03 February 2003

Tears, jokes and a voyage of hope - Western Morning News

At last the time had come, and the journey that many believed not to be possible was about to begin. NEIL YOUNG joined the families, friends and supporters on Beacon Quay to witness the scene

IT was an inspiring and emotional scene, more so than anyone could have expected. The 62-metre vessel Barbara struck an instantly imposing impression on the eye in the approach to Beacon Quay.

And there, 'twixt bow and wheelhouse, as if stretched across the evening sky, was the proud fluttering banner with the message that would travel with the boat 3,000 miles to its destination: "Justice - Peace - The Brotherhood of Man, Respect for All Life".

The spirit on the quayside was intoxicating - among friends, family and supporters who had gathered to say their farewells, and among the crew just minutes away from sailing out of the calm and certainties of Torquay on a journey they knew would not be without risk, but would also be remarkable and memorable for the rest of their days for its experience.

Tears were aplenty, as emotions, raw and rising with each minute approaching the moment of departure, brimmed over. Kisses, hugs, and handshakes took on a sharpness of meaning. There was no lack of humour too as jokes, remarks and last scattered thoughts were exchanged between quayside and boat, and people made their way up and down the gangplank, eager to see for themselves this boat that, but for the vision of one man, would be about its regular business in Denmark.

I handed David Halpin a bottle of Jameson's whiskey for the journey. If he were to get sea-sick, as he expected, here was some consolation. He laughed and lifted his other hand to show another gift of a bottle of whiskey. "We'll have to do this again," John Hingley quipped from the wheelhouse. Then came the pilot boat. The time was approaching. Within 20 minutes the skylight had dimmed, and the lights of Torquay spangled round the broad harbour.

John Maughan, the boat's singer, struck a firm foot on the bottom of the gangplank and gave voice to a resonant farewell song. The nerve-ends bristled. The gangplank was hauled up. The Barbara began to make its way. All this because someone believed he had to do something to try to make a difference.

All because he was determined to make possible what many would have dismissed as fanciful. This too because it touched on others, stirred by that passion. It was testament to what any one person with the will, the spirit and the richness of heart, can do.

Shouts and waves followed the boat's every movement through the quay and out to sea. It was hard to stop waving. These were moments caught in the camera of the eye, each one crystallising the impression, as the Barbara, in minutes, was distanced, and the last still-waving arm on her deck could be seen no more.