And so all good journeys must come to an end. On 17th July 2010, 35,000 miles and a wealth of experiences later, the fleet returned to Hull, from where it all started ten months previously.
The route had taken us from Hull to La Rochelle and on to Rio across the mid Atlantic Ocean. From Rio to Cape Town across the South Atlantic. From Cape Town to Western Australia through the Southern Ocean. Up to China via Indonesia and Singapore through the South China Sea. Past Japan to San Francisco across the North Pacific Ocean. Down the west coast of America to Panama. Through the Panama Canal and on to Jamaica. Up to New York and on to Cape Breton Island on the East Coast of Canada. Then a final crossing through the North Atlantic past the Grand Banks to Kinsale in Southern Ireland. A brief stop in Amsterdam and finally back home to Hull.
Our final position of 8th place, paled into insignificance when the enormity of what we had accomplished hit home. The race I had signed up for eighteen months ago had become more of a journey. Yes the guise of ocean racing was reinforced after every stop over but it became less important as we went round.
The fleet had seen more damage than in any previous race year. It started in Cape Town when an over-zealous race start saw Cork T-Bone the side of Hull and Humber and the two boats limp back to port for repairs whilst everyone else pushed on to Australia. In the Southern Ocean, Hull and Humber lost a man overboard, but thankfully recovered him again in only 19 minutes. In the Java Sea, Cork ran aground in the night, to be left a ship wreck on Gosang Mampango, a small Indonesian island that had no light to mark its presence and was marked in the completely wrong location on the chart. No one was badly hurt and the crew was dispersed amongst the rest of the fleet, only to be re-united when a replacement boat was arranged for them from Jamaica back home. In the South China Sea, Finland lost her mast. Across the North Pacific, California saw the same fate, whilst Singapore experienced a severe knock down, causing them to lose their hatch cover. Onboard Edinburgh, the conditions caused us to damage a spreader.
Life at sea is all about survival. A 68 foot Cutter Rig Racing Yacht may look impressive in stature berthed in a marina, but out at sea, at the mercy of mother nature, you can feel incredibly vulnerable at times. Onboard, the crew takes care of each other. Half the crew sail the boat, whilst the other half rest and so the round the clock watch rotation continues. Every day one person from each watch is removed from sailing duties to perform mother watch duties, and they cook and clean for the rest of the crew, earning a full nights sleep as a reward.
The simplicity of life takes some getting used to, but soon the feeling of being un-contactable thanks to lack of network coverage, becomes a luxury, and the everyday stresses of normal life disappear. Being so time rich and having very little to do has the potential to drive you mad, but there is always company nearby to keep you sane. In the cockpit, there is always banter as the crew on watch share tales and jokes to pass the time before the next sail change is called.
A steep learning curve into the world of ocean racing is that there is very little to do as you can stay on the same tack for days and rarely have to make a lot of sail changes. This inactivity and having nowhere to go is tough, but the beauty of such a predicament, is the opportunity for reflection. A luxury rarely enjoyed amidst the bustle of everyday life.
Spend a year anywhere and you will experience the natural ups and downs and the same time spent at sea is no different. In the blistering heat crossing the equator, where temperatures near 40 degrees below deck, there is no breeze or fan or shower to keep you cool and this is all you long for. When the rain doesn’t stop for days and nights in succession, you long for some relief and to be somewhere warm and dry indoors. When it’s so cold you can’t ever remember complaining about the heat you wish you were too hot again. After any duration at sea all you wish for is land, a long hot bath and a bed made with crisp clean sheets. After a week in port, you long to be back at sea again. This is human nature. Insatiable!
After ten months, I am quite ready to be back on land and will appreciate all the little luxuries like a daily shower and fresh food whenever I want is that much more. It was an incredible year, to live a childhood ambition and make such a dream real. I learnt more about myself and others in one year than in the 27 years I had lived previously and the experience really made me believe that anything is possible. I’m pretty excited to see what life’s next chapter brings.