On an extremely cold, wet and windy day SV Tenacious nosed her out way out of port towards the English Channel, all 47 souls on board were happy to be underway, the previous evenings force 8 Gail had left everyone a little ‘under the weather’, no pun intended.  With all formal introductions disposed of, we learned what our ‘watches’ would be and what was expected of us, shortly our hard work would start.

We navigated our way past the sea forts and other vessels as our escort tug made a hasty retreat back to port, a myriad of tasks were now being undertaken by all four watches; from mess duty to watch duty to housekeeping and to operating the helm.  It became apparent to every single person quickly that this was going to be a voyage we would all remember.

As the watches carried out their allocated duties the sky began to clear, the rain stopped and the wind was non-existent, which is not good for a tall ship, as we had to use the engines to make progress.  As a crew we learned how to use the sea charts, navigate, steer the ship, operate the welfare/mess facility, report sea occurrences, the proper way to heave on ropes and of course how to put the sails up. 

The biggest learning curve however was the peer-to-peer mentoring that was evident throughout the voyage.  We had a hugely varied skillset on-board with ages ranging from 18 through to mid-50 and the majority of us were ex service personnel with a great deal of life experience.  I can safely speak for my colleagues when I say we all learned something from the young people on-board with us, this was pretty much a two way street and it was pleasing to see rapports being established and mutual respect being afforded to all, regardless of social or academic status. This was best exemplified by the Captain having no qualms about getting his hands dirty on the ropes or coming out for a sociable ‘brew’ with his crew.

As we made our way to Caen, the weather had turned polar opposite from force 8 Gail to tropical and sunglasses/sun cream was the order of the day.  As we got closer to the French coast, a ‘pilot’ tug came alongside so we could make safe passage through the canal to our jetty.  We passed the legendary Pegasus bridge and after docking, most of us made our way into Caen town centre to sample the local hospitalities and appreciate the splendid architecture on display, as well as the hospitality.  We returned to ship later in the evening, a little worse for wear but still discussing how good the past few days had been.

We left Caen the following morning and made our way back down the canal where we passed another berthed tall ship, there was mutual waving and horn blowing when we realised it was British Sea Cadets.  Wherever we went a lot of time was spent exchanging pleasantries, the Lady (SV Tenacious), attracts lots of attention.

As we sailed back across the English Channel I was fortunate enough to witness the sun come up over the horizon, a sight that no camera lens could ever do justice and a feeling that was simply majestical, for a few moments in time all that existed was me, the sea and the sun.

We anchored of the Isle of Wight and began our eagerly awaited mast climb, every single person on board managed a successful ascent of the mast, and this was no mean feat given some of the disabilities on board and its testament to their character and resilience that they achieved this.

We returned to Portsmouth harbour and had a social event that evening to mark the end of our voyage.  Next day we began cleaning the lady, all decks were scrubbed and all brass polished, when the Captain was happy, he dismissed us and we completed our formal exit, a prompt exchange of email addresses was carried out and everyone made the long journey home.

On reflection, it has been several weeks since I have had the privilege of being on-board the Lady, I doubt very much that the work ethic, dynamic and ethos of that voyage could be replicated in any capacity.  It was a journey of self-discovery for all and one that allowed me to see many different things in many different ways, from both a personal and professional perspective. I have since been invited back by the Jubilee Sailing Trust as a Watch Leader.

As patronising as it may sound, I am proud to work with the colleagues I shared my journey with and am privileged the young people on board were happy to share their own life experiences with me. 

I made some great friends on this voyage and I will fondly remember this life experience for the rest of my life.

My sincerest thanks to JST and SkillForce for giving me this opportunity.