Natural Departures. Heading Back to Shore.

“You can do something completely new, a total u-turn from anything you’ve enjoyed before, and decide that you love it and to carry on doing it for the rest of your life. Or you can try something once and then never do it again. Or you can do a bit of both. You can run around a country then decide you’re happy just being a weekend-and-holidays runner. It’s all fine. You are under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago.”

Elise Downing – Running Around the Coast of Britain – Life, Love and (very) Loose Plans.

Today is an anniversary day and I have certainly found with this blog that anniversary days are a good motivator to publish, because anniversaries are temporal markers of all that’s come to pass…or not as the case may be.

It’s two years this very day that Clipper notified all crew that the race was being aborted in Subic Bay due to the sudden arrival of a global pandemic. Click here for the announcement they made on the 17th March 2020, just 4 weeks and 2 days before I was due to join my crew in Seattle and step aboard CV25.

The pandemic rather changed the course of my planned adventure, as well as dragging the whole episode out to 5 years of my life, in a direction I could never have predicted. So, given how much time has come to pass, I do need to remind myself these days about why I even signed up to the race in the first place! Thankfully, I had scribbled in a little A5 notebook back in the summer of 2017 that my motivations for signing up to the race were:

  • To write myself a new story
  • Start an exciting journey of new skills, experiences, people and places – Self-discovery!
  • To feel alive and brave (rather than restless and underwhelmed in life)
  • To overcome career frustrations by doing something extraordinary; beyond academia and despite the financial demands, lack of sailing experience and Crohn’s disease
  • To seize the opportunity for such an adventure, having no dependents and a supportive husband
  • To get fit
  • To learn to sail, thus fulfilling a long-held dream.
  • To create new opportunities and doors to pass through

One of the things that I very quickly fell in love with about sailing was that it was an instant way to cultivate a mindset of wonder. I would sit on deck in amazement at the sky or could stare for hours at the wake hissing inches from my nose or laugh at the unpredictability of rogue waves as they undermined my balance. I think that’s also why I love hiking long trails and camping too. They’re all quick ways to get into another mental state and be awed, immersed, and inspired by all around you – even the driving rain, damp fog or screeching wind. I notice details in the natural world far more easily than I do in my house-bound, desk-bound life. The transcendent power of being outdoors, in nature, and feeling tiny in a vast, timeless universe. Yes, that’s definitely a major factor that motivated me to sign up for the Clipper RTW yacht race 4 years and 6 months ago. I cannot believe it’s been that long, and I still haven’t actually raced!

When Clipper suddenly started communicating that the aborted race would be resuming in early spring 2022 I realised I had a very tough decision to make. It made for an unsettling winter. I prayed and hoped that New Year 2022 would bring resolution. It came as a personal email on the 6th January 2022 from one of the race directors offering me a partial refund on my outstanding race fees ahead of the race resuming this month in the Philippines. It was a very tough decision and one I struggled with for a few weeks, but by the end of January I knew what was right for me and I formally accepted to not be a part of the resumed race. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, though there is a sadness I carry. Still, I felt it was canny again that the week I made my decision and my refund came through from Clipper I met with 3 race crew for a day’s walk and pub lunch in Cheltenham. These 3 women are precious to me, as I got to know them early on in my race journey and our respective journeys have taken us on different paths. Two of them I have written blog posts about before as I went on an eventful sail with them on May bank holiday a few years ago that resulted in the RNLI being called to rescue. They were both round-the-world sailors on other teams. One is returning to the race to complete what she started, the other is walking away having felt like she’s already got out of the experience what she needed to. The other woman was a legger, like me. She got to complete her leg (5) and had a thoroughly positive experience and I never got to race my legs at all. But I have made my peace with it. It felt like a natural departure for the four of us to meet for a walk on a glorious winter’s day and chew the fat over all things Clipper. I am very grateful for that.

Fabulous female crew racing in the 2019-20 edition of the race, all of us on different teams. Only Su, on the far left, is returning to the resumed race to complete her circumnavigation aboard Sanya.

All I know is that I am not the person I was when the race got suddenly postponed in Subic Bay back in March 2020 and I feel no obligation to pretend that I am. Indeed, the world is not what it was 2 years ago. The landscape of our lives has changed irrevocably. Like many people, after two years of working from home and the prolonged closure of sports clubs, I am definitely not the strong, muscular person I was back then. After a protracted period of unemployment following having to leave my job to be available to race, I finally resumed academic employment in May 2021 on a challenging 30-month policy orientated research project – Voicing Loss – interviewing bereaved people who have tragically been through coroners courts and attended inquest hearings. I also grieved a lot during 2020-21 over the ‘what should have beens’, yet I feel I have finally come out the other side, so emotionally cannot give any more to the race.

Even so, I am painfully aware my teammates are about to embark on completing the race at the end of the month, and were I to have joined the resumed race, I’d be very busy right now getting ready to fly to Seattle in April. I am considering going to London to wave the fleet across the finish line on the 30th July. But for now, I am happy for CV25 to slip her lines and release me from her mooring in the process.

I always knew that signing up to the Clipper race would be a risk – in fact, involve numerous risks; loss of life, injury, financial and work-related losses to name a few, but despite the fact the race of my life didn’t turn out as I expected, I still, almost 5 years later, feel that the risk was worth taking for the sake of it. Why? Because there is something so very enlivening about expanding our ideas of who we think we are and what we’re capable of. Taking risks, expands our self-definition by granting self-empowerment by choosing to sign-up to and commit to a challenge. Successful challenges, beget successful challenges. So take baby steps in the direction of your dreams, because there’s something so very freeing and exciting about it. Or put another way, whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace and power in it. An accomplished sailor who I have drawn much inspiration from over the years is Mike Perham, who I think is conveying the same truth when he writes in his autobiography:

“There was something very special…about putting yourself into situations that once inspired you as a child or had left you in awe of the experience of others.”

Mike Perham

It’s been a fabulously rich journey, but also a long, drawn-out four-and-a-half-year emotional rollercoaster. For this resumed race I am happy to be left on shore, rooted within myself and grateful for this ending to usher in new adventures.

And a new adventure has already begun this year, as Dave and I are now urban goat herders and share the responsibilities of a herd of 25 goats grazing on derelict agricultural land near the M32!

Since January we have been going to Bridge Farm to do a weekly milking duty and I also commit to one morning a week feeding them and cleaning out their shelters. We are terribly slow, tentative milkers, but in time, hopefully we’ll get faster and be able to use both hands. What delights me, aside from the sweet smell of hay and the intelligence of the goats, is that I have found myself leading two goats to a dairy right beside the M32 and its constant hum in order to get down a pail and sit beside the flanks of Lillian and Betty and milk them. It’s such a bizarre contrast! But I am giddy every single time I leave the dairy shed with my litre bottles full of warm goat’s milk. The alchemy of turning it into goat’s cheese pleases me immensely. It is a process of care, patience, and nurturing. A beautiful place to arrive at having followed the trajectory of a dream, that hasn’t landed with a splash and holler of “man overboard”, rather a bleat from an animal in my care as I gingerly learn how to milk her. The journey is always the arrival, and as the soil warms up I am hopeful for the new seeds being planted.

Boundaries. On Foot and Under Sail

Around the globe, humans have been having to establish, learn or re-define their boundaries due to the impact of the pandemic. ‘Social Distancing’ entered our lexicon and we grew fearful of being in close, physical proximity to each other. The boundaries between what’s ‘mine’ and what’s ‘yours’ became amplified, and our work/home life boundaries crumbled.

For the last 14 years I have worked from home, but I also found this new order of working from home and always online very difficult and exhausting. Like so many others, the geography of my physical movements has shrunk whilst the time I spend online has expanded enormously; an observation that deeply worries me.

Then there’s the dubious neoliberal agenda promoting ‘wellbeing’ and the rather annoying emails I get from my employers ‘wellbeing team’ reminding me to take a break from the computer, go for a walk, share my woes with a colleague over a virtual coffee break or ‘water cooler moment’. Oh dear! If this is the future, I want none of it. It would appear that the onus is on us as ‘individuals’ to create and maintain effective boundaries in all aspects of our lives, be they real or imagined.

As you can probably tell, I have been mulling quite a bit on boundaries, whilst at the same time, being utterly ineffective at creating any useful ones of my own during this bewildering global pandemic.

Nevertheless, it amused me when I looked back at the photos of outdoor adventures I’ve undertaken this spring and summer, that they’ve all involved boundaries of some kind; predominantly physical land-based boundaries – coastline/shoreline, riverbank, dyke – and all geopolitically and culturally contested throughout human history.

What follows is a homage to the seemingly self-evident concept of a ‘boundary’ and the boundaries I have trodden or sailed this summer; the activities themselves being effective boundary markers separating my urban, daily work life from precious moments under bigger skies.

Coastline / Shoreline.

A boundary between sea and land.

Typical signage along the South West Coast path. All national trails are indicated by the acorn.

On foot: Walking the Cornish section of the South West Coast Path from St. Ives to Falmouth. 103 miles (30th August – 12th September 2021).

This hike was inspired by reading Raynor Winn’s Salt Path over Christmas in 2018. I made a note back then to put it on my ever-growing hiking list.

Turns out all we had to do was follow the acorns for 103 miles of rugged coastline, often in what the Cornish refer to as ‘mizzle’ (mist and drizzle), which completely obscures the way ahead, saturates everything and gives rise to a sense of gloom rather quickly unless a café is chanced upon in which to revive spirits over a pot of tea and a Cornish pasty. For 3 days we were accompanied by the mournful sound of a fog horn belonging to Lizard Point light house. It became strangely meditative to walk to.

This hike was undertaken to mark mine and my husband’s joint birthday. We hadn’t made any plans other than we each stowed a birthday card to the other somewhere deep inside our rucksacks and sealed in waterproof sandwich bags. But strangers we met at a campsite the night before our birthday had other plans! They surprised us on our birthday morning by seeking out our tent amid the throng of families camping in huge, lit up tents around us, to announce they’d bought us tickets to see Fisherman’s Friends perform that evening at the iconic Minack theatre! All we had to do was walk the 8 miles to get there in time for a magical performance against a setting sun over the sea. It was made all the more incredible because it was our first live performance since the pandemic began. Thank you to Nigel and Fi (assuming you’re reading this) for making our birthday forever memorable!

Walking the SWCP around Cornwall, gave me a very different perspective on this divided county. I was expecting twee fishing coves, lots of ‘I saw you coming’ pricy gift shops, idyllic beaches, blue skies and dolphins. What we encountered was altogether wilder. Dramatic outcrops extending from heath and moorland. Brooding, stormy skies, so much ancient and industrial history… and absolutely no dolphins! It was a wild Atlantic shore, and Cornwall is all the better for it in my opinion.

We met an inspiring man from Newcastle whose living one of our dreams. He’s walking around the entire coastline of Britain (and has retired early in order to do so). He impressed me with his energy and ability to make VERY early starts and walk long hours on little food. You can follow his journey here.

The logo for the Pilgrim Heritage Sailing Foundation who maintain and manage Pilgrim of Brixham, Devon.

Under sail: A weekend getaway aboard the Brixham Trawler, Pilgrim (1st -3rd October 2021).

I came to sail aboard Pilgrim in a reaction to the onset of autumn, which always makes me twitchy for one last swim, one last night in my tent, one last hurrah to summer basically. The idea of getting away for a weekend sail was hatched whilst hiking around Pendeen on the South West Coat Path as I would occasionally glimpse a traditional sailing vessel off the coast. I chose to sail aboard Pilgrim because she’s a boat I know of, I like the fabulous colour of her sails and ‘Pilgrim’ seemed apt, since I was very much stepping aboard in the spirit of pilgrimage.

I embarked very mindful that this would be my last opportunity to head offshore this year, and also painfully aware that at the time, absolutely no resolution had been reached with the aborted 2019/20 Clipper RTW yacht race. So it was very ironic (or do I mean bittersweet?) to discover that one of the 2019/20 Clipper crew I had trained with in 2018, had not only been able to complete his part in the race before it got ‘postponed’, but he was now a committed member of Pilgrim’s crew!

Dyke. A ditch, embankment or long wall.

Borderlands. An area near the line separating two or more areas.

King Offa depicted on a coin

Walking the Offa’s Dyke Path, 178 miles (20th June – 3rd July 2021)

Ever since I moved to Bristol in 2011 I have wanted to hike the Offa’s Dyke Path, but had always been fearful to do so. I would second-guess my ability to walk the terrain and distance and was scared by the remoteness of the path. But having cut my teeth into this long-distance walking malarky and having proven to myself that my husband and I were fit enough and could each carry around 15 kilos of gear, we decided to mark our 9th wedding anniversary by finally setting off. Where hiking the Coast-to-Coast the year before felt like an exciting adventure, and the South West Coast Path a bit of outdoor fun, the Offa’s Dyke proved to be an arduous slog!

The Offa’s Dyke (Clawdd Offa in Welsh) is a linear earth work that roughly follows part of the border between England and Wales. It was the creation of King Offa – a powerful ruler of the Anglian kingdom of Mercia in the 8th century – a defensive boundary between his domain and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. It consisted of a ditch and rampart and in its intact, original form, two metres wide and eight meters in height. King Offa was a busy man creating all sorts of things to assure his place in the history books, including establishing the penny as England’s standard monetary unit, and hence the logo depicted above, used for the Offas’ Dyke signage; King Offa depicted on the penny.

The Offa’s Dyke is both very significant to the history and culture of ‘border country’, whilst also seemingly undervalued as a national trail (evidenced by the neglect of the path, sabotaged signage, lack of services for walkers and at times, open hostility from landowners). So, I am really pleased to learn that since 2020 some academics have begun a research journal dedicated to this very special British earthwork – the Offa’s Dyke Journal (ODJ) – sponsored by the University of Chester and the Offa’s Dyke Association. The ODJ is:

…The first and only open-access peer-reviewed academic journal about the landscapes, monuments and material culture of frontiers and borderlands in deep-time historical perspective, the Offa’s Dyke Journal (ODJ) has a concerted focus on the Anglo-Welsh borderlands…

You can read the first issue here.

It was only because of the hospitality and support of my dad and his partner, and later my aunt, (all of whom live along the Anglo-Welsh border) that we could reach Prestatyn at all. Prestatyn marks the end/beginning of the path and the shores of the Irish Sea. It took us two gruelling weeks of bleeding, infected blisters and rain to cover the 178 mile route. That said, I loved the archaeology and the Clwydian Hills are absolutely wonderful; I highly recommend them.


A large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea, a lake, or another river.

Canoeing along the River Wye (15th August 2021) – Glasbury to Whitney-on-Wye

The River Wye is the fourth-longest river in the UK, stretching some 250 kilometres from its source on Plynlimon in mid Wales to the Severn estuary. For much of its length the river forms part of the border between England and Wales so we had walked some of its banks 2 months before when hiking the Offa’s Dyke Path. We’d returned to the area to try to make our peace with the path and the traumatic events that had occurred. Unlike walking, canoeing is very soporific, even in wet weather. We allowed ourselves to be lulled along catching sightings of egrets and herons, whilst reflecting on the fact we’d walked the imposing ridge on our right only weeks before with heavy packs and weeping blisters, covering 18 miles from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye along Hatterall Ridge in the Black Mountains.


A road, track, or path for travelling along.

A Pilgrimage along the Glastonbury Way, 7.5 miles (9th July 2021).

A pilgrimage is often understood in anthropological or ritual terms as a path of purification. I felt I badly needed a ritual of purification to rid myself of the trauma and very bad vibes I’d acquired from witnessing a suicide whilst walking the Offa’s Dyke path only a few weeks before.

Mountaineers and climbers often understand their ascents as sacred acts in which the summit is a metaphorical, indeed physical, gateway to another realm. For me, a walking pilgrimage is a sacred act to another realm, often inward, and in the case of Glastonbury, the Tor is a very visible destination that all faiths and none can relate to.

I undertook this day pilgrimage with the British Pilgrimage Trust and met some really interesting pilgrims that day. Quite a few of them had walked the same long-distance paths I had undertaken over the last two years, and a few of them recommended paths I’d not heard of, for future hikes.

The day was everything I needed as the founder of the charity, Dr Guy Hayward, led us from church, chapel, holy well, sacred spring, ancient tree, tor and to earthworks and boundary markers that have been honoured for centuries, indeed millennia, in folklore and custom across many faiths.

Little did I know that day, that 3 months later I would receive intensive training in order to devise and recce my own pilgrimages as an official ‘Pilgrim Guide’ for the British Pilgrimage Trust! As I type this, I am putting the finishing details to an itinerary for a day pilgrimage in the Black Mountains that I intend to guide in March 2022. The route incorporates an ancient church, holy well, iron-age hill fort, a wishing tree, and starts and ends at a dead-end road high-up in the Black Mountains. It’s an ancient and remote area. I love that my mobile phone receives no coverage for the duration of the route. Quite apt for a pilgrimage I think. The pandemic may have dictated that I observe physical boundaries this last year or so, but my mobile phone has the last laugh and reminds me that there are many unseen boundaries to explore yet.

Seas the Day

Against all sensible advice ever received regarding safety online, I replied to an ad on Twitter posted by Explorers Connect. The ad was asking for crew for a coastal passage westward along the south coast of England from Eastbourne to Dartmouth aboard Spirit of Worcester (a Fisher 37 motor sailor, for those of you boat geeks out there). The skipper would take crew regardless of experience, so long as they were willing to muck in with daily life onboard and split the cost of groceries, diesel and marina fees among themselves at the end of the trip.

After the year we’ve had, I didn’t need much convincing. The fact that the trip cost me just short of £150 a week made it even more within reach. Despite having very little detail about the skipper or boat, I took a train to Eastbourne to hop aboard, having satisfied myself and the skipper that I wasn’t a covid risk by obtaining a negative result 48 hours before travel and the first of my vaccine jabs the week before.

I arrived at Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne under heavy clouds and light rain. I was apprehensive as I walked along the pontoon to meet my skipper and boat for the first time. The skipper was doing engine checks as I arrived, but happily stopped what he was doing to put the kettle on for a cuppa and invited me below deck to the saloon. I was relieved. The boat looked in good shape and the skipper, Paul, was friendly and easy going. To be honest, he was probably just as nervous as I was! I was the first to arrive ahead of two other crew who’d signed up to do this leg; both of whom also lived in the West country. Paul’s beloved boat was to be our home for the following two weeks. Four strangers living together in close quarters.

I had not been offshore since I delivered my team’s racing yacht to the Clipper race start in London in August 2019. 21 months had now gone by, so I was apprehensive about my sea legs and knew I’d have to find them again (i.e. feel seasick initially). Slipping the mooring lines from Sovereign Harbour was going to be a bitter sweet moment. I wore my Clipper race issued wet weather gear as homage to all that had not come to pass the previous 21 months. Paul knew about my aborted Clipper race and had stressed to me a few times via email that I might not get on with his boat or trip intentions given we were to moor up in marinas each evening and that the boat was a MOTOR sailor complete with furling headsails. I honestly didn’t care. I wasn’t looking for adrenalin and pushing myself to the limits, I was just happy to have the chance to get offshore and put some of my now, very rusty, day skipper theory into practice and see how many knots and navigational lights and shapes I could still remember.

Over the following two weeks I came to learn that Paul has spent a lifetime on or around the water and I got the impression there wasn’t a sea or ocean he hadn’t sailed to. He has fulfilled one of my life-long pipe dreams, to sail across the Atlantic with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and he’s sailed around Britain for the RNLI too. Paul made passage planning look easy and was unfazed by motoring into new marinas and moorings, which is usually when sailors fall apart and couples famously start yelling at each other between bow and helm. He was always the first awake to hear the shipping forecast at 5.20am and despite a taxing day offshore, with a less than competent crew at times, would quietly set to writing a blog post of the day’s adventures and planning the passage for the following day. He also never failed to produce a hearty meal from the galley’s gas oven; spaghetti bolognaise, cottage pie and pasta bake being welcomed and devoured by his crew. In short, Paul seems happiest on his boat, so it’s very generous of him to facilitate strangers sharing in the joy he clearly gets from owning Spirit of Worcester.

I was always very impressed by the meals the skipper seemed to effortlessly cook up in a tiny galley’s gimballed gas oven. There were no leftovers once this cottage pie was served.

Our first week aboard didn’t involve putting any sails up and one too many days in marinas, as strong gales and choppy seas hit the south coast. Typically, the wind was ‘right on the nose’ (i.e. we were sailing straight into it, which can make for a bumpy ride and seasick crew). Paul graciously allowed each of us to have our moment of surrender to nausea and didn’t bat an eye lid about it. I have learnt from Clipper race training that one of the best things to aid recovery from a bout of seasickness is sucking on Haribo or Swizzles sweets. I would never touch such things on shore, but at sea, I am permanently chewing a Swizzles drumstick!

Playing games of Uno, watching the Mutiny series on DVD and staying up to watch Eurovision in the saloon were ways we tried to reduce the impact of cabin fever during our first wet and windy week onboard. Despite the weather forcing us to moor up for a day or two in Brighton, Gosport and on the Isle of Wight, I did love the drama of the skies as the squalls blew in. A few gin and tonics drunk in the wheelhouse to watch stormy sunsets and unexpected opportunities to hook up with a friend and her daughter who live on the Isle of Wight made it all worth it.

At the height of the high winds we found ourselves in Gosport’s premier marina moored up on a pontoon very close to the Clipper 68 training fleet I had trained on between 2018- 2019! Oh, the bittersweet irony! It felt very strange to be using the very marina facilitates I had only ever used during Clipper training and to walk past the race training office (now closed) every time I went to use the onshore toilets. The last time I had been into the office was to collect my team uniform and foul weather kit back in August 2019! At the time I was extremely excited and full of anticipation for the race start and hundreds of crew from all over the world were gathered around the marina office putting together final preparations for months offshore.

So what a funny coincidence (and a blessing I might add) that upon mooching about Portsmouth dodging the rain squalls by popping into shops and cafes for the day at Gunwharf Quays that I should look down to the harbour wall and see Mary Vaughan-Jones tidying lines on the deck of a yacht below. I did a double take, not quite believing it was her, so I tentatively called out “Mary?” A slight pause ensued and then a surprised reply shouted up at me: “Hannah?” My heart leapt at this Clipper connection/coincidence and I was chuffed when she invited me down to her yacht. You see Mary, was one of the round the world crew in my team! She actually got to sail in the entire race before it was abandoned in Subic Bay. She’s young, bold, confident, and in my eyes, very accomplished.

Whilst the rain fell in persistent large dollops on the deck above us, we gossiped about the race over a cuppa in the sanctuary of the saloon below. We chatted about our lives since lockdown and most of all, caught up as best we could with where all the Punta del Este crew were now. It transpires that since the race was aborted in the Philippines, Mary has stepped aboard as Skipper of a yacht owned by the Morning Star Trust; a charity who take young people out sailing. A dream job in my eyes and well earnt by Mary!

The coincidence of meeting Mary in Portsmouth made being moored up in Gosport for a few days during bad weather very much worth it. I had a big smile on my face as I caught the passenger ferry back over to Gosport. It was such a relief to finally connect with someone from the Clipper race face-to-face (and from my team no less) after all this time of lockdowns and limbo.

Another highlight from my time aboard Spirit of Worcester was sailing past Hurst Point and the Needles off the Isle of Wight. As we approached Hurst Point storm damage to the defenses were clearly visible, as were seabirds swooping around the helipad of the lighthouse. Not only are these dramatic, memorable sights of shore, but the sun had come out and we could hoist the mainsail at long last. Then, once we’d rounded Portland Bill and entered Lyme Bay in the English Channel, the sea went almost flat calm. The water looked like syrup. All was still and quiet. I was quite mesmerised. Our destination at the other side of Lyme Bay was Weymouth where we’d called ahead to reserve a mooring in the town’s old quayside. As we approached, enormous cruise ships loomed large. They have been at anchor off this part of the south coast for the duration of the pandemic and I felt for the ship’s skeleton crew living offshore in limbo.

My time aboard the Spirit of Worcester was to end in Dartmouth once we’d moored up at the marina on the Kinsgwear side of the Dart estuary. It was a spectacular approach and I smiled as the Dartmouth women’s gig club were out training in the estuary and passed on our portside looking strong as a team. Whilst Kingswear had two lovely pubs and I enjoyed walking some of the South West coast path that runs through it, all shops are on the other side of the estuary in Dartmouth. So numerous times a day, for the few days I was there, I had to get the passenger ferry. Each crossing only takes a few minutes, but it is quite an event and I had to smile as I spotted a postman disembarking in his van. If only my husband had such a romantic delivery round! The estuary is fascinating because it’s so busy with an huge variety of vessels coming and going; yachts, dingys, gig boats, ferries, power boats, kayaks, SUPs and a delightful paddle steamer!

The paddle steamer Kingswear Castle is the last remaining coal-fired paddle steamer in operation in the UK today. She was built in 1924 at Philip & Son of Dartmouth and plied her trade between Totnes and Dartmouth until 1965 (her engines are even older, dating back to 1904, eight years before the sinking of the Titanic). In her heyday when this impressive ship was the life blood of the river Dart, she could carry almost 500 passengers.

The coastline around South Devon really impressed me; it was so spectacular and reminded me of the rugged coastal coves and mountains of Mallorca or Spain. I left Dartmouth reflecting that those who are lucky enough to call it home, are blessed indeed. But I was blessed too, by arriving in such a beautiful place by boat and Paul had very kindly treated me to an evening meal on my last night aboard the Spirit of Worcester at the Royal Dart Yacht Club. Thankfully, there was no dress code or expectation to be smart, as I only had my by now, quite smelly, practical clothing I use for walking and sailing. Despite this, we were made to feel very welcome and I had a lovely evening setting the world to rights with Paul. He gave me tips on how to get more sailing experience in and said that if Clipper were to resume the race and I decided to go ahead with participating in it, I was to let him know, as he’d be there to see me in at race finish. Who knows what will become of the 2019-20 edition of the race and all us crew who have yet to play our part in it, but I do know I am extremely grateful to Paul for giving me the opportunity to get back on the water. It felt so GOOD and so revitalising after 18 months of limbo and stasis.

As I write this, the current crew and Spirit of Worcester are on the Helford river. I know this because I can locate them on Marine Tracker. I hope they have fair winds and following seas for their journey to the Scilly Isles.

If you’re interested in voyaging with Paul aboard Spirit of Worcester on his future cruises you can contact him via his Facebook page here.

Finding our feat.

It’s taken me almost 6 weeks to get down to writing a postscript blog post about our 18 day self-supported walk across Northern England in September; Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk. It’s not that I’ve been really busy since being back, just that I have felt a bit “ugh”. A lingering, residual sense of restlessness, inability to focus or sit still long enough at my laptop to write this; a motivational issue that I put down to seasonal change – nights drawing in, the earth’s pungent smell making itself known on damp chilly mornings, the knowledge that summer is behind us and that winter is just ahead.

Well, until I read a chapter from an inspiring collection of women’s adventure writing where the words of Dr Kate Rawles reflecting on her incredible 8,288 mile Life Cycle project really resonated with me and made me stop reading as I realised: “Yes! This is EXACTLY how I’m feeling!” I wasn’t feeling the seasonal blues (though the night’s drawing in doesn’t help), I was grieving for life on the trail; the life-enhancing simplicity and gratitude of walking and camping every day. The straightforwardness of each day’s needs – being warm, dry and getting some shelter and food. Being constantly aware of the weather and movement of the sun whilst immersed in the sounds, touch and smells of a bigger, non-human world.

Upon returning from a year of cycling the length of South America on a bamboo bike (that she built herself I should add) and camping every night, carrying all her gear on her bike, Kate reflected:

“After that, to be back in a stationary house, with walls, the same house, night after night…After all that motion, to be suddenly stationary felt like a collision. Like hitting a wall. And in among the obviously wonderful connections with family and friends and landscapes and animals, the slow, inexorable, heart-breaking loss of gratitude. On the road, every mouthful of food, every glug of water is just fabulous. A good coffee is a miracle. Or a hot shower. Or clean clothes…I fought against taking these things for granted once I could have them whenever I liked. I tried to practise gratitude. But when you can have all these things and more multiple times a day it is hard, really hard, to retain that huge, life-enhancing sense of appreciation. Appreciation for the basic, good stuff of life and not wanting more than that – this is the secret to both happiness and sustainability. So simple and yet so tough to sustain off the bike, off the road, living in a more or less “normal” way in a “normal” Western culture, with rooms and wardrobes instead of panniers…There’s an easy sense of purpose and meaning on the road too, however illusory: each day is shaped by the need to find food and shelter and to get to wherever you are going. Life is both straightforward and vivid. There’s a feeling of being really, truly alive. And also, something harder to articulate: a strange sense, at least sometimes, of somehow tuning in with the overall ebb and flow of things. An intuition of other layers of reality. A feeling, sometimes, that you are in some other-world groove and that, so long as you stop trying to control and just go with it, everything will be just fine. And there is connection – connection with the ordinary extraordinariness of the world.”

These words really, really chimed with my own experience and what I had been mourning for, now that the C2C walk was behind me. It took Kate’s reflective words for me to be able to identify it within myself. I was grieving the end of living in “some other-world groove” where our days on the trail were “both straightforward and vivid”. The restlessness and beige feeling I was now experiencing upon being back home were almost inevitable.

I have subsequently signed up to the Long Distance Walkers Association as i met quite a few members on the C2C. I am curious, a tad amused and definitely excited, by the little-known world of long distance walking  (LDW), which my membership is opening up to me – well, it would have if the recent escalations in C-19 cases hadn’t shut down all organised LDWA walks.

It appears that walking 100 miles in 48 hours is a THING and one that people appear to do annually! Given that the next 100 mile Challenge is starting out from Chepstow in May 2021 (well, that’s the intention) and Chepstow really isn’t that far away from my house, I’m considering to try to qualify for entry. I have also been thumbing through my tried and trusted Cicerone guides. The Pennine Journey, Offa’s Dyke and Cumbria Way are long distance routes that have long interested me and Dave and we now have the confidence in ourselves as a little team to want to undertake a few more trails in the UK, as neither of us has any inclination to go overseas on holiday anytime soon… What do you think should be our next LDW? I’d love to receive some suggestions. Mind you, with an incredible 1,600 routes in the UK catalogued online by the LDWA, it might take a while to whittle down a few suggestions.

As a new member of the LDWA I received a curious pack that’s hinted at an endurance sub-culture I might find myself stepping into. There’s a member’s magazine aptly called ‘Strider’, although on many occasions on our walk I’d be pushed to say either Dave or I were striding! And there’s The Hill Walkers Register. I didn’t quite understand what this was initially, but I am amused to learn that this organisation keeps records of people who take it upon themselves to climb each and every peak over a certain height in the UK. There appears to be at least ten registers and certain names appear on a number of them, hinting at the addictive nature of mountaineering and long distance walking I suppose. Little did I know until flicking through the register that there’s the Deweys (hills at least 500m, but below 610m/2,000ft), the Wainwrights (214 Lake District fells over 2,000ft), the Corbetts (222 Scottish mountains between 2,500 and 3,00ft), the Munros (mountains in Scotland over 3,000ft), the Birketts, the Nuttalls, the Marilyns…the lists and registers go on to satisfy that curious breed of walker who is fixated on ‘peak bagging’. There’s even an international peak-bagging group that amusingly call themselves ‘Baggers without Borders’! Yep, like I said, I get the sense there’s a sprawling sub-culture where identifying as a ‘walker’, a ‘rambler’, a ‘mountaineer’ and a ‘hiker’ indicate quite different things and are loaded terms not to be banded about lightly in LDW circles.

However, when we set out quite apprehensively on foot from St Bees on the Cumbrian coastline edging the Irish Sea, we had no idea of all this. We were just walking. Admittedly, quite a long way for us; 192 miles, carrying all our gear with the intention of walking every day for 17 days with one stationary ‘rest day’ on the 9th day of setting out East. Whilst walking Wainwright’s route from the shores of the Irish Sea to the North Sea we walked through three national parks: the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. We fell in love with the distinctive landscape of Swaledale, although quickly tired of hoisting our 18 kilo rucksacks over the numerous narrow drystone styles. The vistas from the top of the North York Moors were expansive and welcome after living within the confines of a narrow city street, whilst despite the awful weather, the Lake District’s fells worked their magic on us and spurred us on with their majestic, awe-inspiring contours and moods. 2020 has been a year we could never have envisaged. It has been a tough year in so many ways bringing numerous losses, cancellations and disappointments, but as the adage goes, every cloud has its silver lining, and I would say, even though the year is not up yet, walking the C2C with my husband has been mine. I am profoundly grateful that we took the opportunity to go on a long walk and pushed ourselves to do so despite the challenges, doubts and fears. It was quietly epic and we are proud of ourselves for having done it. If all 2020 has given me is the opportunity to walk for 18 days across my motherland accompanied by my husband, then for that alone, I am full of gratitude.

Below is a photographic snapshot of our journey. I hope you enjoy the view!

Feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement for the unknown at the official start in St. Bees. I look tired in this photo as I hadn’t slept well the night before, for worrying that I wasn’t prepared enough and panicking that I hadn’t packed some essential item. But, the good thing about being underway is that there’s nothing I could then do about it. It brought relief to simply start. One foot in front of the other.
Evidence that pies were quite a big deal to walkers on the trail!
First pitch of the trek having walked 15 miles from St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge (Cumbria). Sometimes we rough camped and sometimes we pitched in pub gardens (to access hot food) and on farms (to access a hot shower).
On our second night we had to find what shelter we could among some pines near Blacksail YHA and hunkered down for 16 hours due to fierce wind and rain. This is our camp the following morning. I am trying to dry off some of our clothing in the drizzle! On the left-handside you can see our tent pole is bent. We have no idea how it happened, only that it did and rendered the tent progressively more defunct over the coming days.
The rain clouds were with us throughout the first half of the trek, but occasionally showed their beauty.
I absolutely fell in love with the Upper Stonethwaite Valley – beautiful light on the fells.
Freedom on the fells
In my happy place striding along a majestic ridge with inspiring views.

From all at sea to a woman afoot

August 2020 was set to see me cross the finish line of the Clipper 2019-20 yacht race. Instead, the weekend that was scheduled to be a huge public home coming was experienced quietly at home with friends. These were friends I’d first gone to visit at their home on the Isle of Wight straight from my Clipper interview in September 2017, so it felt appropriate to be with them to mark the date.

Race finish marked with some of my loyal Clipper Crew Supporters and very much on dry land.

It is very surreal to think of the race and especially try to imagine the official race finish weekend in London’s Albert Dock. Thankfully two members of my team (Nick Binks and Diego Rodriguez) took the initiative to organise an online reunion of crew for the following Saturday. I must admit to feeling very ambivalent about joining my crew for this online ‘event’, but having done so, I am so glad I did.

There were 26 of us from Team Punta del Este logging in from all over the world: India, Philippines, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, USA, Colombia, Uruguay (obviously), Channel Islands, to name a few. I was very impressed by Fi for staying up half the night in Sydney just to log on.

It was quite emotional seeing my team mates and hearing their accounts of ‘lockdown’ and life post-postponement of the race. It was quite apparent we’d all been on our own roller-coaster ride.

It was emotional to see and hear people I had intensely trained with and then heard nothing from for most of this year. I loved seeing my team mates faces and it was eye-opening to learn that a number of my team are still living through full ‘lockdown’ in their home countries. Two of my team never made it home to the UK and our Skipper, Jeronimo (affectionately referred to as Jero by some crew who got to race with him), is still in Subic Bay looking after the 11 abandoned racing yachts. He informed us that it’s been an emotional roller coaster for him and frustrating not to be able to sail. He also told us that Clipper are still determined to resume the race from the Philippines in February 2021, but to many of us crew with outstanding legs to race in, we are less confident this will happen. The Clipper race is still very much in limbo, but I really pray to be able to move beyond the liminal zone with a definitive outcome from Clipper HQ by November. Like many crew, living in limbo is having serious repercussions on (un)employment and family.

I think on a very unconscious level this suddenly aborted race, which had been such an intense part of my life’s focus and planning the last three years, has been a big strain. We’re all experiencing uncertainty in our lives at the moment, but the indefinitely postponed Clipper race just adds to the uncertainty already initiated by covid-19.

So, in a desire to ground myself, take stock and experience some of life in the raw that I had hoped to do living/racing across two oceans, my husband and I very casually and spontaneously decided over breakfast in early August that walking from one sea to another would be a good way to mark what would have been race finish and finally surrender all the hopes and plans we’d had for 2020. This included the final piece of THE plan’s puzzle – to walk the entire GR10 over 3 months together upon my return to these shores – after Easyjet cancelled our single flights to Bordeaux a few weeks’ ago. Instead of walking from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea for 60 days across the Pyrenees, we’re now going to hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea for 190 miles over 18 days along Arthur Wainwrights’ Coast to Coast (C2C) route. I am happy that I finally have an opportunity to wear and test out some of my Clipper kit: my (supposedly) quick drying, high-wicking, odour-reducing merino underpants, socks and base layers, as well as utilising the waterproof dry bags, head torch and notebook (it was meant to be my log book for legs 7 & 8 of the race, but will now be my walking journal!). I am happy to be putting some of my Clipper race kit to good use, including my body, which has been very sedentary for most of the spring and summer.

In many ways I think walking the C2C will be harder than the GR10, because the English weather in the Lakeland Fells and Pennines can be utterly miserable and walking on peat gruff and through peat bogs is very, very hard going. Added to that challenge, is the new challenge (to us) of carrying 16kg packs that contain all our necessary gear: tent, sleeping bag, mat, stove, fuel, water, dehydrated ‘meals’, first aid kit, map, compass etc. In fact, getting ready in the little amount of time we had rather reminded me of the huge challenge of victualling the Clipper 70 racing yachts during a very intense week at Gosport last August!

We’ll be relying on our Trangia to cook up those dehydrated ‘meals’.
As yet, untasted. We’re carrying food for two for 4 days, but hoping to supplement with cafe and pub grub as it appears along the way.

So this August bank holiday Dave and I will set out by numerous local trains to reach St. Bees, (wearing our face masks obviously) and on the 1st of September, just before our joint birthday and the autumn equinox, set off on foot to climb up into those extraordinary Lakeland Fells full of anticipation and very full, heavy packs. We anticipate reaching the shore of the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay on September 18th. However, as this year has taught us all, this plan may have to change. Better to depart prepared to go with the flow according to weather, health and local lockdown’s I expect.

The Coast to Coast

Given I was blessed to be raised in Edale within Derbyshire’s Peak District national park – where the story of the modern walking movement began in 1932 with the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout – it’s perhaps not surprising that I have grown into taking up long-distance walking as my preferred way to spend annual leave. Growing up, my siblings and I roamed Kinder Scout; be it with mum for a picnic after school, or on the annual primary school walk to Kinder Downfall led by the vicar, or alone as moody teenagers when we usually stormed out the house in a huff. I have run those hills, hidden in the peat gruff writing unrequited love letters and on more than one occasion, dreamt of far-flung adventures inspired by the many outdoor enthusiasts I met whilst working in both the village pubs. I have signed a fair number of those Pennine Way completion certificates when working weekend shifts at the Nags Head. Many walkers are drawn to Edale to start or finish the 272-mile Pennine Way – inaugurated by the Ramblers’ Association in 1965 – but I have NEVER been drawn to walk the Pennine Way! I know Edale residents who have done it, but their narrated experience in the pub upon return, confirms my worst suspicions about the route. In fact, Wainwright himself famously declared that:

“I finished the Pennine Way with relief, the Coast to Coast walk with regret. That’s the difference.”

(Arthur Wainwright, June 1972)

Meanwhile, I have no idea if and how I’ll finish the Coast to Coast (just like the Clipper 2019-20 race then!).

Dr Rumble rambles on 😉

Testing out our kit, knees and lower backs on Dartmoor in early August.
“Where did you say we were meant to be again?”

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

This summer I went swimming

this summer I might have drowned,

but I held my breath

and I kicked my feet

and I moved my arms around

moved my arms around.

Loudon wainwright III – ‘Swimming Song’

Contrary to all that I was building up to this year, I have not ended up spending these last few months having the Pacific and Atlantic lash into my face or deluge my boots. Unlike some of my team mates who did get to race in previous legs in autumn and winter 2019, I have not lived through the experience of being slammed by a rogue wave into the cockpit floor or main sheet traveller and losing my front teeth and breaking a few ribs in the process. 2020 has proved to be dramatic in other ways.

As for gig rowing, well, it’s definitely not happening for 2020, as it’s impossible to follow social distancing guidelines when the activity requires 6 oarsmen and a cox to sit together in a 32-foot clinker-built rowing boat.

But…(there’s always a but and an alternative somewhere)…without any intention on my part, I have started a weekly river swim with a dear friend and work colleague. Neither of us had river swimming noted as a 2020 new year’s resolution, but when options for access to outdoor space become very limited and the temperature starts to rise in a city, it is rather inevitable we have both found companionship and solace in a brief dip in a river located roughly halfway between our respective cities of residence – Bath and Bristol.

Luckily for both for us, this little foray into the River Avon enables us both to get away from our desks and home life, whilst following social distancing regulations. I also relish taking to the saddle and escaping the city for an hour or so along the cycle path and seeing a horizon without buildings.

The first time we met for our inaugural dip was 9am on a Friday, so the cycle path was quiet except for runners and racy cyclists who don’t believe in slowing down, even for a blind bend. Like us, there were other women swimming alone or in pairs and the day looked like it could turn out to be a sunny one.

My friend has a fear of losing touch with the ground beneath her feet; an irrational fear she disclosed she acquired after watching Jaws as a kid, and I have an irrational fear of touching something I can’t see in the water like an eel. I do not enjoy swimming in the sea when there’s lots of seaweed or in rivers where there’s long weeds, as just the brushing of them on my legs leaves me paranoid I am about to be attacked by an amphibian or reptile. So we made a good co-dependent team, each trying to calm and smooth away the other’s fears. We both made it into the river, so a big hurdle was overcome there. The next hurdle to overcome was getting my friend to swim out into the river and for me to stop mentally visualising that I am about to be attacked by an aggressive pike. All was going well, we both bobbed around in the serenity of the river’s bend gazing up at the clouds as we floated on our backs and sighted rabbits in the meadow that meets the river. We happily floated about delighting in sightings of swallows, house martins and red kite gliding overhead. Then I saw it, and I did a double take. My instinct was to scream (but I didn’t).

A grass snake (at least I think it was a grass snake because of the yellow and green colouring on its head) was snaking across the surface of the river a metre in front of me and between me and the river bank’s exit! Of all the things I had tried to push to the back of my mind whilst putting energy into trying to be in the present moment savouring my surroundings, a grass snake was not on the list. At first my friend thought my fear was a joke, but she quickly realised I was serious. Worse still, the snake decided it would swim towards the spot where our clothes were heaped half-hidden from view in undergrowth. I was mortified. Heart beating fast. Fortunately, my friend is not scared of snakes so she and another female swimmer came to my rescue by each swimming either side of me and cajoling me to the river bank. It took a while, but I did reach the bank to retrieve my clothes and catch my breath. The  ‘incident’ with my fears did take me a while to internally wind down from, because it had promptly brought to mind two other incidents in my life where I have been terrified when faced with my worst reptilian and amphibian fears.

In 1998 I was hiking with two German guys, an American and a Canadian woman who I had randomly joined up with in one of the hostel dormitories in Gunung Mulu National Park; a protected rainforest in Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak). We were trekking the ‘Headhunter’s Trail’ having been on the steep trails to the Pinnacles at Gunung Api (tall, jagged limestone formations). I was not well at the time, suffering all the digestive issues that go hand-in-hand with a tropical disease, so already feeling weak, dizzy, nauseous and lagging behind the rest of the group…and then a green pit viper fell from a branch overhead where we assume it had been sleeping, landing with a loud thud within a few inches of my feet. I was utterly terrified and stood as motionless as the viper. Thankfully, we had an Iban guide with us who calmly instructed that we all stamp our feet, apparently the vibrations encourage the snake to scarper, whilst with a slight of hand I didn’t see coming, he grasped the snake in his palm and slammed it to the ground. I was too stunned to remember the details, but proceeded to walk on with a rapidly beating heart and hyper-alert gaze focused exclusively on the tree canopy above me.

After that incident, I just couldn’t relax on the trail and had a silent, mental battle with myself as my irrational fears had me constantly scanning my legs and ankles for leeches and the branches overhead for snakes. The rainforest closed in on me and I was desperate to get back to my flat in Penang surrounded by familiar urban life. I suddenly found the rainforest environment very threatening and claustrophobic.

I’m on the far left and despite my strong legs, was feeling weaker by the day.

For a year from 2002-2003 I was a VSO volunteer in Bangladesh doing research and advocacy work for indigenous knowledge in fisheries management. Once again, I had to confront my fear of snakes and leeches as they are common place among the paddy and in the monsoon season. Like with my fear of snakes, I have an irrational fear of leeches that similarly began with my first encounter in Sarawak, but at least nowadays I don’t scream when I see my blood-stained socks or trousers and I can tolerate someone else removing them – just don’t ask me to do it!

So, my encounter with the grass snake on the River Avon wasn’t just an encounter with a grass snake; it instantly recalled memories of times in the past when I have been utterly terrified and felt vulnerable to attack. It also reminded me of the time I was swimming off a 32-foot sloop that was my home at the time, living at anchor in and around the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. My then partner and I decided we’d head further out of the bay to go to one of our favourite fishing locations to catch some red snapper for dinner and whilst he was absorbed with the lines I thought I’d go for a dip off the boat as the sea was almost flat calm. I was swimming around the boat when he called in a serious, measured voice that was so unfamiliar for him: “Hannah, swim to the boat. Now. NOW.” Instinctively I knew why and it was my worst fear when in the sea; a shark. I didn’t hesitate and swam straight back to the stern’s steps and only once my feet touched the deck did I glance back to see the fin.

On all these occasions I am sure the pit viper, unidentified shark and the grass snake were just as scared as me, possibly more so, but that’s the thing about irrational fears though – it’s very hard to control them.

That’s why I was so proud of my friend when she called me a week later to suggest we met up at the same bend in the river, only this time we met at dusk and this time she swam further from the river bank and I was relieved not to be eye-balling my grass snake again. Feel the fear and do it anyway. We had fun and I was blessed with this sunset on my cycle home afterwards.

From CV25 to 3B

Contrary to what my diary informs me, I am not currently sailing CV25 between New York and Bermuda. The Clipper Race Committee anticipated that today would have been the start of the fleet’s arrival window into Royal Bermuda Yacht club. I would have set out from New York – the start of Leg 8 – five days ago and raced hard on the homeward leg. Hmmm… (I’m letting that thought sink in a moment and trying to imagine what that would feel and look like).

Ok, so instead, I have my feet firmly planted on terra firma and yesterday, after three-and-a-half year’s on the waiting list, I secured this little patch of overgrown land near my house on a council-owned allotment site.

Proud (if not a tad daunted) owner of Plot 3B.

It saddens me how neglected this plot has become as there are traces of former love and care to be uncovered under the prolific bind weed and brambles; like a vibrant purple clematis pictured above. I love that it is still flowering despite the overgrowth’s shady cover and the tendrils of suffocating bind weed.

I have uncovered the partial remains of a chicken coop, which one day I hope to re-populate with hens. There is a cherry, pear and apple tree that all require TLC, but at one time will have been invested in when they were first planted in the midst of time and the allotment association’s collective memory.

I disturbed a frog when I was clearing away brambles and I found one, lone and very stunted, raspberry cane when clearing some of the couch grass…little signs that at one time this was a cared for corner of earth. As it happens, I have no idea of the soil quality on this plot as I have yet to clear away enough growth to get a glimpse of what lies beneath. All in good time…This gardening project is going to take the same perseverance, time and effort as my preparation for the Clipper race did, I suspect.

Yesterday, not only did I officially acquire the status of ‘allotment holder’ (having given up my beloved plot 66B eight months ago thinking I’d be at sea this growing season), but I also took on another role with Youth Adventure Trust, who I have been volunteering with for the last three years. It’s a commitment like the allotment that involves nurturing, patience and care. Having had weeks of getting to grips with online video calls, meetings and classes, I am shortly to be assigned to a young person as their remote online mentor until mid October to manage their transition over the summer holidays and back into school in the autumn (fingers crossed!). I am a bit apprehensive if truth be told, as it’s more challenging to build rapport and trust exclusively online (as opposed to YAT’s face-to-face mentoring prior to Covid-19) but then I imagine the young person is probably apprehensive too.

So, I’m not currently racing towards Bermuda aboard CV25.

I’m on plot 3B planting better seeds instead.

Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)

I started writing this post on World Oceans Day on the 8th June, but here we are, still rolling on with it six days later, like a long surf wave or sustained exhale.

A week that began with World Oceans Day has also seen me get back behind the helm, well, metaphorically at least. It’s been a completely unintentional, but significant, week for re-connecting with my ocean sailing ambition after a couple of months of being very inward looking and domestically focused contained within my home; always doing something, whilst at the same time, nothing much in particular. I have been quite restless at times and sometimes found it very hard to summon the focus or motivation for work-related tasks that demand a lot of mental energy and intellectual creativity.

Similarly, whilst it has occasionally felt like all my neighbours in the terrace are doing Joe Wicks’s exercises each morning and out clocking the miles during the day peddling the Bristol-Bath cycle path or numerous other Sustrans cycle routes that kriss-cross the city, I have struggled to motivate myself to go for a run or cycle. Some days, I just haven’t left the house!

I think when the official news eventually came through that the race was postponed I was in shock, not only that the thing I had worked towards was not about to happen, but also, with the dawning reality that we were not free from the virus on this little island. I mentally and emotionally shut down. I kept busy doing ‘mindless’ tasks like housework, clearing out drawers and cupboards, filing copious amounts of dusty paperwork, tackling a build-up of limescale in the shower or moss in the gutters; that kind of thing. It was therapeutic, because I could keep myself busy doing these things whilst grappling internally with my overwhelming feelings of disappointment and anger.

So, I am somewhat surprised and bemused by the fact that as the weeks have flowed into months of a new ‘normal’, I have found myself being drawn to and finding sustenance from, almost daily yoga practice at home. It was stabbing attacks of shooting back pain when stood lecturing in front of 200 undergraduates that brought me to Pilates and now, it seems its life in lockdown that has brought me to yoga.

I get the impression I am not alone in taking yoga more seriously right now and giving it the space in my life that it deserves. Until lockdown, well, until Clipper announced back in mid-March that the race was postponed, I had barely time and energy to think outside of race preparation and departure day. I had also been quite focused on cardio-fitness and core strength floor exercises. Yoga just seemed too still at the time. Too slow… and classes in this city are expensive.

However, just before the pandemic struck, I had picked up a leaflet for yoga classes at my local supermarket. It grabbed my attention because the classes were affordable and located in a church hall, a mere 5-minute walk from my front door – and that’s me assuming a slow walking pace! I thought to myself that if I can’t “turn up on the mat” (as yoga teachers seem to often be heard saying), when said mat is only five minutes from my front door, when can I ever? I also knew that the great sailor whose feats and skill have inspired many of us Clipper Crew – Bernard Moitessier – used to do regular yoga practice on the deck of his boat whilst doing his solo circumnavigation. I got the impression when reading Moitessier’s account in The Long Way, that yoga and sailing were drawing on similar energies and skills in attention and noticing (not to mention balance).

I managed to turn up to about 3 of Krama Flow yoga classes in early 2020. Then COVID-19 swiftly took those classes away too, but all credit to my teacher, also called Hannah, for getting to grips with setting herself up with the equipment and mindset to be able to offer her weekly class online instead. Over the months we’ve become a little support group and check in not only with ourselves, our emotions and aches and pains, but also with each other. There are people in her Zoom class who I know from my neighbourhood or from the face-to-face class in the church hall, but equally there are people in the Zoom class I’ll probably never meet in person.

Many of the asanas that we are led through develop one’s balance, which can only be of benefit for the time when I will, hopefully, plant my feet firmly back on the deck of Punta del Este, instead of a yoga mat. As global movement, the economy and our day-to-day lives have shrunk, I have found myself slowing down to the point that a few weeks ago, I declared to my husband: “I think I’ve come to a full-stop!” Once I had got over my initial shock, anger and disappointments, I began to ease into taking stock, noticing, reflecting and catching-up with myself. Yoga fits this mood completely and I am enjoying the journey so far.

The other journey I have started this week is one that’s been set in motion by the Skipper of team GoToBermuda, David ‘Wavy’ Immelman, with one of his team’s crew, Andrew Cowen. Hats off to them both for their hard work and generosity of spirit, which is required in setting up and hosting a 10-week yachtmaster theory masterclass via Zoom that’s completely free for all crew, across all the race teams. They have created a valuable learning opportunity and shared it across the race fleet.

I leapt at the chance to further my knowledge and ‘keep my hand in’, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up and attend my first online class this week. It reminded me that the last public outing I had before ‘lockdown’ was to attend my Day Skipper theory exam, followed by a pint with my instructor and a fellow student at Bristol’s floating harbour…Those were the halcyon days (Pubs. Pints. How I miss you)! I was worried that I would have forgotten everything after 3 months of absolutely no sailing or nautical activity of any kind, so it was a confidence boost to remember my navigational lights and the main aspects of the ‘COLREGS’ (collision regulations). It was even more of mood booster when I saw a few familiar faces – some of my teammates -when I clicked on the gallery view in Zoom. After class, a flurry of WhatsApp messages went back and forth between Punta del Este crew; it felt SO good to re-establish contact and touch base with the race and some of the key players after these last few months’ race void.

Over the last three years I reckon I have been on a BIG roller-coaster of a self-development journey (for want of a better term that comes to mind right now); making myself do things that scare me, putting myself into unknown situations that bring me into contact with new people, knowledge, skills and ways of being. 2020 was meant to bring about the fruition of all of that learning and experience through living-out the challenge of ocean sailing in the Clipper race itself, but it has, rather like the title of my blog, changed tack. Almost imperceptibly, I have been re-setting my compass during lockdown, setting course towards an inward, slower-paced journey. So, it makes me excited to get hints this week that maybe, just maybe, these journeys will coalesce into something much bigger in time; postponed race or cancelled race.

Thanks for reading (assuming you have got this far). I hope this finds you well.

What journey have you been on during lockdown? What have you (re)discovered? Use the comments box below to share your reflections and revelations or send me a private email via the contact page on this blog. It’s always a nice surprise to hear from readers of this blog.

A week of ‘should have beens’

Firstly, I want to announce the winner of my quiz. The lucky winner gained a score of 22/30 and will receive a book about the maritime origins of everyday expressions, which is currently wending it’s way to them on the Isle of Wight. Congratulations Lenka!

In many ways it feels very apt that Lenka should win the quiz as I went to visit her on the Isle of Wight straight from my initial Clipper application interview in Gosport in September 2017. We sat up till very late drinking too much wine and binge watching previous editions of the race on DVD, because Lenka also shares my passion for boats and the sea, having been a member of Ocean Youth Club (as it was called) back in the day. We were both enthralled by the exhilarating footage of huge seas and exposure to storms at night. Lenka mused that were she not a mum, then she too would like to sign up to the race, but then both agreed she is blessed to share her life with her special daughter. So happy reading Lenka and thank you to all of you who took the trouble to submit your quiz answers.

This week has been an especially difficult one emotionally for me as every day of my diary has had an entry for a Clipper race-related commitment at Seattle’s Bell Harbour marina; be it a refresher sail, crew registration, onboard crew brief with my team mates and Skipper and today…Well today, I would have hugged my husband for the last time from the pontoon that Punta del Este was moored to and stepped aboard at 11am in order to be ready for slipping the mooring lines for a ceremony at noon and parade of sail. This is a marker at the start of each race, which I have avidly watched via Facebook live for all the previous legs. Dave and I were going to take off our wedding rings and replace them with symbolic silicone ones (so that I reduced my chances of a nasty injury whilst using the winches over the coming months!). He’d also written me a song in honour of this moment called ‘Sailing Free’. So today, instead of stepping aboard Punta del Este and separating for 3.5 months in Seattle, we are very much together reflecting on a few ‘should have beens’ at home. We decided to mark this day by Dave performing his song on camera. I hope you enjoy the song (it has a catchy chorus to sing-a-long with).

My husband performing this song he’d written to mark the eve of my part in the Clipper race 2019-20. Performed at home in Bristol, England, on the day and hour we were meant to be saying our last goodbye to each other on a pontoon in Seattle before I embarked Punta del Este for Legs 7 & 8 of the race.

Even if I can’t physically be on the ocean tonight, I shall be imaginatively transported there. It’s canny timing (again) that at 6pm GMT tonight, Sarah Outen is giving a free online talk about her experience of 500 days alone ocean rowing. Given that Sarah’s books about her cycling, kayaking and rowing adventures inspired me to re-apply to Clipper in 2017, I can’t help but think it is very apt she’s giving this lecture tonight; marking what would have been my first night on the Pacific ocean aboard Punta del Este. So if you’d like to hear her talk too, then you can watch it here.

Tomorrow is a new day and also a new chapter in the Changing Tack adventure story. Until the close of today I have been living my life in lockdown in full knowledge of many ‘should haves’, but as of tomorrow, there are none. My diary is empty for the rest of 2020, because I was to be offshore. Off air. Beyond reach. Jumping off into a huge unknown, trusting that it would all be OK and things would work out one way or another. I had no plans beyond returning from the race safe and sound in around 60 days time into the embrace of my husband. So it’ll be quite a relief tomorrow to finally wake up to a new chapter where my life at home under lockdown finally matches what the experience of crewing in the race would have demanded; to just try to go with the flow in the face of great unknowns, make the most of each moment for what it is or brings and know that there will be great challenges ahead, but also beautiful moments too. I think that’s what life in lockdown asks of us all too.

If you’ve been reading my blog, thank you for being part of the journey and contributing to the story as it unfolded. Remember that whatever circumstances you find yourself in right now, an adventure awaits. Take care. Stay safe. Be strong.

I received this beautiful pin badge through the post yesterday from a good friend and work colleague who wanted to remind me that although “the world and their plans have been utterly turned on their head, I’m sending you this to remind you that good times are ahead…It’s a reminder that the world will continue after this pandemic and who knows where you’ll be and what you will do. Life is for living.”

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.