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May 13, 2013

When Sydney resident Karen Leverington arrives home this week after taking part in a ground breaking voyage aboard a unique tall ship in the Norton Rose Sail the World Challenge, she will continue with the ship’s mission to promote equality and inclusion, spreading the word ahead of the vessel’s arrival in Australia in July 2013.

Karen has been sailing on board Lord Nelson, a unique 55-metre square rigger that has been especially built to allow disabled and able bodied people to sail alongside each other as equals. The ship is owned by UK charity, the Jubilee Sailing Trust, and is undertaking a 55,000-mile circumnavigation of the world.

Lord Nelson is due to arrive in Fremantle, WA, at the start of a three-month visit to Australia, which will include visits to Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart and will culminate in Lord Nelson’s participation in the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review in Sydney on 5 October. There will be opportunities for Australians to sail on board Lord Nelson during that time. For more information visit

Karen, who lives in Waverley in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, has been involved with the Jubilee Sailing Trust since 1994 and apart from a three-day stint on board a schooner in Scotland, had never sailed before getting on board Lord Nelson for the first time. Now, hooked from that initial experience, she has even become one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s watch leaders. This was her eleventh voyage with the charity.

The ship features braille signage, hearing loops, wheelchair lifts, a speaking compass for the blind and a bowsprit that is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair in order that everyone can get involved.

“It’s humbling,” said Karen. “On every voyage I do, I am amazed at the resilience and inner strength of some disabled people, and reminded anew of what a gift a healthy body is. It makes me wonder how I would react to a life-changing disability. On this voyage, for example, there was a woman about my age in my watch; she’d had a stroke 17 years ago, in her mid-30s I’d guess, which left her with a useless right arm and hand, and a slight drag to her step. Yet she climbed (assisted) to the very top of the foremast, and was always the first to jump in for rope pulling and coiling and happy hour, never complaining or asking for help.

“On a Caribbean voyage on Tenacious [Lord Nelson’s sister ship], I watched a man whose legs had been amputated above the knee haul himself to the first platform on the mainmast using just his hands and his stumps; his arms shook with the exertion, but he did it. I’ve seen young disabled people who have always lived at home, protected by their parents, finding a new belief in themselves and their abilities as they learn what they are capable of.”

Originally from Canada, and now an Australian citizen, Karen says her family describe her as ‘a cuckoo in the nest’.

“No one in my family has ever sailed anything but they know I’m a fairly adventurous woman and a keen traveller – this voyage pushed my tally of countries visited to over 50 – so they just accept it,” explains Karen, who works in the marketing department of TAL, Australia’s largest specialist life insurance company.

Karen joined the ship in Durban, South Africa, for the seven-week voyage to Kochi, India, via Mauritius and Sri Lanka and has this advice for any Australians thinking about getting on board:

“Do it! It’s an extraordinary experience, on many levels. There is the sailing and the working of the ship, but also the way 40-50 strangers come together into a unit. Everyone is expected to do whatever their abilities allow, from cleaning the heads to peeling potatoes to rope pulling, helming and going aloft.”

There are berths available on Lord Nelson for the coastal voyages as the ship makes her way around the south coast of Australia, and for the transoceanic legs of the 55,000-mile circumnavigation, including from Singapore to Fremantle from 7 June to 20 July 2013, when she will make her first ever arrival in Australian territory.

No sailing experience is necessary and a wide range of disabilities can be accommodated. Bursaries may also be available. The minimum age is 16 and there is no upper age limit. For more information about getting on board, visit, email, or call 03 9981 3312.

The ship embarked on her 23-month voyage from Southampton in the UK on Sunday 21 October, riding the wave of success enjoyed by the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 9 December, before setting sail again for a second transatlantic crossing and a first-ever visit to South Africa and an inaugural visit to India. When she departs Kochi on 1 May she will visit Singapore before making for Australia.

Norton Rose is supporting this unique global voyage under their banner of “All abilities. All aboard.” The international legal practice supports the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s values of diversity, inclusion and integration.

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