Kevin, my Henri Lloyd teammate passes me the rugby ball and I take off running. Running is generally where I do well, whereas catching…well, let’s just say I’m better with my legs than I am with my hands. So when the ball lands in my palms without bouncing into the arms of an opponent, I do what any self-respecting player would do and I take off down the field, sprinting as fast as my legs will carry me.
There is screaming and yelling and whistles blowing somewhere behind me, and I am pumping my arms like I’m aiming to win the 50-meter dash, staring straight ahead and telling myself over and over again, “Don’t forget to put the ball on the ground, don’t forget to put the ball on the ground…”
As I cross the goal line, the screaming grows louder, which I take as wild enthusiasm for my incredible achievement. Placing the ball firmly on the ground, I raise my arms victoriously and spin around to face the raucous praise that seems to be erupting from halfway up the field. At which point I think to myself, “What’s everyone doing all the way back there?”
“Where are you GOING?!” Someone in a black shirt screams as I now notice that OneDLL, our blue-jerseyed opposition, are high-fiving each other and smiling while my teammates are all standing with their hands on their hips, shaking their heads.
The spectators at The City of Derry Rugby Football Club are all pointing and laughing and snapping photos with their iPhones, shaking their heads incredulously as I sink to the ground and smack myself in the forehead repeatedly while saying to the referee, who is now doubled over, barely able to breathe, he’s laughing so hard, “My rugby-playing husband is going to be SO embarrassed when I tell him about this.”
“Dear, just tell him you scored, and leave it at that,” the ref says, chuckling and patting me on the back.
I’m in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, getting ready to rejoin Henri Lloyd for the last two races in the Clipper Round the World Race and this week has been chock full of events organized by the city around the Clipper Race arrival, like the Maritime Festival on the waterfront, a live concert by The Beach Boys (yes, they are still alive!), walking tours of historic Derry and, today, a Clipper Team rugby tournament organized by the enthusiastic players of The City of Derry Rugby Football Club.
Derry is the 9th port I’ve visited while the ’13-’14 Clipper Race has been in town, with London, Brest, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Albany, Sydney, Singapore and New York before this stopover. And Derry has by far been the port that has given the Clipper Race the warmest, most enthusiastic welcome that I’ve seen.
12 different pubs and numerous businesses in Derry have each adopted their own Clipper boats and provided them with discounts, support and overwhelming affection. And the Derry Rugby Club members were just as generous and hospitable with dozens of men coming out to play with each of the Clipper teams, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for all the participants, handing out free pints of beer and cider and breaking out into spontaneous song every now and then, as the Irish seem to have been raised to do.
Before the rugby tournament, the last few days have been full of keen questions about the race from taxi drivers and barmen who all want to know what it’s like to spend weeks on end at sea with 20 crew on board. “It sounds like hell, but good on ye!” Is the general response.
But it’s the rugby tournament, not the Clipper Race, that transforms me into a legend of sorts in Derry-Londonderry.
In the pubs around town, rugby players appear at every corner to pat me on the back and chuckle, “You! You were brilliant!” As they call over their mates, shouting, “Listen to what this girl did…!”
One guy drags the female president of the Derry Rugby Club over to me in the pub and giggles as he says, “I just HAVE to get a picture of you together. Do you mind?!” The rugby club president, slightly confused by all the laughter, looks me up and down and says, “You must have been quite impressive!”
I just shake my head and mumble, “You have no idea…”
A handful of rugby players hop off their barstools and pull out their iPhones to snap pictures of me and the president. And as I walk away, keeping my head low, I hear an Irish lilt in the background, saying, “So she picks up the ball and she runs like the clappers, like she’s being chased by the police! And the whole pitch is screaming at her ‘STOP! WRONG WAY!’ and she just keeps running! It was BRILLIANT!”
It’s not the kind of stunt my husband was hoping I’d become famous for, particularly since he’s played rugby his whole life, but at least I can say I’ve given something back to Derry – I’ve provided comedic entertainment to a town that’s welcomed me with open arms.
And there’s no doubt, as I sit here wide awake and prickling with anxiety the night before the second race of Leg 8 races out of Derry, I am using this opportunity to laugh at my sporting stupidity and distract myself from my nerves.
Henri Lloyd is currently in first place with a cool 13.9 points over Great Britain in second place, and the last thing I want is to jinx my team. So, I have to wonder if that rugby game was my way of purging any last idiotic mistakes from my system before venturing out onto the ocean again, or if it’s an omen of more bad decisions to come.
I guess I’ll find out in about 5 days’ time, when Henri Lloyd pulls into Den Helder, the Netherlands. In the meantime, I’ll make sure to stay away from anything involving navigation. If my rugby talents are anything to go by, I’ll end up sailing the boat in the wrong direction.
Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha then got back on her boat to compete in the last two races of Leg 8, going from Derry to Den Helder and then Den Helder to the race finish in London. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew