Post date: 
Thursday, 3 May 2018
Bill Climbing on Rigging

Bill Foster, Northern Ireland Connector, tells us why he loves tall ships and his experiences of being a part of a ship’s crew.

"Since I was a wee fellow, I had models of tall ships, and liked reading stories about sailing, about the adventures of sailing off somewhere, and of pirates and treasure," Bill explains.
Bill has been blind the last 10 years. When he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in his early 30s, he had a young family and a mortgage to pay. So in his words, he just had to “get on with things”– which he has done in the most inspiring way.
Bill built a career as an engineer in Belfast. When he retired, Bill chose to volunteer for RNIB, by training people with sight loss to use computers with JAWS, the screen-reading software. He also travels around encouraging people with sight loss to get involved with anything that might improve their quality of life.
Bill’s own sight loss has not stopped him engaging in all kinds of activities, including tandem cycling, rowing and sailing, and especially his love of tall ships.
"You can do all sorts of things if you desire them; you can train yourself,” Bill says. “Even birdwatching: instead of using binoculars, you can listen to the birdsong."
Bill heard about the opportunity of going on a tall ship through the Jubilee Sailing Trust. The Trust has two tall ships, the Lord Nelson and the Tenacious, both based at Southampton.

What is a tall ship?

“A tall ship is built in the old style of sailing ships, with tall masts and lots of white sails. They are 50 metres in length (155 ft), about the length of 14 cars parked end-to-end, and 15m (50 ft) wide, five cars side by side. These ships are now used for training sailors in the old skills and disciplines. They are also used to get people with disabilities to experience life on the water,” explains Bill.
“I sail mainly about once a year, for a week or a fortnight with different groups. Last year, I sailed from Southampton to Gibraltar. It doesn't matter what your disability is, you're encouraged to do everything on the ship, including climbing up the rigging, or letting down the sails or pulling them up. It's hard work, but it's fun.
"When you're on board, you're treated as equal to an able bodied person. They might say ‘We're going to lift this sail that weighs three tons, and you do it, and they say ‘Well done’. It makes me feel great, because we all have to work at the same pace. It's good to feel an equal part of the team."

Experiencing a watch on a tall ship

Bill explains what a watch is like: “There are about 45 crew members on board. The crew is divided into four groups called watches: aft port, aft starboard, forward port and forward starboard. Each day is divided into four-hour shifts, so each watch does four hours on and four off and every watch is different each day.
“Everyone is encouraged to take part in every activity from preparing food, climbing the rigging, scrubbing the decks, hauling on ropes, steering the ship etc. When it is your turn to be on watch, your team is in complete control of the ship. You could be steering the ship, on look-out, making tea for the team, checking below that no one has fallen out of bed, all lights are switched off, etc. One of the last things to be done is to wake up the next watch to come on duty.
“The watch I like best is the morning watch, as it’s good to feel the sunrise in the morning,” Bill says. “It’s a great confidence booster for everyone who takes part and such a great feeling, which lasts for a long time after the event itself.”

Further information

The Jubilee Sailing Trust offers of a choice of journeys to multiple destinations and of varying durations. In order to make their voyages accessible to everyone, the Trust has bursary funding available for those who may not be able to afford the advertised prices. Both able bodied and disabled individuals, from the age of 16 upwards, can apply for funding. Contact the Trust to find out more.