I was picked up by my lift half an hour before I was supposed to be. I wasn't quite ready but luckily it was a case of putting my trainers on and chucking my toothbrush in the bag. I frantically double checked that I had my passport, camera and Euros and was good to go. The man who organised my trip for me (Stan) came as well as my drivers (Eira and Peter). Stan took a couple of photos of me with them for Rotary club records and a couple more with my camera at my request. He wished me a good trip and told me that I would be doing a 20 minute presentation on my trip on my return - I had known that this was a possibility - but was still a little unnerved. Being told that I would be able to do a powerpoint to show photos made me happier.
We drove down and made pretty good time so we stopped at a service station for a drink and the loo. I bought a couple of snacks to take with me and surprisingly enough still had them when I got home. I actually found it easy to chat with them and my nerves didn't degenerate into stressed out tears and/or nausea as frequently happens. To be honest I was quite shocked about that!
Just before 1 we got to Dock Gate 4 and Eira told the security guard "We've got a passenger for the Lord Nelson" and asked which berth it was in - we then laughed about how posh it sounded when she said that.
Arriving at the ship I felt very nervous and kind of suprised by the way the ship looked. I had read the dimenstions but to me it seemed smaller than I had thought (On boarding it, it is actually bigger than it appears). This is another indication of how much I am affected by my spatial awareness issues, I thought. However it later transpired that several others who are not CPers had similar thoughts. I took a few photos and Eira and Peter took a few for me.
We were looking at the Gangplank and it was so steep we thought that they must be going to get me on the boat a different way - it didn't seem possible but they could get a wheelchair up it. A man in the uniform of the ship came ashore and asked my name, introducing himself to me as Rob, the mate of the ship. They were going to get me on the ship up that extremely steep gangplank. I was surprised but given that I knew they have sailed with thousands of wheelchair users I figured they must know what they are doing. He tied a rope around the front of my chair and gave the end to the people waiting on deck
at the top. Walking behind me to balance my chair the other members of the crew kept the rope low to the ground and pulled it to help bring me up to them. Eira had my camera at this point and took a couple of pictures of me. My camera was passed back to me and my chauffers left - I was introduced to Matt, my watch leader and along with Derek who was next on board and also in our watch he took us below deck. Matt told us some stuff, I cannot remember what.
Down in one lift, though a room with lots of unfamiliar equipment and down in another lift... accross the deck past the mainmast and finally down one last lift on an incredibly steep flight of stairs. I didn't take much of my surroundings in at that time and it wasn't until we returned to port on Sunday that I actually figured out which part of the ship I had boarded on - something that had driven me crazy after we docked in Cherbourg and going ashore and coming back was not so involved. I had boarded onto the bridge and the room with the unfamilar equipment was the chart room.
Matt told me that my buddy would be Rosie but she wasn't aboard yet, showed me my bunk and told me to stow my gear then go to the mess which we had walked through. He also gave me my watch card which showed what I was to do when and when in port would be my proof that I belonged to the ship.
I unpacked most of my stuff and then went to the mess where I had to meet Jo, the medical purser. She is a member of the permanent crew and is a trained nurse. I had to check my next of kin details to confirm they were right and sign a form as well as handing in my passport. At some point she asked if I had any medication related questions but I think that was a general query during one of the safety briefings. Next I had to go to Laura the bosuns mate (a volunteer) to get some oilskins and a safety harness (a waist one) that I was to wear the entire time I was on deck. She also had wellies for us but I can't wear them (can't bend my feet into them) so didn;t take any.
Rosie arrived shortly after this and also someone attached various pieces of safety equipment for my chair - a rope, a transit seat and two clamps. Someone (presumably the person who was to be my buddy) had dropped out and so Rosie had been asked the day before to step in as she volunteers for JST doing maintenance and helping in their office. Because of that she had a lot of paperwork to sort out and I didn't see too much of her to start with. Eventually they asked that everyone who was not sailing went ashore and gathered us in the Lower Mess.
We were introduced to the permanent crew - most of whom seemed to be called Dave - and had safety briefings. What various alarms meant, what to do if we were seasick, where first aid kits were etc. We were also asked not to have alarm clocks or mobile phones on below deck as people would be sleeping a lot of the time due to the watches we would stand. 1pm to 3pm every day was also designated quiet time and we were asked not to use the lift in the lower mess at that time either. Captain Dave also explained that we would sail part of the Solent that day and then anchor off of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight for the evening and that the plan was for us to set sail for Cherbourg the next day.
Next was Smoko or coffee break which we took under the mainmast on deck. There was an evacuation briefing during this for those who would be involved in getting the wheelchair users evacuated and after this we all headed below decks where we had an evac drill - it took eight minutes to get all 28 or so of us including eight wheelchair users up onto deck and to our muster points and into life jackets. And that was without using lifts!
We were off after that, hauling various ropes to pull in the gangplank etc. Because of the wind we motored. Once we had been underway a while it was time for dinner which was a bit manic as it was the only time we all ate at once. After dinner it was the opportunity for those who could climb unassisted to go aloft if they wished. The weather was lovely, there was a nice sunset and it was interesting to watch the others scaling those ropes.
The evening ended with the chief engineer, Pickles, making a punch (pretty much a Sangria) and all of us gathering under the mainmast to drink it and chat and get to know one and other. We were anchored at this time and I was not on watch so I
had the opportunity to have a drink and enjoy myself. I was chatting with this guy Mark. He is blind and one of the funniest guys I've met in a long time, a great mimic. He loves to sail and was telling me he's been on Lord Nelson 18 times since
1994. I was astounded by that but by the end of the trip could quite see why!
It was a very very tiring day and although it's early for me went to bed just after 10.