The 20-metre yacht Oceans of Hope has arrived in Boston, USA, after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Lisbon, Portugal to complete the first transoceanic stage of the historic global circumnavigation by a crew of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
In warm sunshine and a light easterly breeze, a large crowd was on the dock to greet the crew as they arrived at the Marina at Rowes Wharf, Boston, USA, at 1.55pm local time (1855 UTC) today.
The yacht, which set sail from Copenhagen, Denmark, on 15 June 2014, bears the same name as the Sailing Sclerosis Foundation project, Oceans of Hope, which aims to change perceptions of MS during the 17-month round the world voyage.
The campaign aims to inspire those with MS by showing what is possible when people with a chronic disease are empowered to conquer their individual challenges. Biogen Idec is the Official Partner of Oceans of Hope.
Project founder, Dr Mikkel Anthonisen, was at the helm of Oceans of Hope as he and the crew arrived.
Anthonisen, a physician, psychotherapist and specialist at Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, conceived the idea after meeting with a patient. The man, a blacksmith, had built a boat to sail around the world. When he was diagnosed with MS his dreams were shattered and he fell into depression. The answer, according to Anthonisen: “You have to go sailing again.”
Arriving in Boston, he said, “It was a very special moment when I saw the Boston skyline and I knew that we had done it. I have dreamed of getting here for so long and I felt great pride.
“Crossing the Atlantic has been something incredibly special for everybody on board. For the people with MS they have recaptured their identities, as on board they are not defined by their illness. Sailing is a perfect environment for empowerment and the crew feels like the experience of sailing across the ocean together has changed something in them forever.”
Five people with MS have completed the transatlantic voyage with the first US crew member, Susan Strachan, joining the boat in Bermuda for the final stage to Boston.
Portuguese crew member Luísa Matias, who set sail from Lisbon on the tenth anniversary of her MS diagnosis, said, “It’s not possible to put into words how I feel, I can’t describe it. Arriving here is bittersweet.
“I am definitely stronger in my legs and my core after this experience. I’ve replaced the bruises from the first day with more balance – and that is balance in life as well. That is Oceans of Hope’s gift to me and no-one can take that away. It’s like a mirror. Now when I look I see a person, not a patient.”
Holding back emotional tears, Mikkel Farver from Denmark said, “It is without doubt the best thing I have ever done. If I could I would turn around and go straight back out there. It was amazing. We had such a fantastic time with the people on board, everybody got on so well together as a team.”
While it is said that no two people experience MS in the same way, one common symptom of the disease is crippling fatigue.
Mikkel continued, “I didn’t really feel more tired, in fact I felt healthier. Sailing is a very simple way to live. All the things you don’t need are stripped away. There are no phones, no real distractions to take your energy. I loved every minute of it.”
During the ten-day stopover in Boston, Oceans of Hope will take centre stage at the joint ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS conference, the world’s largest annual conference devoted to basic and clinical research in multiple sclerosis.
As well as inspiring other people with MS and demonstrating that it is still possible to have hopes and dreams, it may just a question of finding a slightly different path to follow them, and the Oceans of Hope project aims to create links between the MS and sailing communities.
Today a group of eight people with MS enjoyed a free taster sailing session courtesy of the project with the support of the Boston Harbor Yacht Club. A further 32 will take to the water on Sunday 14 September, some of them on board Oceans of Hope, to experience the freedom and self-confidence sailing can bring.
Maxine Michaud travelled from Maine to Boston to take part. She said, “It was absolutely wonderful to see such a majestic vessel. For us she is a floating angel of hope and we’re just grateful for the opportunity to meet these people that inspire us so much. They teach us to believe.”
Oceans of Hope will be berthed in Boston until 16 September. Further port visits in the USA are scheduled in New York, from 11-16 November and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from 5-9 December 2014.