For HemiHelp January 2012
So many people that have worked hard all their lives dream about the things they are going to do in their retirement….yet illness may strike just as the time arrives. But it doesn’t mean those dreams have to end – altered perhaps, but not forgotten.
Dave had always wanted to retire early and spend more time doing the thing he really loves – tall ship sailing. He retired aged 62: then just 18 months later he woke up on Boxing Day morning, his face was sagging to one side, he could not move the right side of his body and worst of all he could not utter a word. Dave had had a stroke during the night and hemiplegia set in. Suddenly he could no longer speak, read, write or drive.
Yet Dave is not the kind of person to allow himself to be beaten by something like that.
After 7 days in hospital he came home very weak but determined to work hard on his recovery. After a few months, could read and write again and even drive. The thing that
mattered most to him was his speech, which came back very, very slowly after a lot of hard work. Now, 20 months later, he can at least make himself understood and he is finding it a little easier to talk each day.
Key to his recovery, aside from his own determination, was his speech therapist who said he must set himself some goals to aim for the future. Dave knew immediately what his goals were: to have fun and go sailing again on his beloved tall ships.
Years ago, Dave had been wandering round a boat yard and a lady asked if he had heard of the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST). He hadn’t, but he liked the sound of it, and signed up for a voyage on the JST ship Tenacious from London to Amsterdam and back. From then on, in his own words, he ‘never looked back’. The fun and laughs and friendships he had on board were addictive and he kept going back for more, even qualifying as Watch Leader (being in charge of a team) His wife, Wilma, started to go on voyages when asked whether she would to like to take someone else’s place who had to drop out – then she was hooked too and has been going along with Dave ever since.
The two square-rigged sailing ships operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust, Lord Nelson and Tenacious, were specially designed and built for able-bodied and disabled people to sail side by side as equals. The ships are the only two of their kind in the world and their mission is to increase knowledge and understanding between people with differing physical abilities. Special features such as wheelchair lifts between deck levels mean that just about any disability can be welcomed and accommodated on board.
Each disabled person that sails with JST is paired up with an able-bodied companion, or ‘buddy’. The pair look after and support each other and learn to sail the ship together.
It can often be a winning combination, for while the able-bodied person may be able to help the buddy with physical challenges, such as climbing the mast, the disabled person may provide tremendous emotional support during the challenges of the voyage.
Dave, in those days, was able-bodied and buddied a number of people with different disabilities – a Royal Marine who had been shot in the stomach and, ironically, a stroke victim, are two that he remembers best.
When Dave had his own stroke, for a while thought he would never go back on board.
But sailing had been such an important part of his life and, always able to see the positive side in situations, he thought that if he went sailing again with JST, he would be able to see the experience from the other side of the coin.
In October 2011, Dave stepped back on board again for a voyage. He said he felt great!
He knew at that moment he could still do it and quickly found there were plenty of things to do that kept him busy and happy.
The ethos of the JST voyages is to enable people to do whatever they can on board, encourage them to do more than they thought, but never to push people into doing
things they really don’t want to. People in wheelchairs can be hoisted up the mast so they too can enjoy the view from the crow’s nest, and people like Dave, with hemiplegia, can climb up under their own steam, slowly at their own pace, with assistance on every rung of the ladder and securely attached to the rigging so it is not possible to fall.
Steering the ship is one of most people’s favourite activities and visually impaired people can do this too with the help of a speaking compass. A hearing loop on board enables hearing impaired people to join in and take part along with everyone else. There is no reason why everyone can’t do their bit in some way and experience the magic of being part of a team that through its cooperation, successfully sails the vessel from one port to another. Night watches under the stars with mugs of cocoa and a rolling sea and a bit of banter to keep out the chill air are usually another favourite memory! No previous experience is required to take part in all these activities and many people go on board for the first time as disabled people; it is not necessary to start off as an able-bodied person like Dave did.
Dave’s only frustration on his voyage was his inability to communicate, but his wife Wilma went along to interpret for him. Also, because the Permanent Crew on the JST ships are used to working with people whatever their disability, he was still able to take part in and enjoy the amazing camaraderie that is such a feature of life on board – and draws people like Dave back again and again, even after a change in circumstances. He was not a Watch Leader this time but, Dave being Dave, that is his next goal…..
Dave is a also very brave and valued supporter of JST. Despite his communication difficulties, he helps out at every JST reception held on board the ships when they are in his home port of London, serving drinks, showing people round and promoting the spirit of JST – having fun and accepting people for who they are.
Come sailing with JST – possibly one of the most amazing times of your life!