November 2018 James Byrne – Is there a doctor on board?

Aboard 3-masted Barque Tenacious, one of two of Jubilee Sailing Trust’s tall ships especially equipped for people with disabilities, the answer is a resounding yes. On three of her voyages our eminent consultant neuroradiologist member James Byrne was the volunteer Ship’s Doctor.

James reminded us of the long history of this noble calling by showing a video clip from movie Master and Commander of Capt Jack Aubrey and his friend the Ship’s Doctor (Naval Surgeon) Maturin playing a string duet aboard. A nice start.

Tenacious cruises with just 8 permanent crew, the other 40 on board being a 50:50 mix of disabled people and their able-bodied “buddies”. James is a specialist consultant and had his anxieties about dealing with the range of illness, accidents and emergencies that may happen aboard, so did a few days in A&E at The Horton as a refresher before his first stint. He and his co-worker on board (the Medical Purser, a permanent crew member) could sometimes “phone for help” but by and large the buck stopped with them. Mid-ocean is mid-ocean, after all.

On James’ third and longest voyage (55 days at sea – a retirement special for him) he told us how happy he was to get within 150 miles of their Caribbean destination, at which point the ship was within helicopter range so he could sleep easier. What did James have to deal with, apart from the normal pressures of crewing and life aboard a tall ship? Going aloft is de rigueur for tall ship sailors, involving much fearful anticipation for many and memorable elation on its achievement. On Tenacious even those with missing limbs, or in wheelchairs, are encouraged and if necessary supported in doing this, which is scary and emotive even to watch. So what medical challenges did James have to deal with? In among the more straightforward problems of a dislocated shoulder and “a foreign body in eye” he was faced with a case of supraventricular tachycardia, and (be kind, oh gentle reader!) paruresis – the inability to urinate in the real or imaginary presence of others – a problem in the confines of a sailing ship. It needed tact and imagination to solve.

The Jubilee Sailing Trust does wonderful work giving people with disabilities a holiday and a life-enriching experience, and, as we learned on that evening, James is not the only Chipping Norton Yacht Club member to have volunteered with them!

It was a great pleasure to hear from James and learn more about the work of the Trust.