Who’s who at Cutty Sark – meet historian and BSL Tour Guide John

Hello, I’m John Wilson and I give BSL talks aboard Cutty Sark

So, what are BSL talks? Well, I was born profoundly deaf and so use sign language – British Sign Language or BSL – which is the natural language of profoundly deaf people in the UK. It is called British because it is different from sign languages used in other parts of the world, as English is different from French or German.

John Wilson on board Cutty Sark

I worked for a long time in Disability and Deaf Arts but when I moved on from that I rather nervously stuck my toe into the world of freelance work, mainly giving talks in BSL on a wide range of topics in a number of different institutions – mostly high-profile art galleries and museums. I have to say it has been very rewarding.

Sometimes I work with an interpreter who translates my BSL into spoken English for the benefit of anyone in the audience who does not use BSL – hearing people or deaf non-signers. But at other times I give the talk alone to an audience of BSL-users, mainly deaf people and sometimes deaf people who can sign or who are learning. This is how I have been working on board Cutty Sark with small groups of BSL signers.

John Wilson

Leading a tour on board Cutty Sark is a bit of a dream job for me. I have always loved the sea and sailing and have a long-standing interest in historic ships and their voyages. My maternal grandfather was a sea captain, sailing a clipper very similar to Cutty Sark, the Ben Cruachan, working in the wool trade, and when I was a child I loved the stories my mother told me about his life. I come originally from Captain Cook country and one of the highlights of my life was a short voyage on the replica Endeavour some years ago as it sailed from its mooring next to Cutty Sark up the east coast of Britain. So, it is not difficult for me when I’m on board Cutty Sark to conjure up images of the surf and spray in my face on a long voyage bound for far off lands – maybe passing the Ben Cruachan on the way!

So being on Cutty Sark is a bit of an indulgence for me. I enjoy talking about the history of the ship and her achievements in the China tea trade or the supernatural chase of Nannie and Tam O’ Shanter or the topsy-turvy world of Cutty Sark’s fortunes. I particularly enjoy being on the main deck where you can look up at the bare bones of the graceful masts and yards and admire the perfection of her proportions and the skills of the craftsmen who used wood and steel to make such a beautiful and effective ship.

Join John Wilson on his next BSL interpreted tour* on 25 March as part of Sea Signs, our yearly event for deaf and hearing families.

*Please note that our BSL tours are for deaf people or hearing signers who can follow BSL fluently. There are no voice-overs provided.