The best laid plans.

In a parallel universe today was a BIG day; the one I had organised my personal and professional life around for absolutely months. For today, my husband and I would have driven down to Gosport at 6am so I could board one of the Clipper ’68 training yachts at 9am for a 3 day ‘refresher sail’ in the English Channel. Returning back to Gosport’s marina, we’d have continued driving onto London to catch a flight to America to join my team in Seattle for the race. I would have walked out the door of my home knowing that I would not be crossing that threshold again until sometime after the 10th August 2020. Knowing me, I would probably have been fretting that I was missing some key item in my kit bag and trying to ignore the ever-present voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t fit enough, wasn’t prepared enough and wasn’t skilled enough. I know I would have had a ‘to-do’ list right up to that moment of saying “goodbye” to my home, neighbours and street. I’d likely be sitting in the car on the M4 thinking “well, this is bonkers! What am I doing? Eeek! I’m finally doing it!” and generally oscillating wildly from excitement about finally doing the race after 2.5 years preparation and the adventure’s unknown future, to doing my best to undermine myself and doubt absolutely EVERYTHING. It’s process I go through on an almost daily basis, whilst my husband patiently observes the self-sabotage.

But of course, we live in a new world order now so all that is definitively NOT happening today. Instead, under lockdown, I am noticing that I am struggling to motivate myself to get out the house as the weeks drag on, never mind get myself to Gosport for 9am to go sail training! However, the biggest irony of all, is that instead of doing what the title of my blog declares – Changing tack from university researcher to ocean racer – I have spent my day of departure and what would have been my last night in my home on terra firma, definitively being a university researcher. Back to square one.

I guess it is rather inevitable since my professional moniker is Dr Death and we’re living through a pandemic. Whether I like it or not, this means I am quickly finding myself being pulled back into rapid response research and public engagement on death, funerals and bereavement. Instead of reflecting on my last night at home on the eve of departure, I found myself sat at my desk answering questions on REDDIT for a designated AMA (ask me anything) about COVID-19! The university’s public engagement team set me and my colleague up with this:

…Hmmm. Well, that was a new experience for me. It was actually quite an interesting few hours as I was interested in the kinds of questions I would be asked, but it definitely wasn’t part of my PLAN. I should have been having my last meal among friends and neighbours and doing last minute packing and phone calls to family. Then today, my colleagues and I have been finalising a research bid to do evidence gathering with the bereaved and deathcare professionals here in the UK as the pandemic proceeds over the coming months. Suddenly I don’t have to justify to people why an empirical focus on death, dying and disposal is a necessary and important area for social research. Quite frankly, we’re all feeling it at the moment. Words don’t really need to be said.

So it looks like that whether I planned it or not, I am having to be in the mode of researcher and the racer bit will have to wait. So a big THANK YOU to the generous person in British Columbia who posted a garland of origami stars and boats to me as a “Clipper Commiseration” gift. I have yet to meet the woman who created this beautiful garland, but her sentiment and generosity of spirit has certainly brightened up this last week and the garland takes pride of place hung above my desk.

There’s a boat with my name on it!

Funnily enough, I received another piece of mail from Canada this week too (believe me, this is all most unusual – I usually just get junk mail for pizza delivery and stair lifts!), this time from an old university friend who emigrated to Canada and set up her own bookstore and coffee bar; The Penny University. She’s obsessed by coffee – she even did a PhD about the coffee industry – and is an avid reader and enthusiastic writer. Her moniker is Dr Coffee and she’s written about her coffee passion and entrepreneurial disasters and breakthroughs in ‘It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Ten Years of Mis Adventures in Coffee’. I don’t think Bel intended for her package to arrive on what was meant to be my last day at home before departing on the adventure, but the uncanny timing made her gesture even more poignant and gratefully received by me.

Unbeknownst to me, Bel had collated all my blog posts into a book format, which she then hand bound. It’s utterly beautiful.

Given I enjoy doing patchwork and quilting, I approve of the front cover!

All this reminds me that:

  1. I should not expect things to turn out as planned.
  2. The generosity and kindness of strangers actually does exist.
  3. Unexpected paper gifts through the post brighten up my day.
  4. Given how many of us around the world are living under various degrees of restriction to our movement and freedom, it’s quite miraculous that mail from Canada actually arrived at all and just how quickly it did! …I am biased as I am married to a postman, but be grateful that delivery companies are still functioning; they’re helping to keep us connected to each other and send random acts of love and kindness to each other through the post. Gratitude indeed!
Doing its rounds on social media, but made me laugh.

Off Shore. On Air.

Since they have been safely flown home following quarantine in Subic Bay marina, there’s been a flurry of media coverage of my team mates who were sailing in the aborted race. So I thought I would share their reported experiences of the race so far with you.

First up, is one of Punta del Este’s circumnavigators, Mary Vaughan-Jones, discussing her experience of the race in the Independent newspaper and how it came to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus outbreak. You can read the article here.

Next up is Clara Carrington, having done most of the race to date, being interviewed in a 30 minute podcast hosted by The Sailing Show. Listen here.

“Abby’s guest this month is Clipper Round the World sailor, Clara Carrington.  Clara has been a passionate social sailor through her life and having worked shore side for the Volvo Ocean Race, Clara has now embarked on her own round the world race with Clipper.  Clara is racing with team Punta del Este which is currently lying third overall in the Clipper Round The World Race.  Abby chats to Clara from her home in Uruguay having recently returned following the decision to postpone the remainder of the Clipper Race due to the global impact of COVID -19. They discuss how Clara’s experience in human resources helped her with the crew’s interaction and what she learned from each leg especially with adapting to new crew members and the importance of empathy in a team situation.”

Finally, but by no means least, ‘legger’ Jim Leaf, sharing his race journey on The Enterprise Podcast. Listen here.

“After stepping foot on to a sailboat for the first time ever in April 2019. Jim completed 4 weeks of training with Clipper Ventures, earning his Competent Crew and Sea Survival qualifications. He then joined the loud crew of the Punta Del Este Clipper Yacht to race 11 other boats from the Punta Del Este in Uruguay to Cape Town South Africa. He directly crossed the South Atlantic through the eye of 3 relentless storms, back to back.

Joined by 21 other crazy amateurs and led by 2 amazing professionals. Jim and the crew finished in 2nd place after battling 40 – 75-knot winds and 8 – 12m waves for 16 days! This amazing experience was to become the most incredible test of endurance of his life so far. Back on terrafirma, I caught up with Jim to reflect on the lessons he learned about teamwork, communication, social awareness, compassion, leadership and crisis and stress management.”