Closer to the waves

Nearly all photos courtesy of Evoke Adventure – thanks Erin!

So it’s turns out that Kayakers are like swans.

 

“Aaaaah look at them going along gracefully” you think; “that must be a great upper body workout”. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
At the end of May, I spent two days discovering with Evoke Adventures that kayaking is not an upper body workout. It is a whole body workout but with upside of being incredibly fun!

(This September, I’ll be joining Evoke Adventures on a kayaking expedition around Menorca. There will be 5 of us: our leader, Erin, plus 4 ladies. We’ll be spending 11 days going around the island, so to get us ready for this, a bit of training didn’t seem unreasonable)

The weekend kicked off with me meeting my fellow team mate Lesley purely by chance. After an 8 hour train ride to Truro, I found myself waiting for the next train nearby another woman similarly dressed to me. Large rucksack, sleeping bag, outdoor gear…Yep, this was Lesley. She too was doing the training this weekend and we chatted with anticipation on the way to Falmouth. What would the weekend hold?
The next morning, I wandered down to Gyllyngvase beach to answer this question, ready to meet Lesley and our expedition leader Erin, the creator of this whole thing. We met at a lovely beach cafe where over a coffee, Erin shared what our plan was for the weekend. Turns out we were going to be spending the day kayaking to a camp, our kit in the kayaks and then onwards the next day. Luckily I’d been to Tesco that morning to pick up snacks as I hadn’t quite clocked that this would be on the cards. The part of the Menorca adventure that most appealed to me was the concept of kayaking from camp to camp, so why I hadn’t anticipated we’d do this in training (therefore the requirement for food!) I’m not quite sure.
Anyway, plan laid out, we hopped into Erin’s van topped with 3 rather large kayaks and 15 minutes later pulled up at a beach. First, the kayaks came down from the roof followed by operation dry-bag where we had to separate all of our kit out into little dry bags that could then be tessellated within the boat. Erin gave us each a life jacket, cagoule and splash guard too, so once we’d wrestled our hatch covers on, we donned our attractive outfits and we were off. We were off!

 

“Errrr…so what do I do now in this thing?!”

I’ve spent a lot of time in very skinny boats so being in a kayak didn’t feel totally foreign to me, but blimey, it is seriously hard work. Balance is needed like a single scull rowing boat, every muscle is used like a single, but unlike a rowing in a single, you’re doing that all for a lot, lot longer. After learning some turning skills (“making a wider rainbow arc with our paddle, “edging” and using your legs” she says, testing herself), we were then off down the coast. It was amazing seeing the coast from such a different angle and the wildlife that went with it, but at times I found myself struggling to keep up, an unnerving “aaaaaaah I can’t control this boat I’m going to be washed out to seaaaaaa” feeling accompanying my paddling at times. After being shown how to adjust the skegg (the fin) of the boat, I managed not to be washed out to sea and caught up with other two. Confidence building, the return journey along the coast was then mission as we were against the wind, so we tackled it in bursts done using the gear “paddle like f…” with intermittent rests. Knackering.

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“Yeah, I’m fine, I’ve totally got this” *Nervous laughter*

The rest of the day involved more paddling, lunch on a beach and even fishing. Fishing became a little more important when we discovered the village shop we’d hoped to stock up at was shut. Hmmmmm..better fish harder. As I’m somewhat low on patience, I left the fishing to Erin & Lesley. Nothing was caught so instead, we paddled up the Helford River to our campsite to set up camp with the intention of returning to a pub we’d passed earlier.

 

It was at this point in the weekend that I seemed to lose the ability to get in or out of kayaks successfully. Up until this point, it has been fine, but for some reason, getting my legs in without falling in became a real challenge. The best of these was when we’d finally tracked down food at the pub and we had to leave to paddle back to camp. Despite the water being shallow, I managed to soak all of my lower body and my forearms. The resulting paddle back was a bit soggy to say the least.
On reaching camp, we discovered that we’d be sharing the night with a couple of families that had moored their yachts there. Rather than chat, I retreated to my tent only to realise that I’d forgotten my trusty sailing combo of talcum powder & cosy socks to address my damp feet. As I result, I didn’t get the best night sleep. It’s been a long time since I’ve camped so every noise woke me up, by it was lovely to be outside.

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Our camp for the night
Our trio of Kayaks

 

The next morning, we packed up our camp and finally cooked the sausages Erin had bought with her for the BBQ that Lesley & I failed to prepare for. Cooked breakfast done (aka sausage a la fork) and then off we went again. This time, I managed to get into my kayak without falling in – miracle!

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A rare occasion when I’d managed to get into a kayak without falling in

The second day saw us paddling up the river to explore, discovering boat yards and mudflats as the tide went out. It was amazing how quickly the mudflats appeared, reducing our route back to a channel marked out by buoys to avoid being marooned. The mudflats really blended in with the water making them hard to spot.

 

Once that was done, it was off to play in waves and wind vs tide meant that we had them, white caps and all. As waves go, they were really nothing major, but being so close to the water, I was definitely a little bit nervous about this. I still didn’t feel totally control.

 

Erin sent us out to practice some more turning techniques, this time using the wind (who knew the direction you padded in made such a difference) in different waves.

We were set a challenge of going out to a buoy, turning around it and coming back. I darted out to said buoy and back as speedily as I could, back to shelter. Lesley, in the meantime, went for bigger game and further out. I stayed tucked away in the sheltered area. Baby steps, baby steps…
Out in the waves, you experience the same slamming upwind sensation as on Clipper yacht, except everything is magnified though being closer to the water. You also have to paddle like hell (at least I did!) to stay in control. Once I’d got used to it, it was really was rather fun. Apparently these were the biggest waves we’d come across. If we came across larger waves in Menorca, we wouldn’t be going out in them.
Waves done, it was finally the time for the bit I was least looking forward to: capsize practice. Wetsuit on and kayaks emptied, I let Lesley go first as my instincts were screaming at me to stay in the boat. Yes, this definitely was not my bravest weekend.
After Lesley had been dunked and rescued by Erin (demonstration purposes only!) it was finally my turn. 1, 2, 3….and in!

 


Despite having just watched Lesley fall in and be rescued, the shock of being in the water still managed to wipe my brain clean of what to do. Luckily, Lesley rescued me beautifully and I was soon back in the kayak. I then rescued Lesley (eventually). Erin then revealed that we needed to learn how to get back in the boat by ourselves.

 

By ourselves?!

Getting back into a kayak by yourself is definitely not graceful. First, you have to get your belly on the stern, pull yourself up and then somehow move into a straddling position so that you’re sitting up, legs either side of the boat. From here, shimmying occurs. Shimmy shimmy shimmy aaaaaand somehow legs move from either side of the boat and into the cockpit of the kayak.

 

Belly flop, fine. Straddle-shimmy, fine.

Legs into boat: not fine.

 

Could I get my legs in? Could I hell. Every time, I fell back in.
4 attempts, 5 attempts: I still fell back in.

 


will get back into you boat!

After taking these incredibly glamorous photos, Erin finally took pity on me and said I could give up and swim/walk back to shore. I quickly realised, however, that that would mean swimming through seaweed. Now Seaweed is fine when I’m in a boat, but I was not going to swim through it unless I absolutely had to. I was damned well going to get back into that boat!
One more attempt and finally, I got into the boat

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CHAMPIOOOOOON! Probably one of the happiest split seconds of my life

Cue proud celebratory paddle/relief-that-I-didn’t-have-to-swim-through-seaweed paddle. I was so proud.

Mia 1 / Seaweed 0. 

After all the swimming, the trip ended with us drying off in some toilets and then returning back to our original cafe for a hot drink and some sugar.

I was so tired: tired from the paddling, tired from the mental exertion of learning something new and exhausted from the capsize drills. I hadn’t quite anticipated how strenuous kayaking would be which means I definitely need to keep up the training pre-September! Despite the exhaustion, it was a brilliant few days. Erin & Lesley had been great company and there’s something about travelling under your own steam that made it feel like so much longer than weekend. Still, it was with relief that I finally hit the pillow of my Sleeper-train bed for the journey home. I now feel so much more prepared to take on the Menorca expedition in September. Perhaps I can nail looking a bit more Swan-like then?

 

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New Adventures…

It’s now the time when Facebook likes to remind me that a year ago, I’d hit land for the first time. This time last year I was a) ridiculously smelly b) rather tanned c) a very long way from the UK.  

This time last year…
 
How am I ever going to top that?!

Well, a year on and my life has changed a fair bit. Not in obvious ways, but subtly. 

I now prioritise my time over anything else and I am looking to use it to the max – I’ve gone down to 4 days a week to achieve this. I have already packed my #FriYays spending times with friends and family, but I have an urge for challenge, for adventure, stoked by rather than fulfilled by the Clipper race. 

Now, we need to keep this within reason – the Clipper race has meant I’m somewhat lower on cash than I was before. So this year, I’m focusing on 2 smaller challenges;

  • 100km non-stop walking 30 hrs
  • Circumnavigating Menorca via Sea Kayak.

Nothing like 12,000 miles sailing on a 70ft yacht, but equally crazy in their own way. 

So this weekend is my first training session for Kayaking, something I’ve never done before with people I’ve never met before with training a damned long way away (it was an 8hr train journey yesterday). I have a bag packed with outdoor gear and am not sure quite where I’m going today. The parallels with Clipper training are already emerging!

Step 1 is complete (making it to Falmouth). Let’s see how the rest of this weekend goes learning a new watery skill.

Positively dinky bag packed for Kayaking

The Cold Person’s Kit List for Legs 7&8

The Clipper Race made me realise that I’m DEFINITELY one of those people who feels the cold. It also made me realise that there is a wide spectrum of temperature tolerance between crew: whilst I was in full foulies, sometimes my friend Emily would be in a frickin’ bikini! (A different way to deal with rain I suppose).
Below is what I took sailing that covers Leg 7&8 – a real hot leg and a chilly leg. I’ve also put together a week-by-week packing list depending on the temperature of the leg, so if you’re doing just a hot leg or just a cold leg, you can adjust your kit quantities as required.
THE ESSENTIALS
Clothing
  • 2 X merino t shirts
  • 2 X merino long sleeve tops
  • 2 X merino wool leggings
  • 1 X medium fleece: not too massive as this has got to fit under your midlayers & foulies.
  • 1 X Henri Lloyd midlayer jacket (aka “Duvet suit”: the BEST piece of kit I invested in!)
  • 1 X Henri Lloyd midlayer salopette: ditto the above
  • 1 x black/dark outdoor trousers: for leaving port photos, mild days.
  • 1 x shorts: for hot days. Underwear alone is not appropriate ever.
  • 1 X Lightweight Musto Gilet: for those sunny days with a bit of a nippy breeze.
  • 2 X Sealskin socks: ideally longer ones. The longer they are, the further up your leg the water has to get before it floods them!
  • 1 x Pair of Sailing boots: Dubarry ones seem to be pretty good. Don’t buy Musto HPX – mine leaked very early into the race.
  • 1 X Sailing shoes: either leather deck shoes or “Old lady walking sandals”. I went for Teva sandals which were great for the heat and also for anything more adventurous on land.
  • 1 x Foulies: Clipper provide these on your Level 4.
  • Lots x Pants: enough for 1 pair per week on the boat plus some for shore of course. Yes, 1 pair per week. Standards really slip.
  • 4 x Sports bras: not crazy supportive anti-bounce ones though – even if you’re larger up top. They’re very restrictive and you want something you can live in for a week at a time. Get these in advance and wear them in.
Toiletries
  • Tooth brush
  • Tooth brush protector
  • Tooth paste
  • Exfoliating face wipes: I learnt via trial & error that the exfoliating bit is very important to get the salt & suncream out.
  • Anti-spot moisturiser: again, another thing needed to combat the effects of suncream + salt. The race does not treat your pores kindly. I used Burt’s Bees Anti-Blemish moisturiser. The salicylic acid in it seemed to work a treat.
  •  Talcum powder: this is an absolute essential! Brilliant for getting that last bit of dampness off you when you’ve had wet feet or have been sweating.
  • Sudocream: another essential to combine with Talcum powder in the fight against nappy rash. 
  • Wet Wipes: your only form of shower. I used these huge thick ones from EQUIP which were awesome.
  • Roll-On deodorant: do not take spray as this will gas everyone out on the boat. It’s also a fire hazard.
  • Small hairbrush: tangle teezer good as effective & compact.
  • Hair bands
  • Exfoliating body cloth/exfoliating mitt: great for getting rid of salt & grime if you shower on deck during hot legs. Even better for that first shower in port.
  • Panty liners x 1000: the secret to being able to wear just 1 pair of pants per week.
  • Shampoo & conditioner: You may not get to use them on colder legs, but they’re the first thing you’ll want when you land in port.
  • Contact lenses: I usually wear glasses, but found these were a real pain on training – they quickly get smeary on deck. For the race, I went for contacts that I could wear for a week at a time. I think they’re called Acuvue Oasis. These worked brilliantly. It means you can generally wait for calmer weather to change them rather than trying to change them every day.
  • 2 x bottles Contact lens solution: this was plenty for 12 weeks away from home for weekly contact lenses.
  • Glasses
Accessories
  • Merino wool buff: dries fast, doesn’t smell, stops foulies from making your face disgusting.
  • Waterproof woolly hat
  • Hat clip: to keep your woolly hat on your head. I lost 2 hats by not using this.
  • 2 x UV-protective sunglasses: you can get some really good cheap ones in Sainsbury’s.
  • 2 x Head torches: go cheap. Both of mine eventually died, but my expensive one died before my cheap one did.
  • Big dry -bag for travelling: I bought this one from Lomo which did the job. It MUST be waterproof though to survive on the boat.
  • Waterproof rucksack for travelling: Because your big bag won’t be enough. Also needs to be waterproof to survive on the boat. Again, I went to Lomo for this.
  • Lots of little dry bags: think mine were around 6l for each week. Ideally with a window so you see what’s in them.
  • Quick-drying Micro-fibre towel
  • Sleeping bag: I used a Gauss one, but fisherman’s sleeping bags are pretty much the same, less bulky & cheaper.
  • Pillow: I got a Gauss waterproof pillow and it was incredible. You’re potentially going to be sleeping in your bunk for 4 weeks straight so make sure you get a good pillow. A little luxury I couldn’t have lived without.
  •  Sailing knife
  • Sailing gloves: I didn’t wear mine often in the end, but they were good for trimming the kite. Again, Lomo is great for cheap & effective versions.
  • Rehydration salts: essential for dealing with heat & sea sickness.
  • Water bottle: get one that can be hung up with a karabiner. I used a Camelbak Chute 750ml bottle which was great.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS
Aka: things that definitely make life on the boat easier!
  • Elasticated Bed Sheet: makes sharing a bunk slightly more pleasant. We ended up buying a job-load of these and shared them out amongst the crew across legs.
  • Long Bungee: to go by your bunk and hang stuff on
  • Small Karabiner clips: to go in your kit to hang on the bungee.
  • Pair of Crocs: great for going to the loo or moving about below decks as they’re so easy to put on. Some wore these on deck too.
  • Small bottle of mouth wash: great for when you simply can’t face brushing your teeth in rough weather.
Optional Extras for dealing with the heat
  • 2 x Wide-brimmed hats: one for you, one as a sacrifice to the sea. The most likely thing you own to go overboard.
  • 2 x pair of shorts
  • 2 x Bikini sets: great to swim in, but also great to sleep in as they dry so quickly. Make sure you’re happy for them to be chucked afterwards though.
  • USB Fan: lots of people on our boat curled up clutching one of these when trying to sleep in the heat.
  • USB Battery Pack: to power said USB fan and also charge your phone/tablet.
  • Plant spritzer: nice to spritz water on your face
Optional Extras for dealing with cold
  • A small Hot Water bottle (used in July on leg 8! SO COLD)
  • Heat holder socks (they warm your feet back up quickly in your sleeping bag)
Stuff I took and didn’t use
  • Merino pants: oh god, please don’t buy these, the slightest bit of sweat or dampness and these are a nightmare for nappy rash! I used synthetic pants in the end which were so much more comfortable.
  • Synthetic Tshirts/Gym tops:  in contrast to the pants, these are terrible for sweatiness and heat rash in the heat vs Merino tops. Trying to pry a sweaty synthetic top off your hot sweaty body? I don’t ever want to re-live that experience.
PACKING FOR THE RACE
I didn’t have a clue how to pack for the race until I arrived in Seattle for Leg 7. There, I was shown the dark art of dry bag organisation. After all, up until this point, I’d only ever spent a max. of 1 week at sea.
I stored all of my kit in individual dry bags from Lomo, a dry bag packed with clothing for each week. I also didn’t buy anything white as everything gets dirty pretty quickly. Toiletries & electronics I kept in separate dry bags. Things I needed quickly (eg head torch, hats, buffs & midlayers) I clipped onto a bungee by my bunk using karabiners.
Bag for CHILLY week (Eg. Week 1 of Leg 7, most of Leg 8 or autumn/spring training in the UK):
  • 1 x Pants & Bra: sounds grim but get used to it!
  • 1x Merino Tshirt
  • 1x Long sleeved merino top
  • 1x Long sleeved merino leggings
  • 1x Fleece
  • 1x Midlayer Henri Lloyd salopettes
  • 1x Midlayer Henri Llloyd jacket
Bag for TRANSITION WEEK CHILLY NIGHTS – WARM DAYS (Eg. 2nd week of Leg 7 or 1st week of Leg 8 or Summer training )
  • 1 x Pants & Bra
  • 1x Merino Tshirt
  • 1x Long sleeved merino top
  • 1x Long sleeved merino leggings
  • 1x Midlayer Henri Lloyd salopettes
  • 1x Midlayer Henri Llloyd jacket
  • 1 X shorts
Bag for HOT HOT HOT Week (Eg. Week 2/3 of Leg 7 onwards)
  • 1 x Pants & Bra
  • 1 x shorts
  • 1 x Bikini
  •  1 x Merino Tshirt: I only packed 1 as I wore my bikini top/sports bra most of the time rather than a tshirt.

Where everything is on this blog

6 months on from the end of the race, and now everything Clipper is everything “Clipper 17-18”. That’s it, the 15-16 Race is old hat, we’re no longer “crew”. The race is now well and truly over. *Sniff*

Oh well. I’ll get over it (she says, crying quietly to herself). But in the meantime, if you do happen to be a lucky 17-18 crew member and are looking for some information, hopefully this blog can help you out. 

To make things easy, all the links you could possibly need to find things on this blog can be found HERE. You know, things like Crew allocation day, training levels and what to expect on Legs 7&8. 

Also coming soon will be a Leg 7&8 Kit list for later letters. 

Enjoy!

Race Finish: a pretty amazing day

Ever since I signed up to this race, I knew that arriving into London would be pretty epic.

So many times I’d imagined sailing through Tower Bridge, but the experience proved to be far better than anything I could conjure up in my head.

In my usual style, I was asleep during the pre-amble of arriving into London, but today was my final mother duty, so at around 7.30am, I was woken up to prepare brunch: a gourmet selection of cheese, cheese, meat, more cheese, fresh bread and crackers. Yum. As we prepared the meat & cheese feast, spectator boats appeared filled to bursting with supporters. On the boats it was easy to spot Visit Seattle supporters – just look for the green! Possibly the one advantage of our crazy leprechaun school uniform. And so the waving began.

At every arrival and every departure, we’d been practicing our finest waves. Now was the final time, the final time to feel famous on our little green boat parading up and down the Thames. The bank was lined with crowds as we approached Tower Bridge. Through Tower Bridge we then went waving, people stationed all over the bridge too. We continued waving as we returned through Tower Bridge (a pretty awesome experience) and then readied ourselves for the entry to St Katherine’s docks.

Generally, it was pretty difficult to make out who was on the bank; we just waved manically to make sure we covered all bases. Then I spotted a group of people, one of whom from a distance looked remarkably like my tall, pale, lanky, brother (love you Ry :D). Hang on…that was my brother! There were my friends and family all together holding a big brown sign with my name on it, jumping up at down. Queue my excitement going up a couple of gears. We then entered the lock to Taylor Swift, spotting more friends in the crowd as we motored in. A year after our team song was chosen from our Level 4 training, this was the final time we’d get to “Shake it off” on CV23 *sniff*.  Better make it a good dance then.

After mooring up, we had a few hours to wait before we could get off the boat as the rest of the crews had to arrive in before prize giving would begin. These few hours were mostly spent trying to wave at friends and family crowded on the bank combined with Champagne and…cigars?! Yes, only on Visit Seattle would Champagne and cigars appear. Clipper also wisely placated us by providing Pizza too, otherwise there was no way we were going to stay on those boats. Now it was time to find family in the crowd and finally, I could pick out my boyfriend Steve. After over 3 months of being apart, he was the person I missed the most. Yes, that was him, but I couldn’t talk to him, the distance between the boat and bank being just that bit too far. Luckily for me, it was only just over an hour or so before we processed up on stage. Before going up, we Leg 8 crew were joined by crew from previous legs, a huge number of the Visit Seattle family reunited to dance up to the stage together to our team song before our 8th position was celebrated. This was when we discovered that not only had we scored 8th place (pretty big improvement from the 11th place for the majority of the race) but that we’d also won the overall Stormhoek Social Spirit Award! This was the real achievement, what we’d really wanted to win. So much joy, so much excitement.

After our final famous moments on stage, we were released to meet our loved ones. That was pretty emotional. It was wonderful to discover how many people had made the effort to come out and see the finish, the only challenge being having the time to catch up with them all. Once we’d all caught up, people made their moves, myself, Steve, Kyrsten and Amy being left to enjoy the Stormhoek party laid on for Visit Seattle & supporters. It was then onto the final crew party for Emily and I for one last dance, our last time being “Ocean Racers” surrounded by fellow Clipper-people before we returned to the real world. Dancing, more Stormhoek wine, dancing…end.

The Clipper Race finish: the best day of my life…so far!

 

5 weeks to go

The last 3 months or so have been a an intriguing combination of becoming evermore detached from the race followed by the rapid realisation that Leg 7 is now nearly here. 

I’ve almost been in denial that it’s happening, but today, Visit Seattle arrive in Qingdao, China. The next arrival for them will be in Seattle in 5 weeks time. 5 WEEKS! How have the timescales become so short?! I probably won’t be there to welcome them in (unless they do really, really badly. I hope they won’t), but apparently, I will be getting on the boat and sailing home with them.

It’s becoming so real now that whilst writing this, I’ve actually quite become quite nervous. I’m not sure why. Yes, there’s still a lot to do to get ready (warm weather gear being the great unknown. I’ve never been in the super-warm before) and lots of people to see before I go. But nervous? I think it’s the concept of seeing everyone on the boat again: it’ll have been 7 months after all. 
So, Visit Seattle should be arriving into Qingdao in the next 30mins. You should be able to see it live here: https://www.periscope.tv/ClipperRace

In a couple of months, that will be me!

Flashbacks to Level 4

This week, I’m swapping sailing for snow-shoeing. “Errrr, why is this relevant?” I hear you cry. It’s relevant because with alpine adventures imminent, this evening has mostly been spent searching for the Go-Pro which was last used during my Level 4 training and the London delivery back in August.

Turns out there are a couple of videos I’d completely forgotten about stashed away on the tiny camera, so here they are. Only 6 months late.

Rookie tacking (with me shouting at the helm. I love shouting at people in boats)

Cruising:

 

And a nice one of Emily, Karri & I previously undiscovered from London delivery. These two have sailed much further on Visit Seattle since this shot was taken!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0234.
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With that done, it’s time for a pre-sailing adventure holiday.

Then only 7 weeks to go…