After nearly a year of planning, my friend Colby and I participated as voyage crew on the tall ship Tenacious voyage from Seville, Spain to Valencia, Spain.  A special thanks to Jack Erdie, Anita Miller, Roger Holzberg and four anonymous donors who helped make this trip possible by supporting our Indiegogo campaign: A Sailing Voyage in Spain to Help Disabled Sailors.  Here, finally, are the stories about our trip.

Travel is sort of an endurance test, particularly if it’s an international trip.  Given that, why would anyone want to travel abroad?  For starters, difficult travel experiences can show you what you’re made of, build confidence and strengthen your ability to navigate through life.  You learn to roll with the hurdles and move forward.  In spite of the hardships or maybe even because of them, you may be rewarded with moments you’ll treasure the rest of your life.  For me, these magical moments seem to happen on every trip, moments I could never have planned, and make an arduous trip well worth doing.

The sailing adventure in Spain is a fine example of this.  Colby and I flew from Los Angeles to Seville, Spain, joined up with the tall ship Tenacious in Seville and sailed to Valencia, Spain on a 12-day voyage.  Then we spent several days in Valencia after the voyage to experience the Fallas festival there (stay tuned for Valencia and Fallas in Part Five).  I had planned every detail, including tours in Seville and Valencia, but no matter how much planning you do, you can never anticipate or control everything.

Difficulties seemed to be the norm for this trip.  Just prior to departure, I had some health issues that showed up, so I was fatigued and not feeling well during most of the trip.  I could have stayed home, but I didn’t want to miss out on the things that make life special.

The “One-World” partnership between American Airlines and Iberia Airlines failed us nearly every step of the way, with late flights, a missed connection from Madrid to Seville which caused us to miss our Tapas and Flamenco tours in Seville (stay tuned for Seville in Part Four), and we nearly missed our return flight from Madrid to JFK because of a late flight from Valencia.  We begged the airline reps to open the plane door and let us on.  They did, but our baggage was left in Madrid.

In the Valencia airport, I endured a very rough body search by a female security agent.  I’ve been searched many times going through security, but have never been roughed up and jerked around by the arm like this.  The agent must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.

Usually I love to sail and look forward to the inherent challenges, but because of my health issues, the task became exceptionally difficult for me.  It was also difficult to sleep.  I had a berth right next to the head and was subjected to the flushing of the toilet all night long.  My sleep was further disrupted by a watch schedule that rotated throughout day and night.

So those were the challenges.  Would I do this trip again?  You bet I would.  After I returned home and normalized, those difficulties faded into the background and the fun, magical moments began to shine in my memory.

The tall ship Tenacious, owned and operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust, is a 165-meter bark, designed and built to allow both able-bodied and disabled people to sail together as equals.  The ship has specially-designed heads to accommodate physical disabilities, lifts to move from one level of the ship to another, tie-downs for wheelchairs when the seas get rough, raised strips on the decks and braille markers for the blind, and other types of assistance, such as a pulley system to hoist people in wheelchairs up onto the foretop platform above the main deck.

Since returning from the trip, I’ve thought a lot about the considerable challenges that a disabled person would have on such a voyage and, indeed, such a trip.  Depending on their disability, they could have great difficulty navigating airports, riding on mass transit, getting into museums, restaurants, amusement rides and other things.  I’ll write about my thoughts and experiences with my new disabled friends on this trip in Part Three of this series.  For additional information about traveling with disabilities, see my blog on Disability Travel.

And speaking of new friends, the most special part of the voyage was meeting so many great people, both able-bodied and disabled.  Except for Colby and myself and a woman from France, the voyage crew were all from the UK.  Four of our voyage crew were in wheelchairs and there were several people with learning disabilities, issues with eyesight, stroke and various other physical challenges.

One of the voyage crew, a lovely gentleman in his eighties, asked me at lunch one day, “How does it feel to be surrounded by Limeys?”  I laughed and said, “I’m starting to talk like them.”  Indeed, hearing British dialects for nearly two weeks had changed the rhythm of my speech.

The voyage crew were divided into four watch groups and each group rotated duty on the ship’s bridge through a schedule that covered all hours of the day and night.  Our duties while on watch included helming the ship and watching for and reporting ships, boats, buoys and other things in the water that might pose a problem for our ship.  We also recorded hourly readings of temperature, navigation headings, cloud cover, sea conditions and wind direction.  When we were in port, we had port watch, mainly to keep strangers from wandering aboard the ship in the middle of the night.

One night while on watch and under sail, my group had a good laugh about an LPG tanker we spotted on the Mediterranean Sea.  We could see her lights on the horizon as she made her way towards us in the dark and informed the officer on duty of her location.  The officer gleefully let us know the vessel’s name, Happy Penguin, which showed up via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) on our radar screen.  We amused ourselves by trying to guess where the tanker was from and why they chose that name.

These watches provided some of the best moments of my voyage, but there were great moments throughout.  I’ll tell you about the most memorable ones in Part Two.