Unlikely Voyages

“You can do anything, but not everything.”

A year ago I was training aboard CV21 in the Solent with my level 3 Clipper Race training crew under the experienced eye of Skipper, Bob Beggs and First Mate, Sophie O’Neill; one half of Seas and Summits, currently sailing in Antarctica!

Stood beside Sophie at the helm. Getting my first real taste of what a heeled over racing yacht feels like!

My level 3 training taught me just how miserable seasickness can be and also introduced me to spinnakers; prior to this training week I’d never seen a spinnaker, let alone hoisted or woolled one! The week was intense and despite the sunny, clear blue skies, very cold. I remember being in awe of Sophie’s agility and strength and her confidence to lead an unruly crew at times.

Gives you an idea of how enormous spinnakers are! Here is one of three spinnakers that each yacht carries, laid out on the marina pontoon in Gosport so that we can practice wooling it on dry land before having to do it for real offshore.

So it takes a while for me to get my head around the fact that rather than Clipper race training out on the Solent, a year later, like the rest of Britain, I am living through ‘lockdown’. Currently, my world has physically shrunk to our tiny terrace and a vision of rooftops from my windows rather than being confined to a Clipper 70 gazing upon an expanse of the English Channel. Given that in 3 weeks time I was meant to be back pre-race sailing in the Solent and then down the Puget Sound from Seattle for the ‘real deal’, these last few days I have been reflecting on the subtle similarities between life on dry land in ‘lockdown’ and my life aboard a racing yacht offshore.

Both ocean racing and our day-to-day life under ‘lockdown’ involve restricted movement and living in confined spaces with others. At least on dry land I get to sleep in a dry, warm bed!

Both ways of living necessitate a restricted diet and being economical with resources. Just as with life offshore ocean racing, fresh coffee, fruit and vegetables are a luxury, not a necessity. My Clipper training stands me in good stead for not being fussy about instant coffee, milk powder and tinned veg. In fact the other day, I dug out my old sprouter which I haven’t used for years and have been enjoying freshly sprouted fenugreek and mustard seeds, which have been a blessing as our fresh veg is running low and looking a bit sorry for itself. I remember Sarah Outen telling me that she used to try sprouting from her ocean rowing boat when she was crossing the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Enjoying some sprouted fenugreek seeds for lunch under lockdown.

At sea there are ALWAYS cleaning, maintenance and repairs that need doing, so it would appear I am adjusting to a simpler, quieter daily life under lockdown by busying myself with cleaning and repairs. At least on dry land I can readily refer to YouTube for ‘how to’ videos if I don’t know how to do something or I can call a friend and ask them for advice. Sailing on an ocean, however, demands that crew not only know how to sail, but can also fix engines, sails, boat leaks, attend to plumbing, electrics and clean. Those bilges always need pumping! Weirdly, I dunno what it says about me, but I quite liked pumping out the bilges. I saw it as good exercise…and the satisfaction of a job done.

Ocean racing does involve quite a bit of sitting and waiting. Waiting for the wind to pick up, hours watching the sails perfecting sail trim, watching the clouds on the horizon getting some indication of the weather ahead and, for me, one of the joys was watching the wake we left as we surfed down waves. I used to get utterly absorbed in staring at the wake… Now, confined to our ‘2 up, 2 down’ terrace with a tiny concrete back yard I am finding myself starring at the sky above and listening to the birds. Since less people are travelling from their homes there is much less traffic about in the city, which I think means the air is cleaner (at least, I can’t smell the usual overpowering whiff of diesel on the main roads) and bird song is more audible. I’m delighting in that at least. So, be it on deck, in a chair or stood in the back yard, stopping, looking and listening is very absorbing and it’s amazing what you start to notice and what captures your attention and gaze. The last six days we have enjoyed very settled weather with clear skies, which has also made for some wonderfully starry nights even in a city full of light pollution. Each night before going to bed I have gone to stand in the yard and look up and imagine how I would be feeling if I were gazing upon these same stars from the deck of Punta del Este on a calm night watch.

But I also ponder the things that I have to hand at home under lockdown that I would not if I were aboard Punta del Este, namely:

  1. The option to call, text, email or write to family and friends.

2. Sleep that isn’t limited to 2-3 hours at a time in a damp, smelly bunk.

3. Despite running low on fresh food, my diet at home is still far more varied than anything I would get aboard an ocean racing yacht.

4. I can wash both myself and my clothes on a regular basis …with fresh water; from a tap! Even under lockdown, there’s no need to rely on the odourising qualities of merino wool undergarments and wet wipe body ‘washes’! For that alone, I am extremely thankful!

With each new day I am adjusting to this new ‘normal’ life and accepting a new version of 2020 to the one I thought I was on the cusp of living out. I hope it is the same for you and that you are grateful for whatever blessings, big or small, this new normal brings for you.

…If you have any other suggestions for blessings to be mindful of with regards to life under lockdown, as opposed to life on an ocean wave, I’d love to hear them. Post your ideas in a comment below.