The other day, we spoke with John and Jaqueline McBeath about their experience as Liaison Officers for The Tall Ships visit to Lerwick back in 2011 and what has prompted them to sign up again for the 2023 event.
Back in 2011, they were allocated the Lord Nelson Tall Ship - a unique ship as its focus was to provide sail training opportunities to people with disabilities whilst also integrating disabled with non-disabled people. The ship arrived early on the day it was due; John was working, and Jaqueline was on a walk in Fethaland. She received the call that the ship had arrived and excitedly drove back to Lerwick, only to discover that the Lord Nelson was moored off Bressay, as another ship was in its berth, so they had to stay at anchor for most of the day.
This was their first-time volunteering as Liaison Officers, so they were delighted when they got along so well with the crew. Telling me that they were “Inspirational” and “A great bunch of people.” The crew themselves had an exceptionally special time in Shetland - as some attended a wedding in Tingwall during their visit. John and Jaqueline also had the privilege of partaking in the Crew Parade alongside the crew.
Through the design of the Lord Nelson, you can see the attention to detail that helped to support people with a range of different abilities. Such as being able to go up the mast in a wheelchair, or the fact that ships had been carved into the vessel's railings so that you could tell if you were walking forwards or backwards without using sight, and how visually impaired crew members were able to steer the boat as the compass they used worked with sound.
We asked the pair what it entailed to be a Liaison Officer and John replied, “You don’t need to know too much about the ships, It’s more important that you have local knowledge, be able to solve the crew's problems and make their life easy for them.”
We then asked what made them want to do the role again, they replied, “It felt good to be part of The Tall Ships and to be contributing towards it” John added “It was like having backstage passes to a concert, we were shown things that members of the public weren’t shown. It came with responsibility and a lot of work though, be prepared to work but be prepared to enjoy it.”
The couple were so keen to be involved with The Tall Ship’s return to Lerwick that they filled in the online volunteer forms as soon as they heard the news. Jaqueline laughs and tells me “I think we might have been the first ones, we even filled it in twice!” The pair ended our conversation with a lovely statement, describing their time as Liaison Officers “As a completely immersive experience.”