Docked at the BTP berth of the Cochin Port is Lord Nelson, a unique tall ship purpose-built to grant equality and equal opportunities to the differently-abled, is on the last leg of an ambitious circumnavigation, the “Norton Rose Sail the World Challenge” covering over 50,000 nautical miles in 23 months.

Owned and operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a U.K.-based charity, the ship has its voyage crew, comprising an equal number of differently-abled and abled people operating in buddy pairs (mostly 40 in all), turned around at every port of call and its eight-member permanent crew commanded by Barbara Campbell, a Scot, is paradigmatic of the equality it promotes. Besides the three-masted barque’s captain, its second officer and a deck trainee officer are all women.

Lord Nelson, and its younger sister Tenacious, were designed and built to allow people with varying degrees of abilities to sail together. It has Braille signs; hearing loops; a talking compass (gyro); specialised elevators for wheel-chair bound crew; adjustable mess tables and bathroom fittings; vibrating pads in bunk beds to alert hearing-challenged crew when the ship’s alarm goes off; and a bowsprit that is wide-enough to accommodate a wheelchair, enabling everyone aboard the vessel to do the entire gamut of work.

“We train the voyage crew in basic seamanship and despite the initial glitches, they learn pretty fast, taking turns to do all jobs, from being at the wheel to watch-keeping and even going up the rigging to adjust or change sails,” Captain Campbell told the media on board the vessel. First Officer Jon West is in-charge of training.

The ship’s side rails and tracks are custom-designed to support hassle-free movement of differently-abled people. Wheel-chair borne crew can be locked onto deck tracks in case of severe roll when the seas turn rough.

Lord Nelson, a 55-metre square rigger, traversed nearly 4750 miles across the expanse of the turbulent Indian Ocean during its last leg that began from Durban on March 3 and had brief stopovers at Mauritius, the Rodrigues Island and Galle in Sri Lanka before pulling a stop at Kochi.

A group of 14 differently-abled people from the U.K. along with some 12 Indians will embark the sail ship as it sets out on a week-long coastal voyage to the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala on April 18. Once back in Kochi, it will set sail for Singapore on May 1. The rough seas notwithstanding, a good 75 per cent of the last leg was covered under sails, which is indicative of the unity of the crew, said Captain Campbell.

Lord Nelson sports wide-ranging medical equipment and always has a qualified nurse and more often than not a doctor, too, as part of its voyage.

The ship’s Second Officer Lesley Sale supervises its most advanced navigation and communication room, featuring radars, electronic charts, satcom, GPS and the like. The ship also does weather reporting, she said. It has two mess rooms, ample storage facilities and a social centre where everyone gets together.

More In: Kochi