will not stop me! They may slow me down, and take away some of my life however they will not stop me from giving anything a go even if it is once. You don’t know if you can or you can’t without trying.
After I came back down to earth we had lunch on board then went for a wet soggy walk through the festival to see the other tall ships, after which we headed up through the town. I am in tall ship heaven. So many tall ships here that I have not seen before. We returned to the ship so that I could get a bit of a well earned rest as we are off out with our watch for a meal tonight.
The meal this evening was great. Expensive (which we were expecting) but delicious. Our S who looked after the arrangements did a grand job in finding a brilliant restaurant where everything on the menu was gluten free. I have never been in a restaurant where all items on the menu have been gluten free. I think S did an amazing job of finding this place. It was great to get chatting to everyone socially away from the ship without having anyone from the watch away doing dishes or serving food. Gary had a beer with his dinner called Fish and Ships!
We returned to the ship about 10 pm and had a drink in the bar before retiring to bed. I am so exhausted and my pain is sky high however I have had a fabulous time today and for the last two weeks. The pain is definitely worth bearing for getting the opportunity to do again what I have enjoyed doing in the past – sailing a tall ship. There are just times in your life you have to grin and bear the pain to be able to have special times like today. Times that may never be repeated. Times that are potentially one off opportunities. I can’t afford to put off something today until tomorrow because tomorrow my health condition may be ten times worse and I won’t be able to do what I wanted then. I must push through the pain to be able to live. It is not the nicest ways to live and I often get knocked off my feet with the pain and fatigue but it makes me appreciate every thing I do from the simplest of pulling one weed in the garden through to going aloft on a tall ship. The only regret I have is that I was unable to go up to the view point. I had two choices – go aloft or go to the view point – I would only have the energy to do the one. It is pretty obvious which I chose, however here are a couple of photos one of the other crew members took, maybe one day I will come back to Alesund and ride the city train to the top.
I can’t believe that hubby has said he would sail a tall ship again – I think I have him hooked.
I am so very happy and highly emotional at the moment. I still cannot believe I am here.