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Sandy, a ‘Tall’ story

Sandy on ship

Article by Fabafterfifty

Sandy shares with us her experiences and the challenges she’s set herself since her 50th birthday.

In May 2008 I had my 50th birthday and I didn’t like it at all.  Several of my friends had already reached fifty and seemed to just take it in their stride.  I really didn’t like it and had no fuss made at all, despite promises to all my friends several years earlier, that I was going to have a big party. 

I didn’t like reaching 50

I can’t analyse why I didn’t like reaching fifty – it was all in the mind.  I married my wonderful husband in 1983.  We had been happily married for nearly 25 years, have three lovely children – two boys and a girl and live in a beautiful house.  I was very happy but I just felt that I didn’t want to reach sixty, look back on the last ten years and think ‘what have I done, – nothing’.  That was a scary thought.  I had spent the last 25 years being very comfortable and safe.  Therefore, despite initial reservations, when my 19 year daughter Fiona, suggested I go with her on a Tall Ship – Tenacious- I excitedly said I would go.

Tenacious is one of two ships, Lord Nelson being the other, owned and operated by a registered charity – The Jubilee Sailing Trust (www.jst.org.uk).  They are the only two tall ships in the world designed and built to enable people of all physical abilities to sail side by side as equals. 

I joined Tenacious in Docklands on a glorious summer day in July.  Fiona had joined the ship two days earlier, so I had to make my own way to the ship.  I was very nervous and sat on the concrete steps too scared to go up the gang plank.  Eventually the First Mate, Piers, had to come and get me.  I was shown to my bunk – I was on the top one, in the foc’sle, along with 13 others.  Very out of my comfort zone, to put it mildly. 

All passengers are considered crew for the duration of the voyage , regardless of physical ability or sailing experience. Everyone is assigned to one of four ‘watches’.

I soon settled into the routine – my Watch Leader, Bill, a retired fireman, was kind and patient. He also told the most awful jokes.  My watch included  a lovely couple from Liverpool – Noel and Sally (Sally was partially sighted), a young man in his thirties who had lost both legs above the knee in a car accident when he was twenty, his buddy, and a teacher a with two of his 18 year old students who were on the voyage as part of their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.  In total, there were 3 visually impaired people and two wheelchair users.  I had never met a blind person until this voyage and I found them incredibly inspiring.  (Since returning home I have since joined the team who record our local talking newspaper and become involved with a blind bowling club ).

Climbing the top of the mast

On the second or third day, all able bodied voyage crew were able to climb the mast. Going up to the first or second crows nest or even right to the top.! After a mental struggle I managed the second crows nest, but decided there was absolutely no reason to climb to the top of the mast (40m) ! A lovely young lady – Sarah was absolutely petrified of heights but was determined to overcome her fear.  With a lot of help and encouragement from Bosun John, she slowly made her way right to the top, accompanied by a lot of cheering!  Because of her courage, I decided to have a go as well – an amazing feeling (I have since done it another three times and younger people have done it because I inspired them!!). Everyone with a disability was able to climb the mast – it was incredibly humbling to see the VIPs (visually impaired people) climb the mast, the wheelchairs were hoisted aloft, to much cheering and clapping (a few tears from onlookers had to be wiped away).

Sailing with the JST is a powerful experience that enables people to challenge themselves in lots of ways, discovering new skills and abilities, while forming long-lasting friendships and sharing an experience of a lifetime.  It inspires and gives confidence and it is something I feel privileged to have been part of (thank goodness for email and Facebook).

I went on a another voyage as crew last November to the Canaries and have since sailed as a cook’s assistant on two voyages and on several day sails out of Portsmouth and Southampton.
I have met the most amazing people and have learnt that you have to make the most of your life.  You only have one life – live it to the full.  One man I met in the summer told me that his wife had died suddenly at the age of 47. He told me to go and buy a beautiful notebook and write down all the things I wanted to do before I die.  I only have six things written down so far, ranging from eating an oyster to going to a Michael Buble concert. I make the most of every opportunity and try to be as pleasant as possible to everyone I meet.  Life’s too short not to. I am now really enjoying my fifties – they are possibly the best years of my life!

I think the best thing about being 50 and over is that you get more confidence than ever before and it just grows as you get older.  The only bad thing is the wrinkles!


Fabafterfifty.com. Redefining 50. Celebrating the best half of our lives!

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