- Turkish Delight Published under | 1 Comments
I wrote an article about the fully accessible motor vessel WellAbled, in my All at Sea column earlier this year. Last month I had the opportunity to visit the vessel in Turkey and spend a few days aboard testing out the long list of features which, her owners claim, earn her unique status in the charter world.
Laying in the award winning Gocek Marina and moored amidst an equally impressive array of hardware, you can not fail to miss WellAbled, her bright orange hull signaling her position as well in harbour as at sea.
WellAbled is a 19 metre motor vessel designed by Haci Hekim for businessman and owner Tunc Tonger, himself a quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down and a permanent wheelchair user. So it was no surprise to discover she was every bit as “accessible” as promised although I had never seen anything quite like her before.
Access from the dock is by adjustable passarelle to the main deck. Like many other luxury yachts, she is well equipped with the latest technology, she is beautifully maintained with luxury fixtures and fittings, she has an attentive and highly professional crew and all of the no-expense-spared extras to justify her €2000 per day charter fee. But look a little closer and you see that she really does offer discrete access to all areas for her guests in wheelchairs. A clever but difficult task for any designer to get right.
Access to all three decks is by lift. Not one of those compact lifts designed for a child’s pushchair but a decent, full size, lift capable of taking a wheelchair without removing footplates. On the flying bridge I had the choice of helming, sunbathing or relaxing in the Jacuzzi. I’ll leave you to guess which two out of three I opted for. The main deck has access from the vast aft-deck and covered dining area through the saloon and into the main wheelhouse, packed full with all the latest electronics, even joystick steering.
But it is perhaps the lower deck, accommodating four accessible cabins, where design, money and imagination collide to create perhaps the most amazing, accessible VIP cabin I have ever stayed in. The double bed was actually two single beds, each with independent electronic multi-positioning therapeutic mattresses capable of raising and lowering head, torso and / or legs in a multitude of combinations. The bed adjustments, the air conditioning, the 500 channel cable TV and the lighting (4 mood settings) are all controlled by an iPod. Adjoining the cabin is an en-suite wet-room, perfect for disabled access with extra-width horizontal rolling door and extended basin. There is just one feature which gives me recurring nightmares; the mirrored ceiling. I lay in bed each night looking at myself imagining this is what I would look like in a coffin; not a pretty sight. With the adjustable bed at full height, my body pressed against the ceiling, I was able to give myself a kiss good night in the mirror before lowering down to sleep; the body imprint I left on the mirror was not very flattering
Were the above WellAbled’s only features, then they alone would make her worthy of note. But she has just one more party trick, and one that sets her head and shoulders above any vessel I have seen. Her entire aft-deck, approximately three square metres, can be lowered from mid-deck level to one metre below sea level. So what? Well, let me tell you as a wheelchair user myself, this offers the only safe and dignified way I know of accessing the water. For the first time in more than two-decades, I was able to swim in the sea. I can only begin to describe how wonderful it felt, looking up, the sun warming my face, a feeling of total weightlessness and immediately a relief of pain and tension in my body. Whatever the boat cost to build, in my view, it was worth every € for that feature alone.
Our cruise lasted only a few days but they are memories that will last a lifetime. Her designer Haci Hekim is to be congratulated on including so many important features, not least the inter-deck lift, the VIP cabin and the lowering aft-deck, into such a complex project and Tunc Tonger is to be congratulated on having the vision to invest in such a project. The hope now is other boat builders will take accessibility ideas from this project and build them into future vessels. Meanwhile, WellAbled is available for charter to anybody, not just disabled guests. Already in Turkey the boat has received national attention and opened the debate about disability and inclusion within society which can only be a good thing. Marina operators D-Marin are one of the first major sponsors of the project and their involvement has sent out a positive message to the private sector in Turkey.
It was our first trip to Turkey and we were overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of our hosts. It was also our first time cruising the Aegean Sea which was spectacular to say the least – even my wife did not get sea sick – that in itself is as good a reason as any to return one day.
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