Life on the ocean waves

Post date: 
Thursday, 1 February 2018
Marg Verdon steering the ship

Connect member, and intrepid sailer, Margaret Verdon, tells us about her adventures sailing the trade winds across the world's oceans.

I have just returned from an exhilarating trip, sailing for ten days from Gibraltar to Gran Canaria, across an often rough and windy Atlantic Ocean, in a beautiful square-rigged sailing ship called The Lord Nelson.

After sailing through the busy but calm  Straits of Gibraltar, we headed out towards Madeira in search of the famous North East Trade Winds. We faced increasingly steep Atlantic rollers but this was exciting and added to the drama of the trip. After sailing close-hauled (60 degrees to the wind) and tacking and wearing the ship (putting the bow/stern through the wind), right as forecast, the NE Trades appeared and blew us south to Las Palmas. The sailing in a perfect breeze was wonderful.

I was part of a crew, made up of people with different physical abilities and degrees of sight impairment, together with a professionally trained permanent crew.  Each of us was expected to do everything needed to keep the ship running.  So that meant I became involved in hoisting the sails, of which there are many; I think fourteen.  It’s a square-rigged ship, so you can only sail with the wind no closer than 60 degrees off the bow ( front of the ship) which means that you are constantly changing the angle of the sails as the wind varies in direction. Hard work but great fun.

I also got to steer the ship – everybody does.  It has a talking compass which tells you what course to take, so it’s quite easy really.

Although the sea was rough, and you rocked from side to side when on the bridge or deck, there were hand holds everywhere you go. The ship is very well equipped with aids for disabled sailors, including the visually impaired. Able –bodied and disabled crew members sail on equal terms.

When on deck at sea, you have a harness, so you can clip yourself on to safety ropes if it’s really rough.  Also, the permanent crew are really helpful, they look after you extremely well. You are helped if you want to be and you’re not made to feel foolish.  Our Captain had been in the Royal Navy for many years, sailing in submarines, and his 3 mates and engineers all had sailing backgrounds, so they taught us what to do.  We had lectures on recognising changing weather conditions, sailing and knot tying, all of which were really interesting.

Every day, there’s something called ‘Happy Hour’ and this is when we clean the ship; this involves cleaning on deck and below, polishing the ship’s rails and the ship’s bell (my favourite).  It’s hard work but also fun.  One day I was on mess duty, which meant I got up at 6.30am and helped serve breakfast to the rest of the crew.  Then I helped the professional chef get things ready for lunch, so I peeled lots of potatoes in the galley with my fellow sailors, which was great because I got to chat and have a laugh with shipmates.

The trip was a great way to socialise and meet people from different backgrounds from all over the world; one lady had come all the way from Australia with her son. 

It made me realise that there are other people like me, who want to try new things, but just need a little help to do so.

Some people started off a little shy, but by the end of the trip everyone had got to know each other – by helping each other.  Everyone mucks in and gets on with things.   It was such a fun trip; there was a lot of laughter and amusing incidents.

This wasn’t the first sailing holiday I have been on with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. I’ve also been on a trip from Antigua to Barbados which was great, and here the waves really did come over the deck – but the sea was lovely and warm.  I’ve also been on another trip along the Norwegian coast.  And a good trip to do is one from London to Boulogne and then back to London and up the Thames, through the Barrier, past Greenwich, Docklands and under Tower Bridge.  

I’m already thinking about my next trip; I think I may take my grandson along with me…..

Margaret went with the Jubilee Sailing Trust which is a registered charity whose mission is to promote the integration of people of all physical abilities through the challenge and adventure of sailing tall ships on the open sea.  Here is a link to their website http://jst.org.uk/

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