Elise Richards, with the help of her friends, climbing the rigging on 'Tenacious' that describes her attitude to a 'T'. Photo courtesy of Stuart Richards.

The Tall Ship ‘Tenacious’ sailed around Port Phillip Bay

The Tall Ship ‘Tenacious’ a three masted Barque, sailed around Port Phillip Bay last month, completing a voyage that proved memorable for those on board.

The ship is one of two operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust and along with the ‘Lord Nelson’ is fitted out to accommodate people with various disabilities including lifts for wheelchairs. ‘Tenacious’ was built by the Trust and commissioned in 2000.

The crew included some professional members. The Captain, first and second mates, a bosun, medical officer, two engineers and a cook made up the permanent crew. A volunteer cook, two volunteer bosuns and a volunteer medical officer supplemented the regular crew. The remaining crew members on board consisted of some with disabilities and able bodied personnel bringing the total on board to thirty two.

Two yachtsmen from the area joined the voyage at the eleventh hour. Experienced sailors, Colin Gibbs, from Marcus Hill and Tony Doolan from Ocean Grove, learned of vacancies on the voyage with only a few days to spare. Both have spent many hours sailing the waters in and around Queenscliff. Colin is the current Commodore of the Queenscliff Lonsdale yacht club and a member of the Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club. Tony has been sailing since he was fourteen and sailed the waters of Swan Bay as a member of the Queenscliff Sea Scouts. Both were one time employees of the Queenscliff Marine Science Laboratories.

‘Tenacious’ sailed from Williamstown on the 7 day voyage and anchored at Altona Bay, Portarlington, Mordialloc, Capel Sound and the Quarantine Station. For 24 hours a watch was posted and all on board were rostered for watch duties.

Despite his considerable sailing experience, Colin discovered new challenges. “Climbing up the mast was daunting at first but after a few attempts it became easier. The voyage was affected by a lack of wind and sailing was confined to the Bay due to generator problems.”

One crew member, Marjorie, a very able bodied 85 year old Belmont woman (Marjorie turned 86 the day after the completion of the sail) proved to be somewhat of a character, prepared to tackle anything. She climbed the rigging unassisted to a height of around 10 metres and later was raised to a similar height in a wheelchair. “She was prepared to roll up her sleeves and just pitch in to help with anything,” said Colin.

“There was a cross section of people from all backgrounds. There were safety drills involving the evacuation of the wheelchair crew members, in case of any mishaps and the standard of the instruction was very thorough.”

Colin was impressed with the size of the ship and the attention to detail on ‘Tenacious’. “It’s a magnificent ship, the biggest timber built ship still operating. It has been built along traditional lines but with modern materials and equipment. Accommodation consists of bunk rooms for 12 people. Toilets and other facilities are fitted out for the disabled. Our duties revolved around being on watch or serving in the galley.”

Tony was impressed with the way everyone on board contributed. “The principle was you did not help any of the disabled people unless they specifically asked for it and they were expected to contribute as much as they could. Other crew members would only facilitate as much help as they needed and only if they asked. Lauren, a young, totally blind woman, was allocated a ‘buddy’ to help her get around but she proved brilliant at finding her way around the ship. Two crew, Elise and Dave, where in wheelchairs and they were incredible. Dave’s story was amazing. He had a Jabiru light aircraft that he had flown around Australia without the use of his legs. He had adapted the pedal controls to an apparatus that he could place in his mouth and operate by blowing or sucking.”

Elise Richards was the other wheelchair crew member and was accompanied by her father Stuart on the voyage. Stuart explained how 15 year old Elise, the youngest member of the crew, had become disabled.
“Elise has been diagnosed with Lupus for 3 years and 12 months ago it attacked her spinal cord and she became very ill. She spent 6 months in the Monash Children’s Hospital and as a result lost the use of her legs and is starting a new life as a paraplegic.”

The Tall Ship adventure was the first holiday Elise has had since her injury and despite having apprehensions, both Elise and Stuart were keen to give it a go.

“Everyone on board was considered part of the crew and kept busy keeping logs, hauling ropes and cleaning. Those that were able climbed the mast. Others were assisted by the permanent crew. We had safety lines on at all times and felt very safe. The view was beautiful up the top and so worth the effort. We both had a wonderful time with the permanent crew and others being so kind and helpful to Elise and the few other passengers with disabilities. Elise was quite overwhelmed with the kindness shown. We were delighted with all our fellow crew and the particular kindness that was shown to Elise touched my heart.”

Despite the voyage being confined to Port Phillip Bay due to the lack of wind and the generator problems, Tony was very philosophical. “The trip wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey. On a number of occasions it was very moving being with people most of the crew don’t get to deal with on a day-to-day basis and being inspired by them. Of an evening crew members had the opportunity to socialise in the ships’ bar. It was a chance to learn how people’s lives had led them to be on board and at times it was very powerful. I was served a meal by a person in a wheelchair and served a drink and a meal by a blind woman. It was a very humbling experience.”

‘Tenacious’ has since sailed for New Zealand. Further information on some amazing sailing experiences, can be obtained by visiting Jubilee Sailing Trust.