It feels like a homecoming of sorts, getting back on Henri Lloyd after seven months away from the boat. When I said good-bye to my crew in Albany, Australia, I had no plans to do any more legs of the Clipper Race, so I moved on with my life and revisited Clipper solely as a spectator and Henri Lloyd supporter.
Now that I’m here, sailing around Scotland in the final two races of the ’13-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, having made a cheeky escape from work for a few weeks, I find it hard to suppress a smile, even when faced with exhausting sail changes and the weary round-the-worlders whose facial expressions seem to say “Been there, done that.”
As far as I’m concerned, the toughest day at sea is still better than the easiest day in the office, so even a hurricane couldn’t wipe this grin off my face.
At the time I signed up to do the Clipper Race, I had no idea I was going to love it so much; in fact, I wasn’t sure I would like it all, considering this was Ryan’s crazy idea and certainly not something I would have thought up on my own. But I also knew when I stepped off the boat in Albany that it was going to be hard to watch my crew carry on racing around the world without me…which was contrary to the other feeling I had, which was an intense desire to get off the boat and go places where I could run and cycle and explore land away from water for a while.
But here I am, back on the water, feeling like I’ve been reunited with an ex-lover. And like rekindling an old flame, coming back has been a little awkward and disjointed, but soon the sailing felt as exhilarating and familiar as it did when I was in the thick of it on the Southern Ocean seven months ago.
The close competition in this race out of Derry has also helped spark the passion I remember so well. As soon as we clawed our way through the Pentland Firth narrows and emerged with the tide against us at 4 knots, Great Britain and Garmin were so close to us off our port bow we could ask what they were having for breakfast without really having to shout. Then, shortly after we rounded the headland of an unpronounceable Scottish point, the weather started to get schitzophrenic, calling for multiple sail changes while the rest of the fleet pushed on hard, matching our boat speed and keeping the pressure firmly upon us in this short race to the Netherlands.
The last 24 hours have seen more sail changes than the weary crew of Henri Lloyd care to count, as we fight to keep our first-place position while Switzerland and Derry~Londonderry~Doire battle hard for the win just 2 miles behind us, with the rest of the fleet not far behind.
But for now, I am just happy soaking up these moments on board and all of the thrill and discomfort that comes from ocean racing. And I am reflecting on all of this at the ridiculous hour of 5 am, as our spinnaker pulls us smoothly along a blue, shimmering, moonlit surface, giving the crew of Henri Lloyd a momentary pause from frantic sail changes and allowing the sweat from our hard work to cool on our foreheads.
Strangely, I feel alone as I look around at the drooping eyelids and lolling heads of my crew, who are propped up silently on the rails, waiting to be released from their watch to retire to their bunks.
I’ve seen these weary looks before on the Southern Ocean and it amazes me how quiet the crew can become with hardly a word exchanged for hours and, sometimes, days in rough seas. What are we all doing out here on the ocean, sitting in silence?
I’m staring wide-eyed at the blue glow of the sea, thinking about how lonesome the sport of sailing can be, even when you share a boat with 20 other people. Partners, lovers, friends and children are left behind as we fight our way across vast expanses of water in search of things we can’t describe, places in our minds we have yet to discover and goals that are, to many, too intangible to be understood.
Back in Derry, a Clipper crew from another boat said to me, “How on earth do you survive on a boat full of introverts? You have the personality of a firecracker that’s been set off in a crowded room. What do they do with you?!”
I laughed and shrugged my shoulders. It’s true – I am no introvert. Not even close. But I look around at my silent mates on deck, some quiet with discomfort, some withdrawn with introspection, some just sleeping, and I am still smiling. I’m exhilarated by the hard work and high level of performance on Henri Lloyd and, in this moment, I’m wide awake and alone with my thoughts as the wind pulls us towards the finish line, the waves spitting blue and white froth out along the hull.
Sure, racing this yacht requires 20 people to work together. But I’m certain the place we all go to in our minds when we’re sailing is different for each of us. At times, the racing can feel as lone an experience as climbing a mountain in solitude.
Perhaps what I appreciate is the experience of getting to know myself as I’m tested by the elements and my interactions with the characters on board Henri Lloyd. There’s something about the harsh environmental extremes and the moments where you have to work as a team to harness the power of nature to achieve a common goal. This may be a realm in which true introverts thrive, but just as I try to bring a little of the extrovert out of each quiet soul I meet, it seems the boat has introduced me to a calm part of myself I don’t often get close to.
So, for now, this extrovert is going to be still and allow the ocean to quiet her mind. Just being here, racing through the North Sea, feels like a privilege.
Vote for this blog post to get me drunk!
Clipper is running a contest where the writer of the most popular crew diary entry will receive a limited edition bottle of the commemorative Clipper Race branded Old Pulteney single malt whisky, signed by Sir Robin Knox- Johnston.
Wanna get me tipsy on whisky? Vote for my Crew Diary from the Clipper 2013-14 Race by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘CREW DIARY.’ Please include the link to this original post (http://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/470), first published in the Clipper Crew Diaries, and a few words on why you chose it.
The deadline for entries is Friday, August 1st, 2pm UTC/GMT +1. The winner of the commemorative single malt Old Pulteney whisky will be announced on Monday, August 4th.
Cheers! I’ll be toasting to you if I win!
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