If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know it’s not 26 miles. It’s 26.2 miles. And you know that because, if you’re anything like me, you cursed each and every agonizing step of that last 0.2 miles.
In 2006, a few months after our wedding, I convinced Ryan to train with me for our first-ever marathon, completely naïve to the mental fortitude such training would require. I’m a runner. He’s a runner. How hard can it be?
I was standing at the finish line in Seville, Spain when Ryan crossed, panting and grimacing. His face said it all. No, actually, HE said it all.
“What the FUCK was THAT?!” he exclaimed. “Twenty-six miles. I was all set to run twenty-six miles. And then I get inside the stadium and the finish line isn’t there. It’s over there! WHO MADE THIS THING AN EXTRA POINT TWO MILES?!”
I knew exactly what he meant. Just fifteen minutes earlier, I’d entered the stadium broken. Mentally, I’d prepared to make it to mile twenty-six (because that last 0.2 miles is hardly worth mentioning, right?). With each passing mile, for the last ten miles, my mantra was just to get to the next mile. And then the next. So, when my muscles seized and I hobbled along the road clutching my butt in pain, when I was crying because my ham strings were rubber bands on the verge of snapping, I kept going. After all, I was almost there.
Then I got to mile twenty-six. When I ran through the stadium entrance set to collapse and I realized I had to run an entire lap around the stadium before I could stop the pain, a part of me died. How could I come this far and it not be over?
And, more importantly, why am I telling you this?
Because that is exactly what the last sixty miles of the Clipper Race to Rio was like.
We sailed over five thousand miles towards a waypoint set for Cabo Frio, just around the headland from Rio, where I thought my pain would finally come to an end. At this point, I could almost see someone standing on the docks of Marina da Gloria with an icy strawberry Caipirinha in hand just for me.
But it seemed like the sea turned to molasses as soon as we rounded the headland. We sailed and stared at that point for eight hours, trying desperately to put some miles between us and Cabo Frio. But whenever anyone asked how much longer it was to Rio, the response remained the same: “About twelve hours.”
So I went to sleep and woke up four hours later, expecting to see the rocky point of Cabo Frio well behind us. And yet, when I came up, there it was. No further and no closer than it was before. How could this be?
“The winds turned,” someone said. “We were supposed to be on a beam reach all the way to Rio, but now it’s right on the nose. We’ve been tacking back and forth for hours and yet we’re going nowhere.”
“How much longer?”
“About twelve hours.”
So I went to bed. And when I woke up and stood on deck AGAIN, there it was. Cabo FLIPPING Frio. (See illustration below)
“What the…?! Is that OneDLL and Derry in front of us?!” I exclaimed.
When running downwind, OneDLL and Derry-Londonderry-Doire struggled to keep up with us, but now that we were going upwind, they were leaving us for dead. Checking the AIS stats, it seemed both the other boats could point much higher and closer to the wind than we could, and no one on board Henri Lloyd understood why. We had the same boats, the same sails and the same sail plan. But somehow they could hold a better course. Which was how we dropped down to sixth place.
“Is it our trim? What are they doing differently?” I asked.
But no one answered. My watch had collapsed. Another day turned into another night with us no closer to Rio. Then the news spread that the first two boats in the fleet – PSP Logistics and Jamaica – had finished, which had the effect of zonking my crew of all their remaining energy. It was like our muscles had seized in that last mile of the marathon and we could push no further. The watch leader was in bed, suffering from seasickness, the assistant watch leader was lying in a fetal position on the floor in front of the helm, and half the crew were asleep on deck, unable to hold their heads up any longer. It was like mile twenty-six of a twenty-six-point-two mile marathon. We were supposed to be there by now. We desperately wanted to be there by now.
And then the Skipper came up on deck and looked anxiously at our sails. He looked both excited and confused.
“I can’t point any higher than sixty degrees,” I said, hoping to answer his question. “I don’t know why.”
“If my calculations are right, with the redress we get for our watermaker, we could still beat Qingdao,” said the Skipper.
“I’m sorry, what?”
Everyone on board knew that meant a gain of seven hours, since it took us that long to motor to OneDLL, collect water and motor back to the starting point. Suddenly, the dead and dying crew all sat up and looked lively again.
I looked up at the sails and repeated, “But I can’t point any higher, I swear.”
“Maybe it’s the halyard tension?” Maura (aka Trimma Donna) offered, perking up. Throughout the race, our halyard jammers had been causing problems – the halyards were too thin for the jammers on the boat, which meant we couldn’t release any of our halyards without having them slip through and sit way too slack for upwind sailing.
Some of the crew jumped up and offered to free up winches so we could get all of our halyards out of the jammers and onto the winches. And as soon as we cranked up the tension on our mainsail, staysail and headsail halyards, suddenly, I could point as high as thirty degrees.
“Holy shit!” I shouted. “That’s it! You’ve done it!” Suddenly the boat picked up speed and I could hold a much higher course to the wind. “Why the hell didn’t we think of that earlier?!”
It was just the boost we needed to keep fighting to the finish. Even if it was too late.
In the end, we didn’t pass OneDLL or Derry before pulling into Rio. But, with the seven-hour redress we got for our faulty watermaker, we earned third place on the podium.
Ryan’s boat, PSP Logistics, match-raced Jamaica into Rio, losing to them by a hair’s breadth of nineteen seconds, which is the closest race finish in Clipper history. But with the one-hour redress PSP got for helping Team GB with their faulty watermaker, PSP finished in first place.
So, there you have it: both Ryan and I made it onto the podium, after all.
At the moment, there’s a lot of debate (aka smack-talk) about who has the better boat. Sure, Ryan’s boat came in first in the standings. But, Team Henri Lloyd earned more points for coming in second to the Scoring Gate and winning the Ocean Sprint, on top of getting third place overall. Which means we tied PSP in points.
Let’s just say, there’s some big talk going on in this little family right now. By the end of the race to Australia, I half expect Ryan and I to buy a second boat so we can race each other the rest of the way around the world.
But, then, that would just be crazy.
Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew