The full moon and spring tide is a reminder that it’s exactly four weeks since Oceans of Hope set sail from Copenhagen at the start of the first ever global circumnavigation by a yacht with a working crew including people with multiple sclerosis. The mission: to change perceptions of MS and to show what is possible when people with a chronic disease seize the opportunity to overcome their personal challenges.
The reaction to the project, the voyage and the crew has been overwhelming and it has touched more than simply those who are already on board or will be joining the crew for a leg of the 61,000-kilometre (33,000-nautical mile) voyage around the world.
In Portsmouth people who had seen interviews on TV with the UK crew member, Phil Gowers, turned up to see the boat and to find out how they could get involved. More than 20 people came sailing with us on the Thames barge, Alice, and Geoff Holt’s accessible power boat, wetwheels, and members of the Gosport and Fareham branch of the MS Society ranked it alongside two of their best inspirational events, a tandem skydive and abseiling down Spinnaker Tower.
People listened with tears in their eyes as Tessa van den Berg spoke about what it means to be part of the crew of Oceans of Hope.
In La Rochelle during a press conference organised by our official partner, Biogen Idec, one of the two neurologists present, Dr Schuermans, commented, “A chacun son tour du monde.” To each his own world circumnavigation. Everyone has their own personal challenge that equates to a round the world voyage; for some success is finding the inner strength to get out of bed and get dressed in the morning, something most of us take for granted. For others it’s finding a way to rediscover an activity they enjoyed or stepping even further beyond their perceived boundaries to take on a challenge as life-changing as becoming part of the crew of Oceans of Hope.
As well as hoping to inspire others with MS to follow their dreams, the Oceans of Hope project has the goal of creating networks between the MS and sailing communities. Networking has been particularly successful in La Rochelle, where members of the Association Française des Sclérosés en Plaques (AFSEP) were on the quay to give Oceans of Hope a warm and noisy reception. (We now know air horns are called ‘cornes de brume’ in French.) They’d travelled from as far afield as Lyon, Toulouse and Royan to be there to welcome the crew.
On Friday afternoon Oceans of Hope slipped out through the locks for a couple of hours sailing around the bay with local people with MS. Everyone had a chance to take the helm and one of those on board said she would remember the experience for her whole life. Now she’s on her own mission to learn English so she can apply to take part in the voyage when the yacht returns to Europe next year. (The common language on board is English and participants have to have a reasonable level of understanding in order to be able to react to safety instructions in case of an emergency.) She’s also linked up with AFSEP and agreed to fill the empty role as the local volunteer representative in La Rochelle.
Newly-diagnosed people were able to chat with the organisation and more than one conversation was accompanied by tears of relief at finding others they could talk to about MS and, importantly, people their families could talk to as well.
As well as the encounters in port, the online Oceans of Hope community is growing quickly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Are you part of the conversation yet?
Copenhagen to La Rochelle via Kiel, Amsterdam and Portsmouth in four weeks. The crew have sailed further from home than 95 percent of sailors will sail in their lifetime and the waves created by Oceans of Hope are rippling out across the world.