Hamsterley WI – Chair at the Helm

Ann Richards at the wheel of the Stavros Niarchos(Article courtesy of Kaye Jemmeson of the Teesdale Mercury, Published: Tuesday September 28th 2010)

A week of adventure on the high seas may not be every great grandmother’s birthday wish but for one Teesdale woman it was the perfect way to celebrate.

As part on a Tall Ships adventure, Ann Richards, from Barnard Castle, opted to spend her 70th birthday on board the Stavros Niarchos, swabbing the decks and steering the 493 tonne vessel.

She said: “I’d been on one eight years ago with three friends and I’d always wanted to go back again and it was my 70th birthday so I decided to have a go again.”

Used to more sedate cruises, Mrs Richards, who is the chair of Hamsterley Women’s Institute, said the Tall ship’s crew show no mercy when it comes to work.

“I’ve been going on cruises for 20 years and when you’re on them you’re ‘don’t be late with those gin and tonics’ but here you’re told not to be late with the mop and buckets, it’s very different.

“You do everything when you’re on board. They tell you it’s ‘happy hour’ and come up with big buckets and have you scrubbing the deck and cleaning the toilets. It’s physically demanding and everyone on the team does their share,” said Mrs Richards.

The septogenarian shared her duties with paid crew and other volunteers, men and women, whose ages range from 18 to 75-years-old.

But despite being one of the older volunteers on board the brig, Mrs Richards did her bit.

“They shine a light in your face at 2am and you have to get up and start your four hour shift on board. You’re taught how to steer, how to take a bearing and of course when you’re doing it, you’re responsible for the ship. It’s good because you don’t feel any age discrimination.” she said.

Mrs Richards said one of her most memorable nights on deck was at about 4am.

She said: “It was really dark and you could just see a blanket of stars above you, which you never really get to see anymore because of light pollution. Then we watched the sun come up, it was just amazing.”

Mrs Richards adventure set off from Barry Island in Wales. From there the Stavros Niarchos went down to Bristol, calling at Lundy, then on to Land’s End and finished at Dartmouth.

If anyone would like to know more about the Tall Ships Youth Trust, they can talk to Sue or Chris Davies, or alternatively they can go to www.tallships.org.

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