Monday 25 June 2012

When I first got the idea for the book that was to become THE SECRET SHE KEPT I realised I knew next to nothing about sailing.  Yes, my sister and her husband used to have a boat, and yes, I have friends who sail, but it wasn't nearly enough.  I needed to experience it for myself.  But how?
Trawling the net for information, I came across the Jubilee Sailing Trust.  They have two tall ships, the Lord Nelson and Tenacious, specially equipped so that the wheelchair bound and the blind can enjoy being part of the crew of a sailing ship and anyone willing to be a 'buddy' - i.e a carer - can book onto one of their voyages.  Feeling adventurous, I decided to go for it, and in May, 2008, I sailed out of Portsmouth as a crew member of the Lord Nelson.
I was able to draw on some of the things that happened to me as fiction in THE SECRET SHE KEPT - out in hardback and as an e-book early next month.
It would take far too long to relate the whole of the experience here, so for the moment I'll just give you a taste by reproducing the blog I wrote on behalf of my Watch on Day 3.  Names have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent!  (Not that they need protecting - they were all absolutely lovely!)
So - here goes!
Me at the helm!
 3.40 am, and I'm awoken by someone shaking me, gently but firmly.  i can't see who it is, all I know is they are wearing a woolly hat pulled well down and carrying a torch.  A cat burglar?  Hardly, since we're in the Alderney Race, heading for Jersey.  So it must be the Press Gang waking me for my watch.
I pile into layers of clothes, including my husband's motor-cycling long johns, and stagger up to the bridge.  Fortified by hot coffee, the members of aft starboard team begin work.  In spite of the cold, it's great fun.  As we're very close now to Jersey we have to keep a good look-out for fishing buoys.  Peter takes the helm, with audible guidance (Peter is totally blind), and then I get my first turn, which I really enjoy.  It's daylight now, and Jersey is on the horizon.
Relieved of our watch, we have a very welcome breakfast, and then it's all hands on deck to stow the sails and get the 'Nellie' into harbour.  It's a lovely day, blue skies and sunshine.  And time for my next great adventure - climbing the mast.
Most brave souls had already been up the mast before we left Poole; not me.  I chickened out, but I can't lie low forever.  This is something I've got to do - or at least, try to do! 
Kitted out in my harness - about the only thing holding my shaking body together - I go to the fore mast.  The lovely bosun's mate (I think I'm in love!) has assured me that if I freeze he'll bring me down in a fireman's lift.  That's quite a tempting offer, but when he tells me he'd have to knock me out in order to do it, I decide maybe it would be better to come down under my own steam.  After all, what point is there in being carried by a hunky fireman if I don't know anything about it?  I'm attached to a line (to give me confidence - some hope!) and our incredibly patient bosun encourages me to step over the rail.  Then, step by slow step, I set off skyward.  I can't quite make it onto the fighting top; going over the ledge is a step too far.  But I am so glad I've made it this far - a memorable (if terrifying) experience.   My pride is short lived, though, for the totally blind Peter is going up nimbly, two of the other girls, who had also confessed to being terrified, have made it to the fighting top, and another is on the cross tree.   Not to mention 5 wheelchair users have made the ascent on the main mast and are enjoying spectacular views of Jersey Castle.  My only excuse - unlike me, they don't have their bus passes yet!
Just to prove I did it!
Lunch on deck in the sunshine - French onion soup and salad.  All the food is incredibly good.  Then most of the crew go ashore to explore St Helier.  Some visits are paid to the duty free shop, though nobody is readily admitting what they have purchased.
Late afternoon, and once again almost everyone goes ashore.  One restaurant in particular must be seeing its takings soar!  By 8.30 pm I'm flagging.  I leave more resilient souls tucking into delicious-looking puds and make my way back to the ship.
To bed.  To sleep.  Do I need it!