A Personal History: Mike Travis

My childhood was spent growing up in Huyton near Liverpool and we could hear the ships on the Mersey with their forlorn fog horns in the winter. I was quite used to the comings and goings of neighbours, as they sailed with either the Royal or Merchant navies. We had a couple of ‘Cunnard Yanks’ they worked on the liners as seamen, stewards, chambermaids etc, and could be identified by wearing the latest US fashion and by their distribution of American sweets among us kids.

I came from a family of dockers and engineers. My granddad was a ships engineer and was killed on the ‘Clansman’ when it was sunk in the very early days of WW2. My ever absent Uncle Peter followed his dad into the ‘merch’ and spent his life as a ‘Chief’, finally settling in New Zealand. Interestingly he spent time on the New Zealand supply icebreakers supplying ice stations in the Antarctic.

In spite of my family background, I came into sailing rather ‘late’. All my activities were concerned with competitive athletics until I was 37ish, then injury and career forced me to change tack. My first voyage was on the STA ‘Malcolm Miller’, a topsail schooner when I was about 17. My next voyage was 20 or so years later when in a mad afternoon I signed aboard the gaff rigged Baltic Sea Trader ‘Glaciere’’ for a weekend trip to Menai Straits and back in company with the brigantine ‘Zebu’ . Within the week of my return, I’d signed up for a passage on the Lord Nelson out of Liverpool.

And 20 plus years on, I’m still sailing with the JST in the role of watchleader. I really identify with the values that the Trust promotes of social inclusiveness, equality, tolerance, and valuing the individual. All these values are applicable to my job as a children’s nurse caring for complex needs children, and my work as a trade union steward in terms of workplace equality and access to work.

In my experience of sailing with the Trust, the most disabled members of the crew are the able bodied whose attitudes and behaviours may disempower other members of a voyage crew. Differently abled is not necessarily being confined to a wheelchair , it covers vast area of different aspects of disability. The ships are built for us, not for ‘I’.

So why am I on voyage? For starters, I love the sea. I was brought up on stories of the sea and Cape Horn. I’ve raced across the Atlantic, sailed down into the Antarctic. But never on a British registered square rigger. These trips (I’m on the Antarctic voyage as well) are a unique opportunity to sail into waters where British square riggers once dominated the trade routes and raced each other home. Where Maesfield, Fox-Smith and other great sea poets wrote about the romance and hardship of such times and ships. Where old Liverpool ‘lags’ told stories of sailing or fighting in these waters.

This trip also has deeply personal significance for me. In late October 2011, my good friend and part owner of the ‘Zebu’ Geoff Hanley, died after an accident alongside the ship in Liverpool. I think he was always a tiny bit annoyed that I had beaten him to the Horn. So the last thing I could do for a good mate, and for his wife Sue, was to take part of his ashes with me, and commit them to the seas off Cape Horne. When we sail past the Horn, I’ll be saying my farewell to a great engineer, sailor, and friend.

Well, that’s my story. This was my chance to experience all of this, and the voyage as lived up to my expectations. It is a personal test as well as I slip from being able bodied to a degree of disability. Finally there is a historical context. This may be the last time that a ‘Red Duster’ square rigger will ever pass this way again. And I was there.