Tall ship sets sail for UK in aid of spinal cord injury charity

Crew of 25 people of all ability embarks on 650km voyage from Cork to Southampton


A group of wheelchair users and others who have suffered spinal injuries are sailing a tall ship from Cork to Southampton to highlight the work of a charity helping those with spinal injuries.

The Spinal Injuries Ireland Tall Ships Challenge 2019 sees a crew of 25 sail the Lord Nelson from Cork Harbour some 650km to Southampton on the south coast of England.

“This is a unique fully-inclusive voyage where people of all ability shall board the ship as equal crew members who work four hourly shifts to sail the boat to the UK and in the process raise fund to provide community services to people who have sustained a life changing spinal cord injury,” said spokeswoman Ciara Mealy.

Among those undertaking the challenge is Ireland’s most decorated Paralypmian and chairman of Spinal Injuries Ireland, John Twomey (63) from Kinsale, who was left paralysed at the age of 14 while competing in a cycling race in Cork city 1970. He later took up sailing and previously sailed on the Lord Nelson 20 years ago.

Twomey said the crew consists of people with spinal cord injuries and able-bodied people, who will circle the Jurassic Coast from Devon to Dorset and the Scilly Isles before heading to Southampton.

“The Lord Nelson, which was built in 1986, is one of only two fully wheelchair-accessible tall ships – she is specially designed to be wheelchair accessible, which makes it possible for each crew member to learn and work together equally regardless of ability,” he said.

Joining Mr Twomey are Ursula Barry, Kieran Fitzgerald, Jennifer Hester and Tim Rice from Dublin.

Mr Rice was an avid sailor for 25 years before he sustained a spinal cord injury in 2017. When he heard about Spinal Injuries Ireland Tall Ships Challenge, he immediately signed up.

“This challenge to me means freedom – freedom in my chair. I think if I can sail a tall ship in my wheelchair, I can do anything. I never thought I would have the opportunity to do anything like this again . . . and for me, life now is about focusing on what I can do, not what I can’t,” he said.

Also on board will be Jim Clancy from West Cork and Patricia Prendiville from Kerry, both of whom have suffered serious spinal injuries but do not use a wheelchair.

Mr Clancy (45), a native of Kilrush in Co Clare who now lives in Kilcrohane in West Cork, said he used to do some sailing before he broke his spinal cord in a fall in 2012. He said he now has no balance, so the prospect of heading out on the open sea poses a particular challenge for him.

“I have no balance, so when we leave Kennedy Quay here in Cork, I have no idea how it’s going to go – we’re going to be going up masts to tackle the rigging which is a little bit scary but hopefully I’ll be well harnessed off so if I’ve a fall, it won’t be as bad as the last time,” he quipped.

Ms Mealy said the trip, which will see the Lord Nelson pull into Poole next Tuesday, is designed to give every participant a unique experience while also raising funds for Spinal Injuries Ireland which relies on donations for 61 per cent of its funding

“Each participant will have the experience of a lifetime and can feel great in the knowledge that their participation will also enable support and services for the over 2,100 people in Ireland who have suffered a spinal cord injury,” she said.