Unknown Waters

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

Publilius Syrus

I’m writing this one week after Clipper’s announcement that the outstanding legs of the circumnavigation have been postponed till 2021; a year since I took a friend on an introductory row in the harbour with Bristol pilot gig boat club and nine years since I first sailed in and out of Gosport (where I subsequently did all my Clipper race training) aboard a beautiful replica of John Cabot’s ship, The Matthew.

I am also writing this on the first day of Britain’s ‘lockdown’ after our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made the official announcement calling it last night; a historic broadcast from the PM according to British media.

It’s been a bewildering, emotional roller-coaster of a week; a week in which Britain began to shut down in a desperate attempt to contain Covid-19. It firstly began with panic buying in supermarkets prompting the restriction of sale of specific items to 2 or 4 units per customer and a dystopian vision of empty shelves. Then there was the death knell to the cultural sector, as all social and cultural venues closed their doors. Little did I know that seeing Yorkston, Thorne and Khan play a mesmerizing gig at Bristol’s Folk House on Sunday 15th March would be the last gig I am going to go to for many months, or that the pint of beer I had with my RYA instructor following my last Day Skipper exam would be my last visit to a pub for quite a while…or that the commiseration lunch I had at a café on the harbourside following the race decision from Clipper would be my last café outing for the foreseeable future too. The staff at this café were arguably ahead of the social distancing curve, replacing all crockery with plastic or cardboard and were offering take-away with non-cash payments only. All staff were wearing plastic gloves and the usually busy café was eerily quiet with just a few lone workers at their laptops. I was bemused if truth be told. Then public transport began to empty out and finally citizens started to stay home with much social pressure exerted via social media channels. I started to receive relentless emails from CEO’s of companies I didn’t even realise held my email address, informing me of their plan of action in the face of COVID-19 and all commitments in my diary were very quickly cancelled or postponed. For me, the most challenging cancellation is a face-to-face consultation I have at my local dental hospital to receive the results of a biopsy I had taken from the palate of my mouth a month ago. When everything else is up in the air and in limbo, I was holding out for a comforting ‘all clear’ from a consultant following a visual diagnosis. Now, even that has been replaced with a telephone consultation in a week’s time.

Reading back over this blog, whilst processing that my husband and I are not imminently setting off to Seattle, something I wrote on the 19th November 2019 (in response to the collision of Punta del Este and Sanya at race start out of Cape Town) really jumped out at me:

“This is one of the scenarios I dread. All those months and years emotionally, financially and mentally committed to the race and then, BOOM! It’s over. Just like that.”

Prophetic. Makes my hairs stand on end. Within a week my blog now feels that its title has come to pass, but not at all in the way I was intending!

We are all entering unknown waters and I am painfully aware of how invisible our most vulnerable are right now. People who were already struggling to cope with daily life when all was ‘normal’ could well break. I have three very close friends who have children with complex needs, some life threatening and requiring constant care. I feel for them all during social isolation and ‘lockdown’. Whilst we are all going to experience the coming months in very different ways, no doubt it will be challenging for us all. So, in a bid to make myself useful I googled: ‘coronavirus response volunteers Bristol’ and found a campaign run by our city council called ‘Can Do Bristol’. They are actively inviting volunteers, so I signed up. Who knows if I’ll be called upon or when…Maybe there’s something similar in your community or neighbourhood?

In the meantime, I have stowed away all the sailing gear that for the past year has been gathering dust in a pile at home and taken down the race schedule that has been stuck to the kitchen cupboard door since race start. For each leg I have noted which team won and our team’s finishing position. I have also rearranged the furniture in the living room to hide the spaces that were, until this week, stacked with technical sailing books I had on long-term loan from my local library, as well as lengths of rope for practicing my knots. I think my husband is pleased about that at least, as I notice he’s replaced my sailing paraphernalia with his oil paints and song-writing books! I have left the oil painting he did of Punta del Este sailing into a sunset out on the bookcase as a homage to all that we had worked towards and were looking forward to. At least with some cleared away floor space I have a bit of room to keep up my planking and floor exercises during lockdown I suppose.

…For now dear readers, hold fast, for we are entering a storm; but like all storms, it will pass eventually.

Dave’s oil painting on cardboard of Punta del Este sailing into the sunset, which he gave me a few weeks ago. It’s ‘going to be a while till she loses sight of the shore again, since the entire fleet are now moored up in Subic Bay marina (Philippines) until the race resumes at some point next year…Maybe.

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