On September 1, Southampton's seafaring heritage will once again be in the spotlight when the Jubilee sailing Trust's second ship Tenacious embarks on her maiden voyage.

FEBRUARY 3, 1979 is a date etched in Stuart Rees's memory. Five weeks before his 27th birthday he broke his neck while playing rugby and has been paralysed ever since in his arms and legs.

Now a tetraplegic, Stuart is one of thousands of people with a disability who have been given a new lease of life by sailing on the Jubilee Sailing Trust's Lord Nelson.

With the completion of Tenacious, the Trust will be able to help double the 15,000 able-bodied and disabled people who have experienced the life enhancing thrill of tall ship sailing since the charity began in 1978.

Stuart, who has lived in Hampshire for the last 24 years and used to play for Portsmouth Rugby Club, has been on four voyages on Lord Nelson and two ship-building trips at their base in Woolston, known as Shorewatch.

"Joining up with the JST filled a void in my life that I didn't know was there.

"I used to be very active and enjoyed sport and the team spirit involved.

"Sailing on Lord Nelson reminded me of that same spirit you get with team sports - when a team is pulling together."

The 48-year-old, who now lives in Lee Court Cheshire Home in Liss, is an Information Technology adviser in special educational needs.

He said: "Of course, I can't climb up the rigging, but they have an activity called wheels aloft where you can be hoisted up to the first stage of the mast in your wheelchair.

"Everyone mucks in with jobs and that's the thing that was great about playing at the rugby club."

Now that Tenacious is about to embark on her eight-day maiden voyage to Jersey on Friday, Stuart, like many others who have helped build this magnificent vessel, is filled with pride at the thought.

"I think it's wonderful.

"I have been part of building the ship from when she was just planks of wood.

"To watch her about to set sail on the sea is almost indescribable."

The only charity of its kind in the world, the Southampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust has been changing attitudes towards disability since 1978.

In this year it was set up with a donation from the Queen's Jubilee Fund.

Pilot schemes in the early '80s on various ships convinced the charity that it needed a specially designed ship.

This would enable people with disabilities to share in the challenge of crewing a tall ship on an equal basis with their able-bodied counterparts.

Colin Mude was selected to design such a ship and the Lord Nelson, named after Britain's most famous disabled sailor, was built.

In 1986, she embarked on her maiden voyage and now thousands have sailed on her each year on trips throughout the UK, Europe, the Canary Islands and even across the Atlantic.

Recently, Lord Nelson has been turning heads in America when she sailed with the Tall Ships 2000 fleet.

In the early 1990s, the demand for voyages began to exceed supply and Lindsey Neve, the Trust's current director, had the ambitious, and, some would later say, crazy, idea to build a new tall ship.

Because of the positive experience of mixed physical ability crews working together at sea aboard Lord Nelson, the Trust decided to bring its philosophy of integration ashore with the building of the new ship.

So a new project, entitled Shorewatch, was born.

Under the guidance of skilled craftsmen, volunteers, with little or no shipbuilding experience, shared in the construction of the vessel.

In April 1993 the design for the ship - which would later be named Tenacious on account of the attitude and determination of her future crew - was put out to tender. Hamble-based Tony Castro was later selected as designer.

Together with a team of experts, he designed the largest wooden tall ship of her kind in the world, taking into account the views of the permanent crew of the Lord Nelson.

It was calculated that Tenacious would cost a massive £14 million.

But, with help from a lottery grant of £6.25 million, a mystery benefactor's donation of £6.25 million and the efforts of hundreds of people in Southampton and the rest of the country, the Trust has just £2.5 million left to raise.

Fundraising director Chris Campbell has been involved with the Tenacious project for the last three years, but only took over as finance chief in January.

"With Tenacious about to embark on her voyage programme, we are entering in to a new era for the Trust.

"We've got £2.5 million to pay for Tenacious and so we really are on the final push.

"Tenacious is something the city of Southampton can be really proud of."

She added: "For a charity to conceive the idea and build its own ship is remarkable in itself.

"From the original lottery application, to taking on shipwrights, it's been audacious - that's my word for describing it."

Bold and daring they certainly were and, in June 1996, the Trust relocated to the old Merlin Quay site to build the ship at Woolston.

The site had originally been built to manufacture the world's biggest hovercraft and was swiftly re-named the Jubilee Yard.

The Trust's Patron, the Duke of York, set the ball rolling at the official keel-laying ceremony in August 1996, where he hammered two brass pins into the laminated steel section.

In October 1998, the hull, which had been built the wrong way up, had to be turned.

At the "roll over", more than 400 supporters gathered as the hull took two hours to turn to the sound of a fanfare of music.

By March 1999, the ship was deemed ready to be seen by the public, and actress Lesley Joseph opened the observation walkway, allowing visitors to see the construction of the hull close up.

Earlier this year, TV personalities Peter Snow and Alan Titchmarsh clambered aboard, lending their support as vice-patrons.

Then, in February this year, a moment of great excitement occurred when the ship, by now painted to disguise her wooden construction, was loaded out of the Woolston shed.

She was put on a barge, taken across the Itchen, and allowed to float up on the next day's tide.

Once the water was lapping at her gunnel, she was towed across to the Vosper Thornycroft shipyard for her masts and rigging to be fitted.

The Trust also aimed to make the interior of the ship look as exciting and attractive as on the outside.

With £20,000 pledged by the John Lewis Partnership, the bedding and curtains below decks were fitted out in yellows, blues and greens to help visually-impaired sailors identify different patterns.

Even the on-board bar has been specially-designed with a lower height to allow wheelchair users to serve behind it.

On April 6, the most momentous event in Tenacious's history so far occurred, when the Duke of York officially named her at the QE2 terminal in Southampton.

More than 800 well-wishers gathered at the docks to see Tenacious resplendent in all her glory, decked in banners and bunting.

Jacquetta Cator, wife of Trust President Francis Cator, released the device, which cracked the champagne across the bow.

For many, the day was tinged with sadness as well as joy, now that the ship was finally complete.

The Duke sent a special message for the day, part of which read: "The Jubilee Sailing Trust relishes challenges and all those who have been involved in the project to build Tenacious have risen admirably to the challenges presented in the last seven years.

"It is hard to believe it has taken that long, but the result is a splendid new vessel, designed and built to provide further challenges to the thousands of people who will sail in her during her lifetime.

"Congratulations to the Jubilee Sailing Trust."

Vice-patron and Groundforce star Alan Titchmarsh, himself a keen sailor, is also delighted about the forthcoming maiden voyage.

Speaking to the Daily Echo during Cowes week, he said: "I came on-board the Trust at quite a late stage - it was the right way up by the time I joined. But I found it irresistible - the sea's a great leveller.

"The buddy system on board works so well."

n Hundreds are expected to wave the ship off from the Oceanography Centre at the Docks at 5.30pm next Friday.

The Trust still needs £2.5 million to pay for Tenacious.

If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Trust on 023 8044 9108 or look up its web-site on www.jst.org.uk


Length: 65 metres or 16 family cars from end to end

Crew: 10 permanent crew, 20 able-bodied and disabled voyage crew, including eight berths for wheelchair-users.

Wood used: Siberian larch

Planking length: 46km to create over an acre of wood to sand.

Weight: 600 tonnes - the equivalent of two jumbo jets

Completion time: 36 x 105,000 man hours

Converted for the new archive on 25 January 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.