Awesome adventures: an accessible Antarctic adventure



Sat, 29 Jul 2017 - 10:05 GMT


Sat, 29 Jul 2017 - 10:05 GMT

Antarctica- via Disability Horizons

Antarctica- via Disability Horizons

CAIRO-29 July 2017:- Antarctica may look spectacular, but surely a disability would stop someone from going there, right? Well that’s not necessarily true. Last February Holly Ferrie, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, sailed with the Jubilee Sailing Trust to Antarctica.

When I wrote this, it was five in the afternoon and the sun had just started to sink as we sailed into the centre of an ancient volcanic crater. All around us were snow-capped islands and the odd iceberg, but the ground, even the water, were steaming.

After a stormy crossing through the

Drake Passage

, it was the first warmth we’d felt in days.

I was on board a tall ship that was making its way as far down the West Antarctic Peninsula as it could go. I joined the crew at Ushuaia, Argentina, and I must tell you, it was no ordinary voyage.

You may have already heard of the Jubilee Sailing Trust in previous

Disability Horizons articles

– well, this adventure was the continuation of accessible tall ship the Lord Nelson’s journey around the world. This ship took no passengers, everyone had to work hard, and almost half the crew had some form of disability.

For me, the challenge was navigating around a constantly-swaying vessel with

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

, a condition that makes my joints spontaneously dislocate.

It might seem strange that I choose to do this trip with such a disability, but the

Jubilee Sailing

Trust exists to prove that barriers to access are only as troublesome as the architects who make them. And I have to say, I’d travel to Antarctica all over again rather than take another London rush-hour train!

The Lord Nelson managed to obtain an Antarctic Permit, just scraping by the assessment for seaworthiness in the ice – sailing in such latitudes is always a scary subject when you’re talking old-fashioned tall ships. But we were accompanied by polar explorer Skip Novak, and master mariner Piers Alvarez-Munoz, so there was not much to fear.

Up until this point crossing the Drake Passage had been the hardest struggle, with much of the crew falling to seasickness.

But harder times were yet to come. After a warm stop at the active volcano of Deception Island – which has a lake that you can sail straight into and an old whaling bay with lots of seals and penguins who couldn’t quite understand why we were bringing wheelchairs out onto the beach – we carried on to Port Lockroy.

Aside from being Britain’s most southerly post office, this port became our personal limbo while we waited for vicious driving winds and fog to cease so we could push on south. It’s here that I first discover how terrible the smell of penguins can be when you’re seasick.

Penguins - via Disability Horizons

Along the way I discovered that, while I lack the mobility that many of the others demonstrate when shimmying up and down the rigging, I was incredibly good at spotting growlers – small iceberg fragments that, if missed, can seriously damage a ship.

At times we passed majestic mountains, at others we’d scrape through layers of brash ice. Every so often a pod of whales came to check on what this sailboat, so friendly and silent compared to the cruise ships, was doing.

There were periods of calm punctuated by periods of frenzy – from hours of still, glassy waters to being woken up in the early hours by the sudden crunch of a mini-berg against your cabin wall and the crew scrambling to the inflatables to push the berg away. The physical environment was the most surreal yet immersive that I’ve ever sailed in.

Growlers – small iceberg fragments- via Disability Horizons

The environment on board amidst the crew was more normal than anything though. I had my own personal challenges – some of which involved a few fellow travellers who didn’t understand my condition. This included one bizarre exchange with a lady who assumed I didn’t have a job because I had a walking stick – I’m not quite sure how that assumption came about.

I was more than happy to educate and discuss where appropriate, but the ethos of these sorts of voyages was that they were voyages of discovery about the person, not the disability.

Over the course of the month that we spend in Antarctica, I developed some good friendships. There’s a set rota for each watch group, but since a lot of us got seasick, you would find many of us offering extra shifts in the kitchen to make up for each others’ absences. There’s no space for resentment on voyages like this.

I developed some good friendships- via Disability Horizons

By March 2nd we had passed the thin Lemaire Channel. We stopped by Peterman Island to watch penguins playfully bounce on a disgruntled seal. By then I was getting used to the rocky shore landings via inflatable boats, which were hard on the limbs.

These motorised inflatables, called Zodiacs, can also transport wheelchair-users safely, which is pretty cool. It meant that on one of the shore landings where
rocks did prevent access, those using wheelchairs got a private tour of the icebergs in the bay while the rest of us went ashore.

We got as far as the Ukrainian Vernadsky base, which is 65º South, and then found that our return route was blocked by sea ice.

It was a pretty worrying situation because for a minute we became acutely aware of how much everything we did depended on the grace of the weather. We were forced back and had to detour out into the Southern Ocean to get back to Port Lockroy.

After this it was time to say goodbye to the vast white continent. I was sad to see it go, but no doubt I will be back again one day. Just not on a cruise ship though – after doing tall ship sailing, everything that’s not hands-on pales in comparison.

The return to Argentina across the Drake Passage was by far the most chaotic experience of the entire trip – the storm that hit us was a proper maelstrom of epic proportions that nearly ripped away the sails. It made me laugh to think of the storms we had on the first week – mild in comparison, but I thought those were the worst thing at the time. But thanks to some incredibly skilled permanent crew members, we survived with only a few injuries.

I must say, the sense of real weather-dependent exploration was a welcome break in a world full of holiday schedules and instant gratification. The truth was, none of us, not even the captain, knew where we would be able to go on this voyage. And doing this in an accessible ship was a great idea. While many of us with disabilities are already familiar with making the best of uncertain situations, here we were presented with another new obstacle that we could grow from.

Having arrived safely back in Southampton in September, the Lord Nelson was the first accessible tall ship to have sailed the world. What an amazing feat for the Jubilee Sailing Trust to accomplish! I would thoroughly recommend undertaking a voyage of your own with them. It really is a life-changing experience.

By Holly Ferrie

This article was originally published by Disability Horizons



Leave a Comment

Be Social