Barquing up the Right Tree
Jon Elkon

When I was eight, I painted a moonlit scene using watercolours and gouache. A ship, becalmed. The moon lying huge on the horizon, its reflection linking ship and moon like the silvered undulating road between birth and eternity. In my memory the picture is perfect…and when my art teacher (Her name was Barbara Driman, I think. Her house was at the top of Whitely Road in Johannesburg. She was an artist who taught kids Art in the afternoons, so that their mummies could play bridge.) held her annual exhibition of kiddie work, it sold immediately. Somewhere in Johannesburg this legendary picture may still adorn a wall.

And yesterday evening, I saw it. Not the picture – the real scene, exactly as it exists in my memory. From the deck of a three-masted barque, the STS Lord Nelson. And I was smitten.

The Lord Nelson is not a pretty sailing ship. It is a three masted Barque, tall and elegant for sure. But the deck housings are too big; the bowsprit is a strange berailed metal thing that sticks out like half of a miniature train line. There is no figurehead to keep an eye out for rocks. The hull is metal, the masts and spars mostly aluminium.

But it is beautiful.

This is a ship that goes straight to the heart. Built for the Jubilee Sailing Trust in 1984 specifically to provide a sailing experience to people with a range of disabilities. That bowsprit, for example, is designed so that a wheelchair can be pushed out there and its occupant can be delighted by that “I am the Ruler of the World” experience DiCaprio acted so well in Titanic. The interior, too, is designed for wheelchairs. There are lifts on the main stairwells and the passageways are especially wide.

On deck the handrails have braille notices, so that a blind or partially sighted sailor can find his or her way around.

The old hands – people who have been on many voyages with crews including many disabled – tell stories of partially sighted people climbing merrily up masts to swaying spars high above heaving seas; of hoisting wheelchairs up to the crow’s nest with a delighted occupant  – of the massive contribution disabled crew members make to the running of the ship from cleaning (“happy hour”) to raising and lowering sails, to navigation and steering. The effects can be imagined, on self esteem as well as fitness.

A voyage on a JST tall ship changes lives.

There are two ships maintained and sailed by the Trust – the Lord Nelson and Tenacious. These magical vessels have been all over the world, have weathered the Bay of Biscay and Cape Horn too, travel regularly to the Canaries and the Trust has a major presence in Australia. Both ships participate in a range of Tall Ship events, and will soon be off to Canada to participate in a series of adventure voyages to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Here comes the inevitable plug: maintaining and running these ships takes a great deal of money, which is raised by a variety of means. Donations of course (see jst.org.uk), events held all over the country and you too can sail on either ship for a price! Absolutely worth it for the rich experience and unique excitement of life aboard a beautiful sailing ship as well as the chance to meet wonderful people both able bodied and disabled.

The Lord Nelson: One of the world’s most beautiful sailing ships crewed, maintained and financed by beautiful people. I can’t wait to go for a much longer sail….it’s in my DNA….Join me?