THE magnificent sight of the Tall Ships Race, or as the French call it The Armada, called in at Rouen in the Seine Maritime department of Normandy, before heading to the UK.
Here Coral writes about her experience of visiting the event, but also some of the difficulties she faced as a disabled visitor during a trip with family and friends:
While on holiday in the area I took time to go and see the tall ships as they were in the port at Rouen, before they left in style on July 14.
There were due to be around 30 ships taking part, as well as free concerts and firework displays every evening, plus the chance to enjoy international shops, local restaurants and bars, the crowning of Miss Armada, an interfaith mass and the Grand Parade of Tall Ships on Bastille Day.
Other events on offer were lunch aboard three of the ships, the ability to tour some of the ships and a four day rowing race from Paris to Rouen.
My husband and I were staying with English friends on the border of Normandy and the Mayenne, which by motorway was an hour and a half from Rouen. The distance and attraction of seeing the ships tempted us to make the journey.
Arriving in Rouen we were directed to a park and ride area at an exhibition centre which they opened to provide toilet facilities with easy access, which is an important factor for people like myself who are disabled.
A navette, which was not just a bus but a bendy bus, offered cheap tickets and, seeing the wheelchair, the organisers shut the doors and the bus lowered with a large wheeze before a ramp slid out from under the door.
There was a specific space for the chair and when we arrived at the port the other passengers had to wait until the bus lowered and the ramp appeared for me to get off before they could leave.
After the pleasure of the park and ride we were disappointed to find no notices directing us to the port itself. We had lunch in a nearby restaurant and on our way back to the port, we could see the sails of the boats, we found a stand selling programmes hidden from view of the bus.
Crossing the road we were faced with a long flight of steps and no directions for disabled access. My husband had to push me along a main road, with lorries passing by my shoulder, to gain access.
We were approached immediately by a researcher asking what we thought of the event and what we had done so far. We told her we hadn't done anything yet but we disappointed by the disabled access.
"We hadn't thought about that," she said.
"But," I replied. "You have the Tenacious which is crewed by disabled people, how do they access the quay?"
"I don't know," she answered.
Access along the quay was good but I wasn't able to visit any of the ships as the access wasn't suitable, and while we were there the Tenacious wasn't open to visitors.
We saw people on the river buses which gave visitors the chance to see the ships on both sides of the quay, something I was unable to do.
Accessing the river bus looked difficult and to get to the bridge over the river was a feat in itself. We took this route, as advised by the researcher to exit the event.
We had to walk to the end of the quay, she said, then there was a ramp. We reached the end of the ramp only to find a barrier over which my husband and our friend had to lift me, help our friend's wife, then lift the wheelchair. We were faced with a road which we crossed and the ramp?
It was a road, of which half had been cordoned off by cones to allow pedestrians to walk up it. We decided against trying the other side as I had had quite enough by then.
The quay we stayed on was extremely interesting as there were stalls, music, restaurants, bars, sailors of various nationalities mingling with the public and posing for photos.
In all around 30 vessels were moored in the quays. The countries represented were Holland, which sent 11 ships, Great Britain with three, Norway also three, Poland with two, Belgium, Monaco, Russia, Uruguay, Brazil, Bulgaria, Oman, Rumania, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, France and Spain.
Price Albert of Monaco was the guest of honour and the race ship Tuiga, owned by the Yacht Club of Monaco, made its first appearance at the race. She was commissioned in 1909 by the Duke of Medinacelli, a close friend of King Alphonse XIII of Spain, and built by William Fife.
For the real enthusiasts the variety, sizes, fittings, apparatus and technical details was the draw and there was always someone to answer questions. For people like me it was the beauty and majesty of these ships that was the main interest.
Britain's Grand Turk was extremely fascinating. She really looks the part and is a three masted, sixth rate frigate.
This ship was primarily built for the film and television industry where she is well known for depicting the HMS Indefatigable in the Hornblower series and in the same series also depicted the French ship Papillon.
Now used in sailing events, corporate or private charter and receptions, she is also open to visitors in London's St Katherine's Haven where an on board exhibition gives an insight into life on a war ship of the 18th and 19th century.
The one ship I did want to see was the Tenacious. This ship was designed by Tony Castro and built by the Jubilee Sailing Trust at their Jubilee yard.
This was done over several years involving a team of professional shipwrights and volunteers of various abilities; this achieved the JST ethos of integration.
Tenacious is the largest wooden tall ship to be built in the United Kingdom in the last 100 years and she was launched in 2000 in the presence of HRH The Duke of York who is the trust's patron.
Since her launch she has taken 5,760 people to sea, of which 2,210 have been physically disabled, and she has travelled 112,916 miles.
Her sister ship, the Lord Nelson, was not at Rouen but since she was built in 1986 (she was the trust's first vessel), she has taken almost 23,000 people to sea, of which around 9,000 have had a disability and sailed 339,658 miles.
I did meet some representatives of l'Association des Paralysés de France (APF), I must thank Monique who sported the outfit of black and yellow that she wore for their demonstration in Paris.
She hugged and kissed me making me truly welcome, one disabled person to another. Another member told me she was to take a trip on the Tenacious and she was truly excited; how envious am I?
They were as upset over the disability access and services as I was. According to one of the members the municipality and other organisations do not seem to have any liaison and as my English friend put it 'do not have joined up thinking'. This was obvious from the researcher who told me they hadn't thought about disabled access.
The APF work hard to integrate disabled people, many extremely physically disabled, into the community and work to help them participate in events such as the Armarda.
But it seems the psyche of French people is that disabled people are not seen and therefore are out of sight, out of mind. Those that do venture to such events are welcomed (if they can get there) but how they do so and how they can participate doesn't seem to come into the planning.
On the whole I had a wonderful experience, just marred by the 'lack of joined up thinking,' I met some interesting people, saw some wonderful sights, was impressed by the park and ride system but disappointed over the lack of forethought regarding access to the quay.
But a day spent with good friends, and new ones, cannot be all bad, can it?
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