NB Sola Gratia - Cruising and Ministry
You may well wonder why a person who is registered Blind / Severely Vision Impaired chooses to live her life on the Inland Waterways! After all, it is not the safest of environments. Much of the system dates back at least 200 years, when Health & Safety wasn't what it is today so, for a "Blind Boater" it is not the most likely choice.
We had a vision in 2008. Desperate for a break, we took a much needed holiday on a narrow boat cruising the Black Country Ring. Little did we know then just how familiar this part of the system would become to us. Minutes after stepping on board and setting off, Tim (the Captain) knew this was where he wanted to retire. It took Tracey (the First Mate) a little longer to be convinced, but the seed was sown. The vision just grew and grew. This was despite starting the week in glorious sunshine and ending it with a blizzard.
When Tracey realised she was losing her eyesight, we felt that was the end of the vision. Then Guide Dog Oakley came along. He changed everything. Tracey found a new lease of life. Could we dare hope? Some very good friends lent us their boat so we could go to the Crick Boat Show (where we were running the Boaters' Christian Fellowship stand). Oakley stepped up to the plate. The vision was still on!
Even so, we felt it was still a long way in the future. We still had our daughters at home, we were both still working. We were also in debt. However, God addressed all these issues, one by one. Tracey had to give up work, as this was simply making her eyesight worse. Stress, travel and computer screens (amongst other things) affect her eyesight. This then results in a "bad eyes" day, when not only can she not see anything worth-while, she also suffers with severe pain behind the eyes. Potentially, this could result in total blindness.
Our daughters moved out, then Tim was made redundant. This meant we had to do some thinking and praying. We realised that this was God telling us that now was the time. But, what about the debts? We tentatively investigated what our house was worth and it was far more than we were expecting. Crunching the figures, we discovered that we could sell the house, buy a boat outright - and clear most of the debts. With Tracey's benefits that she was getting anyway, we could just about survive on the boat - not something we could do with a large mortgage to pay!
So, we prayed. We found a boat within our budget. The house went on the market and, before it was even properly launched, we had two couples wanting to view. Within two days, both had offered the full asking price! The rest, as they say, is history.
Shortly after we moved aboard, "Waterways World" asked Tracey to write her story. It was they who dubbed her "The Blind Boater", and this term has stuck. She gave a very popular and well received talk at the next Crick Boat Show (the link to this is on the home page of this website). Tracey now tells her story (the above is just the brief highlights) as an inspirational talk to give encouragement to others. She shares her faith - telling of God's provision for both of us along the way.
If you would like her to come to your church or organisation, please contact her via our contact page. She would be only too delighted to share what God has done for her.
Tracey Clarke and Guide Dog Oakley captured working a lock beam together not long after we moved aboard the Good Ship Sola Gratia. This was one of a number of shots we took to go with the Blind Boater article in Waterways World. It has remained one of our favourite photographs, and encapsulates how these two crew members worked together.
Oakley is very sadly missed.