Women in Sport’s Engagement Officer, Grace Kitching, is practising what she preaches in her latest blog from the Clipper Race.
Another icy wave has just broken over the side of the bow and nearly washed you off your feet as you struggle to drag the flogging sail into the boat. With shouts of “ease the halliard”, the noise of the crashing waves and the wind whistling, all you can think about is pulling the next handful of sail into the boat as it is being ripped out of your freezing fingers. It’s finally on deck and you can catch your breath for just a moment before making your tired muscles move to the next task.
Just another night sailing across the Pacific Ocean.
I am lucky enough to be taking part in three of the eight legs that make up the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. The race is a circumnavigation of the globe by twelve identical 70 foot custom built racing yachts crewed by nearly 700 amateurs from around the world, with over a third of those taking part women. The tag line ‘no experience required’ was one of the many reasons the race appealed to me.
My race consists of Legs Six, Seven and Eight on board PSP Logistics. My journey started by sailing from Qingdao in China across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle, USA. From Seattle we are now heading around the coast of America to New York via the Panama Canal.
Then the journey home from New York across the Atlantic to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on to Den Helder in the Netherlands before concluding where the race started at St Katharine Docks in London, last August. I have never travelled outside of Europe, so what better way is there than to sail into a country for the first time!
As I write this we have beautiful downwind sailing under the spinnaker, with the sun shining and small pod of dolphins dancing around our bow. Reflecting back on last leg across the Pacific, it is hard not to look at it through rose tinted glasses.
The Pacific Ocean could not be more poorly named. It was brutal and awesome in the true sense of the word. We experienced all weather, from rain and sleet, to snow and hail. It was storm after storm, less of a race and more about survival. I have never felt cold like it, teamed with being constantly wet for 30 days – it really was relentless.
So why put yourself through that?
I often questioned my motivation in the middle of a night watch when it was so dark you couldn’t even see your hands in front of you. How did I get from riding the tube in London 18 months ago staring at a poster with the caption ‘Race of your Life’. to surfing a 70 foot yacht down waves the size of houses at over 20 knots in the middle of the Pacific?
To cut a long story short, I was hooked by the new sport after just one week of sailing on a holiday in Croatia and it was on the journey home from that trip that I spotted the poster and researched the race.
At that time I was looking for a new challenge. Stuck in a bit of rut after university, I had dropped out of competing in the sports I had so previously enjoyed. I wanted to make some changes in my life. The decision to just go for it was a tough one. The opportunity versus cost of the time and money was hard to weigh up but I am already seeing the benefits of stepping out of my comfort zone and I am not even half way through yet.
In some ways the race is a selfish thing to take part in because you leave your friends and family at home to watch and worry but I saw it as an investment in me, as any time taken to play sport should be. What you also get from the race is a new family, bonded by those hard times and the laughs you have to get through them. The team mentality also kicks in when every muscle aches and you don’t want to get out of your warm sleeping bag but if you don’t you are letting your team down.
This race isn’t about looking good, luckily there are very few mirrors on board for our own sanity as there isn’t a shower on board (just buckets, if you dare in the cold). The race is very much about achieving goals both personal and agreed by the team. A team that consists of around 50 crew, around eight of whom are going around the whole world, and the rest are ‘leggers’ like me who join for various parts throughout the race, making a crew of approximately 18 for each leg plus the Skipper, who is the only professional sailor on board.
You have to balance your own ambition and what you want to get out of the experience with the other members. I have learnt a lot about tolerance and my own limitations. This experience is really testing me physically, mentally and emotionally but the feeling when you cross the finish line and get into port can’t be beaten.
Without the Clipper Race I also wouldn’t be writing this blog for Women in Sport. My sister (who is also taking part in the race) and I were featured in an article produced by the Clipper Race team for Women in Sport Week 2015 and as a result I first heard about the charity and began following them on Twitter.
A temporary internship was posted and the timing could not have been more perfect with six months before I set sail, I jumped at the opportunity and have not looked back. I now look at the women I am sailing with in a different light. Ranging on my boat from 19 to 71 years old, they really are an inspiration.
All of them are here for different reasons, all pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and achieving their goals. Nicola Edwards, round the worlder, just the other week set the speed record for this new leg at 18.8 knots.
So, here is to another great leg with its own very different challenges. Onwards to Panama.
To find out more about the Clipper Race visit the website.