Taking on the high seas from a wheelchair

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David Kapelus at the Lord Nelson. There are only two tall ships in the world that accommodate people with disabilities. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA

Cape Town - For a wheelchair user rough seas can make crewing on a tall ship pretty hairy: ask David Kapelus.

The wheelchair-bound Capetonian took to the seas as part of the Lord Nelson’s world tour - and for the first two days the notorious Cape seas played up.

Kapelus has been in a wheelchair for 30 years since a diving accident, and he was one of 45 crew members who sailed around Cape Point on one of only two tall ships in the world that accommodate people with disabilities.

They sailed from Cape Town around Cape Point to Simon’s Town in False Bay and returned to the V&A Waterfront.

Kapelus, 48, said it was a novel experience to be a member of the crew on the 55m British tall ship.

“It was much tougher than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “There’s nothing easy on this ship, it’s all hard, physical work.”

Twenty-eight people with disabilities, many of whom had not sailed before, braved the choppy waters and several days of seasickness.

Among the crew there were three wheelchair users and some who were recovering from accidents or had multiple sclerosis or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Capetonian Brandon Davids is profoundly deaf and is part of the Whisper Boat Building Community project.

He received a sponsored place on the trip.

The weather was rough for the first two days, and Kapelus says at times he didn’t know which way was up. “For a wheelchair user, the constant uneven (deck) is a challenge.”

The highlight for many of the group was the chance to be hoisted up the mast of the tall ship.

“It was amazing, it’s like a six-storey building up there,” Kapelus said.

Kapelus was strapped into his chair and put in a metal harness. The rest of the crew then hauled him 18m up the mast.

The deputy mayor, Alderman Ian Neilson, was there to welcome the group at the completion of their journey, and spoke about the misconceptions held about people with disabilities.

As the crew dispersed, watch leader Bill Smith embraced Kapelus. “This man is an inspiration,” Smith said.

The ship is on an 80 000km voyage around the world.

Cape Times


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