“Why?”

Often, when I casually tell non-sailors about my ambition to compete in the Clipper Round-The-World Yacht Race people either look puzzled or slightly concerned and then very quickly ask, “why?”

There is no simple, short answer. I have a myriad of reasons and life experiences that have brought me to this point, some of which, I have tried to articulate in the blog post ‘Another beginning to the journey…

In readiness for the race, and for my Level 3 yacht race training in just under a month’s time, I have been reading quite a bit about the psychology of sailing and ocean racing. In one book, The Psychology of Sailing: The sea’s effects on mind and body, a paragraph towards the end of the book really resonated with me and might also answer some of those why’s!

“Why do yachtsmen insist time and again on risking danger at sea? This is the question one invariably asks when one considers the loving and detailed preparation, the financial outlay and the anticipation with which yachtsmen plan the big cruise of the year. Fully aware of the dangers that may be in store, they surrender themselves to being tossed about in a small boat between mountainous waves…exposed to the wind and cold and spray; to being packed together with others in the most cramped conditions; to trying to determine their position with numb fingers and with great metal effort; to living out of cans – and all in the name of pleasure. To non-sailors it appears that yachtsmen invest ridiculous amounts in order to indulge in an activity for which they would demand hardship and danger money if they were engaged in it professionally. Even a hundred years ago [this book was published in 1987!] experienced professional seamen would have considered anyone taking his life in his hands voluntarily, without economic compulsion and for purely sporting reasons, to be weak in the head. It is without doubt a phenomenon of this century, and of the latter decades in particular, that some people react against what is in many ways a sheltered, predictable and monotonous urban lifestyle and seek adventure, nature in the raw, the unpredictable and, to a certain extent, danger…Every yachtsman knows the feeling of deep contentment when after a long spell at sea he ties up in a marina. Finally, there is the character-building aspect for which, again there is little scope in everyday life: the opportunity to develop further the skills that are required at sea where in the event of a problem one cannot call a craftsman or fetch a spare part from shops but must apply one’s own strength, brain-power and dexterity to the solution. When the cruise is over, the yachtsman takes the self-confidence that develops as a result of his efforts back with him to lighten the monotonies and frustrations of everyday life.”

The Psychology of Sailing: The sea’s effects on mind and body (1987:117-118)

Perhaps some of you reading this have other ideas and feel that similar satisfaction and self-confidence can be gained from one’s resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, dexterity, patience, and physical exertion in other ways…Farming, living off the land or off grid are other activities that spring to mind, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and your reaction to Stadler’s claim.

The book in question; borrowed from my university library!

Knot So Simple

It’s exactly a month till I will be once again heading down to Gosport to join some fellow Clipper Race Crew for Level 3 training; ‘Asymmetric Spinnaker Training and Racing’ to be precise. My toughest training yet I suspect.

Aside from spending 2019 getting focused on developing my fitness, nautical/seamanship knowledge and skills, I also need to practice my knot tying, which isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. Lessons learnt from my Level 1 and Level 2 training last year have taught me that it is one thing to be able to tie a knot on demand at home among friends and family, but quite another to tie knots under pressure whilst at sea; especially if the person who has sprung a knot challenge on me is Sir Robin Knox-Johnston! Heart races, palms sweat and my mind goes blank. Much fumbling with cordage ensues with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks.

At the start and finish of each Clipper race training week, crew are tested on their knot tying ability by the Skipper or First Mate. Crew have to master the following knots as a bare minimum requirement: Figure of Eight, Reef Knot, Rolling Hitch, Sheet bend, Double Sheet Bend, Bowline, Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, Clove Hitch, Admiralty Knot and Tugman’s Hitch. The one that always catches me out when under pressure is the Bowline. During training, fellow crew and I have re-named it ‘the pressure Bowline’ (especially if it’s Sir Robin who’s requested it be made).

Therefore, I am in awe of Windy Chien, an American artist who learnt and made a new knot every day of the year back in 2016. Whereas my journey into knots has been prompted by wanting to learn to sail and be a valuable crew member in the Clipper Race, her journey into knots began with an amateur interest in macramé. Chien’s The Year of Knots started when she purchased a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots. First published in 1944, this encyclopedic source contains more than 3900 entries. On January 4th, 2016, Chien learnt four knots from this book and realised immediately that she wanted this to be a year-long project. Each day, she learned how to tie a knot, as well as its history and use.

I take inspiration from her to galvanize me to master and appreciate the knots that we will use at sea. Like Chien, I am quickly appreciating that knots are not only a noun and a verb, but they’re also a window into a new language and culture with its own rich, deep history… Little did I know when I signed up for the Clipper Race how many skills and competencies I must learn and how far reaching these new skills and knowledge would be!