This column usually deals with the work and sacrifices of unsung heroes – those that give of themselves in order to make the lives of those less fortunate more bearable. However, in this issue I want to share with you what John Chihana Maseko, who has served as carer for David Kapelus for the past seven years, called “an amazing experience”. I first heard of John while aboard the Lord Nelson on the Cape Town to Durban leg of the ship’s around the world trip. I chatted with the permanent crew about John and soon discovered that in the five days that he had been onboard he gained a special place in the hearts of those that sailed with him. John originated from Malawi but immigrated to South Africa many years ago where he trained himself on the job as a carer with a previous employer who has since passed away. With David being a rather independent person, John’s current duties include not only those of a carer, but also messenger and, at times, gardener. When David decided to join the Lord Nelson for the Cape Town and surrounds leg of it’s trip, he invited John along to join in the fun. I asked John if there was an aspect of this adventure that he will cherish for the rest of his life? Without hesitation he replied that it was the people on the ship that made this experience so memorable.

Working together as a team, the friends that he made, the willingness of total strangers to pull together and help one another. We discussed the novelty of his first time at sea, the challenges, the wildness of the high seas and the beauty of a calm sea at night and yes, all of these experiences were wonderful, but it was the love and care from his fellow crew members that stood out. I turned the questions to his experiences onboard and again he started off with people; the willingness of the permanent crew to share their knowledge, to teach him about the sea, how to tie knots, how to set and furl sails, how to steer the ship by coordinating the compass with the rudder – this was what he enjoyed the most. John also had the opportunity to take the helm and steer the ship. He was thrilled by the high seas and he never became seasick. He also felt the spiritual thrill of a calm sea in a starlit night with a winking lighthouse in the distance. When dolphins visited the ship and jumped out of the water to have a quick look at life on board the Lord Nelson, that was special to him. I wanted to know if much of his onboard work was sharing David’s work, or if he functioned independently and again he complemented the permanent crew. He told me that the crew almost made a point of splitting the disabled from their buddies and made everyone work to their abilities. David even had the opportunity of taking the helm and steering the ship. John felt that this was very good for David, as well as for him.

I asked him about setting the sails and climbing the rigging. Yes, he enjoyed climbing the rigging (once only) and he was a bit scared out on the yardarm but not too much, but what stood out for him was the teamwork involved in bracing the yardarms and setting or furling the sails. As he commented to me: “I have learned that if we work together as a team, we can do anything” – food for thought that extends way beyond life on a sail ship.