Crossing the Atlantic, without sight

Kate – who has a profound visual impairment – joined the crew of Tall Ship Tenacious for a voyage across the Atlantic to Antigua. This is her story.

By Kate

When I think back on the trip, I either feel like I’m telling someone else’s story or that I dreamt it.

To begin with, I was apprehensive about tackling something like this. Back in the spring, a friend suggested this voyage to me, and I thought I wasn’t cut out for the journey, or was I? I’d spent a lot of time thinking about this trip. With encouragement from family and friends, I booked the trip.

Soon enough I was on my way to the airport with my Mum and partner. I enjoyed a pizza outside in the warm December air despite a late arrival in the Canaries. I’m a worrier, so I hate being late. I walked to the harbour a few hours before I was due to board Tenacious to find the ship I would spend 32 days on.

Las Palmas Old Town
Las Palmas Old Town

The first evening on board was spent getting to know the rest of the ship’s motley crew. The next day, we sailed to Santa Cruz, it took us about 24 hours. That night, it was New Year’s Eve, so my watch hit the town and went for a curry. Whenever I think back to that night, I just remember all the laughs and stories we had.

It would be hard to pick one highlight from this trip, but spending New Year’s in Santa Cruz would be up there. Standing on the bridge with a glass of champagne and taking in the electric atmosphere as fireworks went off was pretty awesome. The sound of all the ship’s horns at midnight was also impressive.

Sunset on the bow
Sunset at sea

The next morning, New Year’s Day, we began our passage across the Atlantic. The first week or so was spent getting used to the 24-hour routine of running a ship. It came time for everyone to show they were safe to climb the masts, even I was given the opportunity to climb to the first platform and out onto the yard. Climbing up the platform was fine, but getting out onto the yard, a part of the ship that supports the sail, was terrifying. I guess it’s because I had to take a leap of faith from a stable ladder onto a foot rope. I was given permission to climb the mast without any assistance after everyone returned to the main deck, providing I went with a crew member I trusted to guide me. I’ve been on the JST’s sister ship before, but to get the same privilege as everyone else made me feel pretty pumped up. The trust’s ethos is about looking at a person’s ability, not their disability. But this small inclusion made me feel as equal as everyone else.

Full inclusive sailing
Fully inclusive sailing

The voyage crew passed the time by talking about their work or a special interest. My talk was about my journey into sailing without sight and my ambition to take part in the blind sailing world championship. I wanted to give the others an understanding of what It could be like to have a visual impairment, so I used two of the exercises Southampton Sight uses when delivering its sight loss awareness training.

Once we got into the routine of sailing the ship, many of the 21 days at sea became one. We had some awesome moments: a brilliant sunrise accompanied by a playful pod of dolphins, seeing the moon for the first time since the sky was so dark that we could see it clearly, the weather got warmer, not just because of the amount of sun cream we liberally applied, but also because of the number of flying fish we saw. For about 5 or so days although we weren’t in sight of land, we knew we were sailing off the coast of the Sahara. When I was on watch one morning, we had the most vivid orange sky, and one of the guys said we were seeing sand from the Sahara. Things like that will stay with me forever.

Life at the helm
Life at the helm

Another great memory was the first time I got out onto the bow spirit with my fully sighted buddy. She was talking me through where to put my hands and feet, we could see dolphins frolicking below us. They were so close I could hear their splashes and squeaks of communication with their playmates. Once I’d almost reached the bowsprit, I thought I’d be brave and sit on the cargo net; that was all I had between me and the ocean. It was magical, yet terrifying at the same time. I laid down before we headed back to the ship and the sound of the waves and the rocking motion of the boat had me trying not to fall asleep. Even though I wanted to drift off to sleep, I couldn’t, because soon I’d have to help out in the galley.

Being onboard made it possible for me to push my boundaries in ways I normally couldn’t. Climbing to the top of the foremast with my buddy and helping complete a harbour stow taught me I shouldn’t put barriers in front of myself.

Crew on the yard arms
Crew on the yard arms

Upon arriving in the Caribbean, we went to the small island of Bequia. We all enjoyed being ashore and the rum punch. It was the warmest sea I’ve ever been in, despite falling down from about 4 feet high on the way to the beach.

After Bequia, we went to Dominica. This island was rustic but charming. Then we anchored in the bay and some of us went on an Indian River Cruise while others were on a tour of the island. There were iguanas and other tropical creatures we saw, and wildlife was a constant topic of conversation throughout our trip, especially the sightings of sperm whales and tropical birds.

Beautiful Dominica
Beautiful Dominica

While we were anchored in Dominica, we got to swim in Portsmouth Bay, Dominica, before we set sail for Antigua. It was so warm, and everybody enjoyed jumping in, even me. Initially, I climbed down a ladder to get to the water but eventually got enough courage to jump in. I found out later that I had jumped from a platform 2m high! It was scary, but I’m glad I pushed aside the fear and did it, as everyone cheered and celebrated with me.

I felt emotional when we landed in Antigua because even though I wanted to see my family, I didn’t want it to end. My watch leaders and I celebrated the group and individual accomplishments by drinking a cold beer at a cafe.

Nelson's Dockyard Antigua
Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua

This adventure has inspired me to take on another sailing expedition.

I have one piece of advice: Always take a leap of faith and try things, because if you don’t, you don’t know if you’ll like them. Barriers are there to be removed and you should try to reach your full potential however you can.

After sailing across the Atlantic on Tenacious, Kate joined Team Kraken to take on her first yacht race: Round the Island Race.

 

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p.s - That's a person who loves and is magnetically attracted to the ocean and the sea by the way ;)

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