It was waiting for the old chain ferry to Swanage that I first saw the tall ship Tenacious as she slid elegantly into Poole Harbour in southern England. I was spellbound and decided right then to one day sail with her. We had a day sail out of Southampton, the young chap and I, which he loved as much as me. But two months later a phone call came on a gloomy November day asking for someone to make up the balance between able bodied and disabled voyage crew, I dropped everything, cancelled work, and three days later was in Palma de Mallorca for a ten day sail in the Med.
We weathered two gales - the Mediterranean is not always the azure mirror of the holiday brochures - and took our turns on watch, steering the ship under astonishing pageants of stars and planets or through sudden squalls that whipped in from nowhere and lashed our cheeks with pellet raindrops. We climbed the rigging and inched out onto the yards to release or furl the sails, at first with clenched white knuckles clinging onto the jackstays, but later relaxed and laughing.
We 'learnt the ropes' and hauled on them in gangs of five or more to turn the sails or set or furl them, and did mess duty which was sometimes more arduous; serving and washing up for forty people on a heaving deck is no picnic. During the daily 'happy hour' the whole voyage crew turned out to clean the ship, from the saltwater heads to the scrubbed teak decks.
At Barcelona we toured Las Ramblas with its vibrant food market, a cheerful train of wheelchairs and 'buddies' clogging up restaurants and bars that in lean times were all too happy to have twenty customers descend on them at once. In the harbour we helped hoist the disabled crew, wheelchairs and all up into the rigging and onto the fore top and watched in awe as two of them lifted themselves out of their chairs and with a crew member in attendance and a safety rope, inched their way up the rigging as far as the lower topsail.
In ten days we just began to learn the complexities of sailing a square rigger, but melded into a motley loyal crew of friends.