15 December 2018
Blesma sail tall ship to Jersey
To commemorate the centenary of the end of WWI an all Blesma crew sailed an adapted tall ship to Jersey and France in August on a rewarding adventure.
Meet the crew who set sail on this landmark activity...
Life on the ocean waves
Phil Bailey, a former Infantry Major who lost both of his legs to a rare flesh-eating bug in 2012, is part of one of the most ambitious activities Blesma has perhaps ever offered. He is part of a group of Members, accompanied by family members, friends and carers, who have set sail in a fully adapted tall ship, the SV Tenacious, as part of a unique joint venture with the Jubilee Sailing Trust.
“It’s fantastic! Amazing!” he booms as waves crash against the ship’s bow. “I’m one of Blesma’s keen sailors, but I’ve never been on a ship like Tenacious before. It’s pretty rough, and quite a few people are getting sick. Being thrown around, you quickly learn to cling on! The ship moves around quite a lot, and I can’t grip with my feet – because I don’t have any! So it takes a lot of effort, but when the waves are crashing it’s utterly exhilarating.”
The week-long voyage in August began in Southampton and negotiated the Channel Islands and the French coast, including a stop at the Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey’s mansion for a champagne reception.
The adventure certainly proved enjoyable, but this was no pleasure cruise. All Members had a role in the smooth running of the vessel, immersing themselves on watches and in the galley, generally contributing to the daily working routine on board. They set the sails, went aloft, helmed the wheel and operated the keeping systems.
"WHEN THE WAVES ARE CRASHING IT’S UTTERLY EXHILARATING!"
This is no pleasure cruise
As a former Royal Navy submariner, 73-year-old Bill Arscott has been all over the world but was just as impressed with the voyage. “It was great! The permanent crew were excellent, and it was fantastic doing it as Blesma en masse because crewing a ship is very much a group activity, and Blesma people always blend together really well,” says Bill.
Still a keen sailor in his native Plymouth, Bill is well aware of the benefits of the activity to Members. “I love the fact that sailing builds teams, and it makes people realise that you’ve got to be aware on the water because otherwise someone could get injured.
“There was some brilliant seamanship on board. We started and stopped by sail, and everyone on the trip – from those using wheelchairs to those wearing prosthetics – was involved. The crew said there was 18km of rope on the ship, and we must have pulled 17.5km of it! And I liked the way the ship levelled the playing field. Everyone did time in the galley, regardless of rank. There was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in there, doing as much graft as the rest of us! The hierarchy all went out the window.”
All for one, and one for all
A key part of the trip, and something that Blesma is keen to develop and build upon in the coming months and years, was the involvement of families, friends and carers. “It was really nice to be invited along,” says Sue Foulds, the wife of Member Mick.
“I’ve been along to a few Blesma events informally in the past, after there have been cancellations, for example, but to feel fully part of the activity was great. Mick has taken part in a number of activities with Blesma over the years, and it is fantastic to be given the opportunity to participate in an event along with him and be appreciated as part of the team. It was a really good experience.”
Of those involved, many are keen to get back out on the waves again soon and Phil Bailey is foremost among them. “I’m trying to rack up as much sea time as I can, and I would like to take another step up the skipper qualification ladder, too,” he says. “For the sailors among us, spending time on Tenacious put us way outside of our comfort zone, and it was the chance to try something we wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to do. It’s given me, and many others, a real appetite to do more.”
Bill Arscott agrees. “When I lost my leg, I took to sailing and it has made such a difference,” he says. “I’m involved in sailing in Plymouth, taking mentally and physically disabled people sailing, and I get so much out of it. I love the sea. Hopefully, a trip like this will help give that to other people.”
George Button, 84
George served in the Army in the 1950s and was injured in a motor accident in 1964 losing his left leg above the knee.
You were one of the older Members on board. How did you find the trip?
I really enjoyed it – it was like a schoolboy’s adventure! I got involved in everything – setting the rigging, pulling ropes, and getting up at 4am for the watch. Being in a wheelchair was a bit difficult, and it took me a few days to recover when I got back home, but I would do it all again.
What were the views like out at sea?
Amazing! The one that impressed me the most was when we were below deck. With the waves washing over the portholes, it was like being inside a washing machine. Things were sliding around all over the place, but we got used to watching out for any potential difficulties and really made the most of it.
What did you learn?
A lot of new skills that I won’t use much on a daily basis, that’s for sure! I sailed to Kenya for the Mau Mau Uprising when I was a soldier, but that was in the 1950s. I found this trip fascinating: the things you have to check when you’re on anchor watch, or how to navigate to a compass, or taking readings. You can’t help but think about the guys doing it 200 years ago. It must have been something else!
You also won a lot of fans by climbing to the top of the rigging…
Yes. My upper body is pretty fit and strong, even though I’m 84. I got up the rope using a sliding attachment. I was determined to do it because everyone else had managed it. The view from the top was great.
"YOU’VE GOT TO BE IN AWE OF A SHIP LIKE THIS – IT’S A TRULY EXCITING THING. THE FACT THAT IT HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR DISABLED PEOPLE IS PRETTY SPECIAL"
Mick Foulds, 66
Mick served with the Royal Engineers and was injured post-Service while working on the railways in 2007
You and your wife, Sue, both took part in the trip...
We did, and that made it a great experience – being able to bring Sue along really added to it. Apart from the first day, when she was seasick, we had a great time. But it was no cruise! We were worked hard, and I liked that. We all mucked in and followed a roster, doing watches in the day and at night, or helping out with the meals in the galley.
What were your personal highlights of the trip?
You’ve got to be in awe of a ship like this when it is under sail. It’s a truly exciting thing and seeing a ship like this is rare nowadays. The fact that it has been adapted for disabled people is pretty special. And as with all Blesma events, the best part was the people.
Although there wasn’t much of a chance for a jolly…
The reception in Jersey was great; lovely wine and canapés, and the Lieutenant-Governor was very welcoming. But we had to be up at silly o’clock the next morning to catch the tide!
Blesma has been a huge help to you, hasn’t it?
Yes, it has been absolutely brilliant – it has changed my life. I don’t know what I’d have done without the Association, and that’s no exaggeration! They came to see me after my injury and did my paperwork, and since then, the practical assistance they’ve given me has been invaluable. Blesma gives you the chance to do things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. And I love the fact that Blesma Members are a varied lot. That definitely makes life interesting!