A mixed-ability crew is hoisting sails late afternoon for the first fundraising voyage of its kind from Ireland to help people with life-changing spinal injuries.
The 25-strong crew of able-bodied people, wheelchair users and those with spinal cord injuries slipped anchor are due to set sail from Cork Harbour on board the specially-designed, fully accessible tall ship Lord Nelson, bound for Poole in England as part of Spinal Injuries Ireland’s (SII) first Tall Ships Challenge.
Each crew member has raised €3,000 to help SII continue to provide its range of services to the estimated 2,100 people with a spinal cord injury. An average of three people is diagnosed every week with the injury in Ireland.
The crew from all over Ireland, most of whom have never sailed before, is led by Ireland’s most decorated Paralympian, the experienced sail racer John Twomey who is also chairman of SII.
“Sailing is a fabulous sport for anyone with a disability because you get out there on the water and it’s just you and the elements and there is a great sense of freedom to it,” he said.
But along with raising funds, he said the voyage will also help raise awareness about the work of SII.
He will be joined on board by wheelchair users, including Ursula Barry and Jennifer Hester, from Dublin, as well as Clare man Jim Clancy and Patricia Prendeville from Kildare who both suffered spinal injuries.
Another wheelchair user, Tim Rice, was an avid sailor for 25 years before he sustained a spinal cord injury in 2017 leaving him paralysed from the waist down.
“This challenge to me means freedom - freedom in my chair,” he said.
I think if I can sail a tall ship in my wheelchair, I can do anything. I never thought I would have the opportunity to do anything like this again and, for me, life now is about focusing on what I can do, not what I can’t.
With John at the helm, the crew which also includes six professional sailors will spend the next six days and five nights working on four-hourly shifts to sail the boat to the UK, taking in the Jurassic coast and the Scilly Isles.
Lord Nelson, a 40-metre long, three-masted square rigger, is owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust in England and has been specially designed to enable able-bodied and those with physical disabilities sail side-by-side.
It has wide decks for wheelchair users, wheelchair access throughout, light hauling loads on the ropes and better than usual protection against the cold and wet, a speaking compass to enable blind people to helm the ship and power-assisted hydraulic steering for those with limited strength.
SII provides a range of care and support for the person with the injury and for their families.