Sailing on the seven seas
In the previous issue of Rolling Inspiration our cover story featured the JST Ship. We chatted to three people who joined the voyage in Cape Town. They share their fondest memories with us as well as the challenges they experienced onboard.
Versha Mohanlal Rowjee
I was initially quite disorientated on the ship but with the friendly help of the crew I quickly found my way around.
One of the first activities onboard included a safety drill. It was important for wheelchair users to learn how to use the lifts onboard. All the drills were driven by a ‘safety first’ principal and so were many of the other procedures on the ship. It might seem cumbersome, but it was very necessary to ultimately ensure safe and happy sailing for all the crew members.
We learnt how to heave the ropes for the sails and that a ‘all hands on deck’ instruction from the Captain meant we all had to be on the deck ready to lend our hands for setting sail or turning the sails. Something that stood out for me was that everyone participated to the best of their abilities and contributed to the successful voyage. Even though I am a wheelchair user, at no point was I told to step aside and keep out of the way. As long as I was willing and keen to participate, I was ‘roped’ in and formed part of the crew.
My first watch duty was scary, I became seasick and the sea was rough!
Going ‘aloft’ on an assisted climb when we were anchored in Simonstown was one of the highlights of my trip. The first few seconds were slightly shaky but once I got the ‘hang’ of being suspended by ropes and heaved up, I settled into the feeling and reached the top platform. The experience was greater than I ever imagined!
On the night before we sailed back into Cape Town harbour, our watch leader asked if I would be comfortable to be at the helm the next day to steer the ship into the harbour and I most happily agreed, I was very excited to be part of that historical event.
As I sat before the helm and was given the steering brief from the Captain, I was slightly emotional. How often in a lifetime does a person get the amazing and unique opportunity of being with people who were strangers who place their full trust in your hands? My sea legs won’t leave me
In a nutshell – this was the experience of a lifetime and I enjoyed it immensely! I loved securing myself to the rails on the sides or the stern of the ship or at the most stable position just behind the main mast and experiencing the movement of the waves. At times the deck at the main mast (which was just a meter above sea level) would roll to port, scoop up a wave and wash it over the deck, then roll to starboard and do the same – just enough to get my feet and legs wet. The sunsets were stunning and the dolphins that jumped out of the water to say ‘hi’ were very special. But for me, the best times were taking the helm to keep the ship on course in the midnight moonlight while the rest of the crew had to brace the yardarms to swing the sails into the wind. Being alone at the helm under a cloudy full moon with a flashing lone lighthouse in the distance will be in my memory forever. The closeness to nature and the community with my Creator while steering a ship into the night was an absoulte privilege.
This brings me to the challenges that I experienced. Being on a ship in a wheelchair is a huge challenge in itself – wheelchairs are not built to withstand the forces of the sea. No matter how tight I set my brakes, the sea rock-and-rolled them loose and I went all over the place. I wore a belt with a rope and hook to secure me and a safety belt that attached the chair to me but within the constraints of the rope and hook we had some interesting times. Sideway slewing caused my solid tyres to pop off the rims on numerous occasions and twice we had to use screwdrivers to pop them back. However, I soon got to anticipate the situation and as soon as I noticed a tyre peeling off, I lifted the wheel like a dog lifts its leg and the tyre corrected itself. The front castors also had a safety feature that caused them to fold in under the chair if they rammed into a solid object but I overcame that by rocking back onto my two rear “baby wheels” that I had fitted to prevent me from falling over backwards. In all of this the permanent crew were spectacular. As soon as they heard that I had a prang with my chair they would drop everything and come and sort me out.
My other major challenge was my bladder but I will not go into the gory details.
There were people on board who thought I was not coping too well but that was not the case. I had many challenges and even a couple of embarrassments but I overcame them all and I am proud of myself for doing so. I proved to myself that I could stretch my boundaries and go where many of my friends were too scared to go. I came away feeling very good about myself and closer to my God through the experience. Exhausted but exhilarated
What an adventure. After planning and waiting months for this trip, I could hardly sleep at night in anticipation. Once onboard we motored for two days as the winds were not favourable – a square rigger has to have specific wind angles for the sails, but this gave us all time to get our sea legs. I was able to get into the rhythm of the rocking and rolling of the ship and many times people would see me parked in the bulkhead doorway and ask if I needed assistance, only to be told “ no thanks – I’m just waiting for the ship to roll the other way so that I don’t have to push against the angle.” Of course – because I’m so independent, it came back to bite me as when the weather did get bad – and boy did it change – I was then often left with no-one to assist me as they had seen how well I was managing beforehand.
The best four hours of my life was the 04h00 to 08h00 watch with force nine gale winds, five metre swells; 11.5 knots; 37 nautical miles. This is what the log read for this fantastic rollercoaster ride. We were under full sail and as the most beautiful dawn broke we just kept going faster and faster. The ship was surfing on the swells and we were heeled over at 45 degrees! And to top it all – we had a visit from a Great White shark that surfaced on a swell and rolled – almost “waving” its pectoral fin before slowly diving back down.
We traveled along the coastline so had land in sight most of the way and it was fantastic to see our beloved land from the “outside”. Our stopover in Port Elizabeth was great fun and George and I got to go aloft to the first platform on the mast. He was hoisted by the crew in a frame attached to the wheelchair. I wanted to go up in a bosun’s chair under my own steam, but this had never been done before so the crew would not allow it until they had tested it out. I had to be satisfied with pulling myself up (plus frame and wheelchair) on a self-ascender climbing apparatus – which was only the third time a “wheelie” had done it on the ship and the first time by a lady.
With the water pounding against the side of the ship we had very little sleep, and the double watches throughout the day as well as “happy hour” – which isn’t sipping cocktails, but cleaning the ship, kept us very busy. I had set myself the goal of trying everything that was on offer – an exhilarating, but exhausting experience wow!