A Hope Parade flash mob waving banners and shouting encouragement surprised the crew of Oceans of Hope as they set sail from Lisbon, Portugal, this morning on the next stage of their global voyage to change perceptions of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The crowd lined the pontoon with banners proclaiming, “Farewell brave sailors!” “The soul crosses the Atlantic, the MS stays on shore” and “Let your hopes not your hurts shape the future” as the crew climbed on board the 20-metre yacht for final photos ahead of their departure for Boston, USA.
Oceans of Hope is undertaking the first global circumnavigation by a yacht with a working crew including people with MS. It left Copenhagen on 15 June and has visited Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France before arriving in Lisbon on 28 July.
Luisa Matias from the Portuguese capital has joined the crew for the transatlantic crossing. It is a poignant day for her as the tenth anniversary of her diagnosis with MS.
Speaking at a farewell breakfast before getting on board, Luisa said, “I am nervous but it’s amazing when we find connections. My old dream was to change the face of MS in Portugal. Then Oceans of Hope came and I understood that my dream was too small. It’s not about changing in Portugal – that’s too small. It’s for the world. One person who frees themselves frees everybody and that’s what I’m feeling right now.
“You cannot believe the people who are calling and emailing me and saying, ‘Go! MS crew, please go for us.’ There are people who cannot walk and we feel that we can represent them by sailing across oceans. I have a lot of gratitude for my family and friends and I will take the Portuguese legacy and sail across the ocean.”
Luisa’s family and friends were on the pontoon to wish her fair winds as she follows in the wake of the great Portuguese explorers who changed the face of the world in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Oceans of Hope sailed out past the place where those explorers set sail from Lisbon in the Age of Discovery, leaving the Old World for the New World. There will be a short visit to Madeira to allow crew to settle their nerves, then they will continue across the Atlantic Ocean, calling in to Bermuda before arriving in Boston, USA, on 8 September. The yacht and crew will take centre stage at the joint ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS conference, the world’s largest annual international conference devoted to basic and clinical research in multiple sclerosis.
During the stopover 30 local people with MS have sailed with Oceans of Hope, either on the 20-metre yacht, or on one of the two Grand Surprise yachts which accompanied Oceans of Hope as she sailed down the River Tagus today towards the Atlantic Ocean. Many more have visited the yacht in the Marina Parque das Nações during the stopover. One of the aims of the project is to create links between the MS and sailing communities and people in Lisbon are already talking about creating a programme so people with MS can sail more often.
Oceans of Hope is a project of the Sailing Sclerosis Foundation which was set up by Danish doctor and psychotherapist, Mikkel Anthonisen. The voyage began in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 15 June 2014 and will continue across the globe with further stops in the United States, South America, Australia, Africa and Europe, ending the circumnavigation back in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2015.
Mikkel Anthonisen said, “We have had a wonderful time in Lisbon and we are so proud that we are leaving from Portugal to go across the Atlantic. With all the maritime history and legacy that you have, we could not have chosen a better place. Your hospitality has been wonderful. We are on a campaign to change the perceptions of MS and I think that we can say at the end of the first European stage of our voyage, we have started to do that.”
People with MS from all over the world can take part and places are still available on board throughout the journey. To find out more and to apply to take part, download the application forms.