Oceans of Hope stops off in Portsmouth

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BRAVE sailors are preparing to set off on the next leg of their around the world mission.

The crew are on a 17-month journey to change the perceptions of what people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can achieve.

Their 67ft (20.4m) yacht, Oceans of Hope, will be the first world circumnavigation with a crew including people with the disease.

It set off from Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 15 and sailed into Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, on Thursday.

Waiting to wave them in was Dr Mikkel Anthonisen, the founder of the Sailing Sclerosis Foundation which is behind Oceans of Hope and its challenge.

Dr Anthonisen, from Copenhagen University Hospital, said: ‘I set this up to prove that even though you have this disease, you can still live your life and go out sailing.

‘Hopefully we will raise some attention around the disease and change peoples’ perception. People with MS can do more than they think and we think and they can live their lives.’

Crew members are spending four days in the city, taking various groups out on the water before they set off for their next stop of La Rochelle, France on Sunday.

The first British crew member, Phil Gowers, of Gosport, joined the crew in Portsmouth. Phil, a father-of-two, said he was ‘over the moon’ to be on board.

‘I want to inspire other people with MS to believe in hope again, to believe in yourself and what you can do,’ he said.

‘I have been diagnosed with MS for eight years, but have been able to continue my work as a dentist and hobbies including sailing by managing my periods of fatigue.’

MS is a neurological condition that affects about 100,000 people in the UK. It affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which causes problems with muscle movement, balance and vision, often leading to fatigue.

Crew member Tessa Van De Berg, 36, from Holland, is sailing to La Rochelle.

She said: ‘There’s a whole adventure ahead. It’s a good experience to be on the boat, not just for sailing but also to meet other people with MS.

‘We all have different symptoms but have had the same experiences and so we need each other so that we have good power and good energy.’

Also on board is Soeren Roenn Willesen, 51, from Denmark.

Mr Willesen, a retired parish priest and father-of-five, said: ‘This journey will bring me out of myself. It will take me somewhere else — I will come back a different man.’

Oceans of Hope will stop in Europe, the United States, South America, Australia and Africa before ending in Copenhagen next autumn.

The crew is set to leave Gunwharf Quays at noon on Sunday.