One year ago today on June 15 2014 Oceans of Hope set sail from Copenhagen Harbour. Behind the 20 meter yacht the little mermaid and an emotional crowd waved goodbye and ahead awaited a 17-month global journey with an ever-changing international crew with multiple sclerosis (MS) and stopovers in 30 ports around the world. So far, yacht and crew have stopped in Europe, the United States, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia and is now headed for Bali and Singapore ending the voyage in Barcelona in the beginning of October 2015.
The beginning of the voyage was the culmination of a doctor’s dream for the people with MS he had treated over the years and the support and hard work of a host of people helping out to make the dream come alive. Not least the joining of the world's oldest independent biotechnology company, Biogen, as Oceans of Hope’s official partner made the voyage possible.
The aim of the on-going voyage is to change perceptions of MS. Mikkel Anthonisen, Physician from the University Hospital and Danish Multiple Sclerosis Center and the Founder of the Oceans of Hope campaign explains, “MS is a potentially disabling disease. When you combine it with sailing magic happens. The shame and social isolation, which often comes along with the disease, can be replaced by pride and hope, which is necessary for human growth. We’ve experienced again and again that people are able to recapture their identity, feel worthy and dare to dream again, because yes, life still has something to offer me and I still have something to offer life!”
Since then stories of hope and transformation have come in from the boat in a steady stream. There is a certain way of being together out there on the water where everyone works together to achieve a common goal. In this manner, the boat functions as a community, which empowers people – the focus is on resources, self-efficacy and overcoming individual challenges by contributing what you can to help the team achieve its goal. As one of the MS crewmembers from Denmark, Marie Stjernholm, puts it: “It´s such a healing thing, the community we have on this project. The bonds which have arisen between us. They are so strong and healing that it feels like new nerve fibres. It is very strong medicine”.
Being out there at sea at the mercy of the forces of nature serves as a reminder that everyone’s vulnerable and dependant on one another to overcome life’s challenges. In Mikkel’s experience the awareness of this existential human premise of life helps inspire a feeling of belonging and pride on the boat because as he puts it: ”We are all imperfect and vulnerable, but we are always worthy of love and belonging.”
Now that Oceans of Hope can celebrate one year at sea with an incredible crew, it’s time to look to the future. Great adventures excite the public and throughout the Oceans of Hope journey people have been ready to join the dreams of the pioneering MS crew. Collaborations with MS and sailing organizations have been established around the world and in the wake of the circumnavigation, the organization behind Oceans of Hope, the Sailing Sclerosis Foundation, aims to continue to support already existing initiatives for people with MS, which offer meaningful sailing activities. In Denmark former MS crewmembers are already out sailing on a regular basis as a result of collaborations with existing yacht clubs. On the grander scale the ambition is to mobilize this enthusiasm in favour of centres of excellence – sailing centres centred on life quality, inclusion and worthiness which will put people first and offer a holistic approach to MS treatment integrating not only the medical sides of health but all other aspects too: rehabilitation, education and empowerment. Thus the centres will contribute to pioneering a trend within the healthcare system by taking care of the many important aspects of treatment besides medication and by encouraging not only people living with MS, but just as importantly, people with other types of diseases, disabilities and injuries to become pioneers in their own lives, in their ways of thinking and behaving. The concept behind the centres has been developed in workshops with the MS crew during the voyage and in meetings with stakeholders around the world. The Sailing Sclerosis Foundation looks forward to further developing the framework for the centres and the future with the MS community and other relevant stakeholders.
Oceans of Hope set out as a sole ship on the vast oceans and today it’s time to celebrate a year that has been blessed with new friends around the world, outstanding achievements by the more than 70 crewmembers that have taken part in the journey as well as the legacy of inspiration, hope and potential that has been left in her wake. In this sense the journey has only just begun. Watch the video in which Mikkel tells the story of the journey so far and the plans for the future. The story continues.