Tallship Sailing Adventure #AdventuresWithSightloss

Tallship adventure with the Jubilee Sailing Trust

On the 28th of October we jumped in a car bound for Portland, where we were to set sail for Lisbon. You might be thinking, why did it take you so long to write a blog about it? Sometimes adventures are so epic you just feel relieved that it’s over. It doesn’t last; with time the good bits sink in and the bad bits don’t seem quite as bad. It was tough and it was challenging but we are so glad we did it.

The first day

We arrived at Portland and saw Tenacious (well, Lauren saw 100% and John saw about 3% which is how much vision John has), the ‘pirate ship’ we’d seen parked up in Poole earlier in the year. Looking at it from the quay in Pool while eating an icecream, we’d never expected to be making our way on board just 6 months later. “Wouldn’t it be cool to go on a pirate ship”. “What do you think JST stands for” We we’re stoked to find out you could sail on it that it was designed to enable disabled people to join in too.

“Maybe we’ll go on a pirate ship one day” We almost forgot about it for a while, until something popped up on facebook. That’s when we thought we’d seen the ideal voyage for us. Two weeks from Weymouth to Lisbon. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for!

Lauren and John standing on the deck of Tenacious

We got out the car with our single bag of carry-on luggage each (and a secret stash of snacks) and headed over to what seemed like organised chaos. A van full of food was on the quayside and an endless stream of people were putting boxes of squash, biscuits and pasta on to the ship. As directed we headed down some stairs and were shown to our bunks. We we’re on opposite sides of the ship. Lauren on a top bunk and John on a bottom. We were sharing a room with about 8 other people each. Many who had lots more stuff than us. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t!

A view from a bunk. The sheet on the left stops you falling out of bed.

After dropping our stuff and making our beds we joined in with loading supplies. Countless times we were directed with a box of goodies to somewhere we were unsure of. The ship felt like a complex maze of corridors and stairways. It was like playing a giant game of snakes and ladders. Emergency procedures were practiced. We had different jobs so John had to learn how to find his own way out onto the deck – not an easy task for somebody that can’t see.

John nailed it and the people we were sailing with were really helpful too. We also had a chance to practice climbing up and down a mast. Here the permanent crew were super. The weather was pretty cold and breezy, but taking the time to show John the equipment was never any trouble.

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John and Lauren stood on the first platform in the harbour

Later that evening another blind guy, Jacob, gave John a tour of the ship, sharing all the tips and tricks he’d learnt from previous trips on how to get around the ship. The tour was a great help, and again, permanent crew were brilliant, taking the time to explain and show where we’d be heading tacitly on a map.

Jacob and John stood next to each other on the deck with the ship’s masts in the background

The first night was calm, in the shelter of the harbour.

Setting Sail

We woke up prepared to leave Portland, but unsure whether we would. We had breakfast and a watch meeting and news was that we’d need help of two boats to get us off the berth but if it didn’t work we’d have to stay a little longer and wait for a break in the weather. We practiced more ropework and everybody helped prepare the ship to leave. To begin with, we we’re really happy it worked, we headed out of the harbour and that’s when we realised how stormy things were. People began to feel ill, including John, and on the whole, moral took a little bit of a hit.

One of the two boats that helped us off the berth at Portland

The next few days were spent learning what to do and getting used to the daily routine. We had our first watch in the English channel at night and it was busy. A watch is a team of people that take it in turns to take responsibility for helming and keeping watch. We had to look out for other ships and steer. On the first watch Lauren had a go at helming the ship. We were in the middle of the English channel and it was busy with ships left, right and centre. Initially all went well and then, not quite so well. In a muddle, Lauren had turned the ship a long way off the heading.

Lauren helming the ship using a large compass

“Tenacious, Tenacious, Tenacious” another ship called on the radio. Our permanent crew member responded with an apology for the dodgy steering to the ship we were heading towards. Apparently these things can happen when you are tired and have been helming a while. Oops!

John’s attempt in daylight went without a hitch. Tenacious is set up with a talking compass. It reads the heading every few seconds allowing blind people to steer the ship, and as long as it wasn’t too windy for John’s hearing aids, he could too. Keeping watch, for obvious reasons wasn’t his calling but you’d be sure to find him on the ‘warm’ side of the ship (the side sheltered from the wind).

Sea legs

We had no idea of the Bay of Biscay’s reputation before joining Tenacious but we’d heard that it wasn’t a great place to be in a storm, and that there was one heading our way. We kept moving with the use of sails and engines to make as much progress as we could as quickly as we could so we could ‘hide’ in a little town called Muros while things calmed down.

Some of the waves appeared to rise above the ship.

The sea-sickness tablets were starting to do their job for most people and moral was on the up. We saw the occasional dolphin and even a whale. A break in the weather allowed for us to have ‘Smoko’ (11’s on a ship) out on deck. We were starting to enjoy ourselves. It was hard to believe we’d gain the mythical sea legs we’d heard about. Life on a ship being tossed about on the sea wasn’t easy: Walking from A-B, keeping coco-pops in a bowl and lying still enough to get to sleep were all a challenge but sure enough, we switched into ‘sea mode’ and while everything was just as difficult as before, the sickness stayed away.

That was at least until we got to Muros. We’d heard a rumour that when going back on land you’d still feel like you were moving. Turns out a lot of ships rumours are true.

Muros was a lovely town to visit and enjoy a meal with our shipmates. We stumbled around the place with our land legs, found a geocache, ate lots of food and sat and watched the sea. Lying on the floor gave some respite from the ‘land leg effect’ but getting back to Tenacious was the only real cure.

A mast climb with friends at Muros

Lucky for us we had a harbour watch, making sure all was well on the ship and keeping an eye on the wind. Unfortunately it picked up enough for us to wake up somebody from permanent crew who kept a close eye on the mooring lines.

The following morning, after the storm had passed we left Muros which was quite exciting. Lauren, as a nominated Lines-person stayed behind to help let the mooring off before returning back on a smaller boat. Quite an adventure. Outside of the shelter of the bay the weather was up to its usual tricks.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like, but at times we’d almost go weightless in bed and the list (lean) was so extreme that we’d have to hold on to our food to stop it from going everywhere. Talking of food, there was plenty of it and it was nice. Tea and biscuits were always available and we barely touched our snack supply.

Bioluminescence and Porto

Before we joined the ship we made plans for what to do afterwards. We decided upon a few days in Lisbon. Porto was highly recommended but we just couldn’t fit it in so we were delighted to find out we’d be stopping in Porto for 2 nights. Getting there was rough and tough and we certainly starting to tire. Between watches, happy hour (cleaning the ship) and handing the sails there didn’t seem to be much time to sleep but we did the best we could. Snoozing here and there.

John sleeping

“One night I was looking into the water on watch and I was sure I was seeing little blue lights in the water. It was late, perhaps 3am, and I was I was convinced it had to be my tired eyes tricking me but I saw more and more.” – Lauren

It turns out bioluminescence is a fascinating and not imagined thing. At night, you could see them swirl around the port-hole windows and at night glow and flash in the waves like shooting stars. Unfortunately they were too dim for a normal camera or John’s eyes but we’re very cool all the same.

Arrival into leixoes (the Port for Porto) was the perfect break. After figuring out the transport, we hopped on a tram into town where we found custard tarts (pasteis de nata), port and lots of restaurants. On our second day in Porto we visited Churchills Port House which was fantastic, as were the views from the bridge and the pastries. We loved every minute in Porto and we’re glad we were able to visit.

What an adventure!

From Porto we headed west for a good day so we could come back inland to Lisbon under sail. We got lots of sails up which was great to see. We took time to climb masts to the very top and sit out on the bowsprit. Our last watch on the move was into Caiscais where little sail boats, buoys and fishing nets littered the bay. A bit part of the job involved letting the captain know about any obstacles.

Top of the mast!

“There’s a crab pot on the port side” The captain asked “Are we going to miss it?” “I think so”

We safely arrived at the Anchorage and the following morning headed into Lisbon. Totally exhausted, we couldn’t wait to get off the ship. The best greatest memories and best adventures are rarely those that are easy, and that’s certainly true about our trip on Tenacious.


As with most of our adventures, we filmed and documented our experiences. Here’s a youtube playlist with the videos.