“Just come with an open heart and a willingness to engage your buddy in a kind and interested manner. You will have a more meaningful experience and might just make a new friend”.
On board our voyages, we operate a ‘buddy system’, where crew are paired up. This might be in disabled and non-disabled pairs, or first-timers might be matched with someone with more sailing experienced for example. It’s a balance that’s important to get right, especially as some disabilities are hidden.
What’s more, it’s a two-way process which has been in place since our first voyage and epitomises our ethos.
Jen and Julie were recently paired as buddies, meeting on day one of their voyage.
Jen is from California and was on her first JST adventure, ticking off an item on her bucket list. Julie is from Scotland, has Cerebral Palsy and has sailed with us a total of eight times.
Here they share their buddy experience.
I had never experienced sailing a large ship of any kind prior to my Canary Islands adventure, but a tall ship voyage had been earmarked on my bucket list of life experiences for almost 20 years.
Almost 18 years ago, I saw an advert in a magazine and knew that it was something I would do one day. Although I consider myself fairly comfortable with people of a variety of physical challenges, my husband had no experience himself. But we are both adventure-seekers by nature, were keen on supporting the JST and wanted to learn a new skill.
I had no idea that most of that ‘learning’ would come from the woman I was assigned to ‘buddy’ – Julie.
Paired on day one, I was delighted to find how engaging and enthusiastic she was. With eight previous JST voyages to her credit, plus a slew of graduate level educational credentials and public speaking roles, her Cerebral Palsy and hearing impairment hardly seemed to slow this woman down.
We had a similar sense of humour, and I learned quickly that she was highly skilled at lip reading. I asked how I could help her and was surprised that she only needed a bit of balance assist if the ship was really rocking. And oh, a nudge if any alarms went off while sleeping. She then proceeded to teach me ‘the ropes’ of being a voyage crew member on a tall ship.
We laughed a lot as we got to know each other the first day. I sometimes offered too much help when she didn’t really need it, and she sometimes had to repeat things two or three times so my American ‘ear’ could decipher her Scottish accent. But we were both accommodating of each other’s imperfections and I knew right away, that we were going to have a fun week together.
The experience of learning to sail a tall ship was of course, a lot of fun. The permanent crew found ways for everyone to participate in whatever capacity they could.
But what I’ll remember most is the thoughtful conversations I had with Julie in between and while doing our duties. We shared our educational and family histories, her sailing experiences and my travelling and athletic adventures. And as we got to know each other better, we shared some of our personal struggles and hopes as well. We become more than just voyage buddies. Julie is now my friend, and that is not an assignment that I give out lightly.
What would Jen say to someone considering a JST voyage?
The JST team do an excellent job of making everyone feel at home, regardless of experience. I never felt any pressure and although we had to pull some nights shifts and kitchen duty, I enjoyed the variety of assignments and the feeling of being of service.
I was also incredibly impressed at how skilled the regular crew was at interacting with voyage crew who had physical challenges: patient and enthusiastic, always smiling, encouraging, yet highly alert and always oriented towards safety.
They were able to get everyone on the ship involved and working towards a common goal. Seeing first hand that everyone has strengths that can be used in collaboration with others to deliver a shared outcome, is a life lesson that transcends sailing. Thank you, JST!
In terms of being a buddy? Just come with an open heart and a willingness to engage your buddy in a kind and interested manner. You will have a more meaningful experience and you just might make a new friend.
Jen and her husband, Nic, had travelled from California to join Tenacious in the sunny Canaries Islands. Meanwhile, I had escaped the colder climates of Scotland for some sun in the southern hemisphere.
We were a hit from the start – so well matched as buddies. It was the start of something special for eight days. Fellow voyage crew even thought we were sisters!
While my impairments were not hugely affected, my Cerebral Palsy affects my balance and hearing so making sure I was on my feet and could hear orders were the main things for Jen to be aware of. But beyond this, we understood each other from the start, shared similar outlook and interests.
One important tip I would give for those buddying on a JST voyage is to understand your buddy’s individual needs socially. Jen knew that I was independent so acknowledged the decisions I made, yet was willing and able to be on ‘standby’ to support me around the ship if I needed it.
Communication was also a big factor for Jen and I, as I have a hearing impairment. She understood my communication needs – such as facing me at all times because I lip-read mostly.
On a JST voyage buddies are paired together on the same Watch. As a buddy you need to be open-minded about different situations as they come up, such as holding on, carrying cups, helping with navigation or pulling ropes. It’s also about a person-needs approach, being observant and supportive of each other.
Why did it work so successfully for Jen and I? I think because we saw what we could both do for each other. For us, our unique buddying experience was forged through partnership.
Jen and I cherished eight days of spontaneous moments, endless chats and laughter. We shared the learning experience of the ship routine, doing watches, happy hours, setting sails and hauling in the sails. It was a partnership of teamwork alongside our fellow voyage crew.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have met this remarkable woman. Our friendship will grow and survive through the stream of WhatsApp, since we live either side of the Atlantic. We are in no doubt that we will meet up again – watch this space!
It is going to be hard to replicate what Jen and I embraced together on our voyage. Definitely friends for life.