In July 2020 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, after always being a fit, healthy and active person, with a senior management role in school sports. To say this was a shock is an understatement. Now nearly 24 months into what will be a lifetime journey with MS, and following a rollercoaster ride of MRIs, neurological & medical appointments, I am doing all that I can to live a positive and healthy lifestyle.
In the first year of my diagnosis, I was given the opportunity to sail on Steinlager 2 for 5 days after Easter, with the Oceans of Hope Challenge NZ 2021. This incredible journey gave me a chance to meet and sail alongside other like-minded people with MS who enjoy the outdoors and taking on new challenges. Before I departed, I said that I believed it would further strengthen my resolve to live positively with MS – post-voyage I can confirm this was an under-statement! My journey on Steinlager 2 completely turned my approach to MS on its head. It was a revelation, an incredible privilege and a truly life-changing 5 days.
Here’s a little more about those days away.
I arrived at Steinlager 2 at the Viaduct Harbour at 9am with the 20 others who will be on board for the next five days. There were 5 able bodied sailors plus 20 with various stages of MS.
I had met up with the others on Sunday night for a pre-adventure dinner, discovering that my fellow sailors come from all over New Zealand, a few from Christchurch, Tauranga, Taupo and a few Aucklanders. Normally we would have been joined by people from Aus as well – but not with the current border closures. A few had been on Steinlager 2 for a similar adventure previously.
By midday we were rigged up and off – heading out to Waiheke for our first overnight.
On the evening of day one I discovered we were headed for Great Barrier | Aotea – I was over the moon. I’d been secretly hoping that was our destination, having not been there before. A full day of sailing, accompanied by dolphins, learning more about each other as we progressed. For me the sailing days reinforced how much I can do even though I have MS and reminded me regularly how mild my symptoms are compared to others. It was so good to share stories of treatment, diagnosis and management, we all learnt so much over these days.
We had a day around Great Barrier – what an incredible place. Like a scene out of Jurassic Park in some places, in others we spied baches and locals living a very remote lifestyle. Each day I swam off the boat and was delighted as more joined me to share the early morning and late evening dips.
We shared a meal on the Island one night – quite the experience during which we were visited by a wild pig and lots of native birds. There are a few BBQ sites accessible from the water – a great alternative to the galley kitchen. Having said that -the food on the boat was delicious. A huge range, and all our specialist needs catered for.
We moved across to Kawau Island on an incredible calm windless day. Not even a breath of wind, the Waitematā looking absolutely beautiful, passing Little Barrier | Te Hauturu-o-Toi which was even more Jurassic Park like! Kawau was a great place to land, we were able to visit Mansion House, and explore a little around. Our last evening together meant a deeper level of story and experience sharing: a chance to say what we had discovered about each other and, more importantly, ourselves, over the days.
Our final day we journeyed “back to reality”. We had a great breeze for the homebound stretch, and so many mixed emotions. For me, the break away from reality, and the chance to just be with people who understand MS, who I don’t need to explain myself to, was unparalleled. I was pleased to be home and see family, but reluctant to give up the connections and time away.
I am so grateful to the Oceans of Hope Trust for making these voyages possible, to the crew of Steinlager 2 and the NZ Sailing Trust, who are simply excellent, and to all my fellow sailors. To Ingrid who is the force behind coordinating the NZ journey: thank you. This was a true game-changer for me. If you are given the opportunity to join the Oceans of Hope Challenge: don’t hesitate. You will never regret it.