Strangely disconnected

It’s January 2016: RACE YEAR! 

“Oh-my-god-where-is-my-life-going-aaaaah-just-12-weeks-to-go-there’s-so-much-to-do!”

Yes, I’d say I’m in a bit of a transitional phase at the moment. Strangely disconnected.

As I suspected, November & December went by in an absolute blur. Suddenly it’s race year and I’m probably at my most detached point from the boat & race so far.

Visit Seattle have been sailing the oceans for the best part of 5 months now and so it all feels quite distant. After the frenzy that was summer, life has returned to normal (more or less) but every so often, I’ll get a little reminder of what’s to come. Today for example: an early start for a rowing race reminded me of the brutal 4 hour awakenings to come.. The red glow of the setting sun reminded me of the red lights used below decks when it’s dark outside.

With my memories of training with the crew last year fading fast, it’s strange to now start gearing up for the big event itself. Meetings are going in the diary that I have to reject: “Mia on sabbatical” yet the race feels less real than ever.

That being said, I really should crack on as it’s just 12 weeks until I leave. So, stuff to do: lots. Vaccines, clothing, flights, insurance, visa… *insert other things I’ve forgotten here*. Throw in a holiday and the weekend count is looking pretty low to organise things.

On the upside, slowly but surely a few more crewmates have appeared after their various legs, so I anticipate meet ups will now become a mix of forward-looking excitement and stories from legs 1-4. I’ve also begun some extra training to make sure my core is ready for Clipper although rowing is receiving the benefit at the moment.

Core verdict so far: definitely not ready for Clipper. Just like the rest of me.

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25 weeks and counting

The weeks are absolutely flying by at the moment. Zip-zip-zip-Oh hello November! 

Hang on, November?!

November 2016 is exciting.

First,  it means it’s less than 6 months until I join Visit Seattle in Seattle. Given that November/December will probably zoom by in a blur of festivities, we might as well say I’m 4 months away from the race(ish). Yes! 4 months! WOOOO!

Second reason why November is exciting is that it means it’s been a whole year since I applied for the Clipper Race. I’d said to myself that I wanted to make 2015 a good year. Didn’t think it would be this good.

It all started sitting on the tube contemplating life (aka going through slight mid-twenties crisis); “Come sail the world!” says Clipper poster. Mia: “yeah! why the hell not?!”.

Before you know it, an application pack is waiting for you at home, you’re spending a significant amount of your life in Gosport and your cashflow has become a bit ropey. House deposit? You mean RACE deposit. But on a more serious note, a year ago, little did I know what an adventurous build-up it would be. 

Although I wish I was with the boat at times, turns out signing up for legs 7&8 was a great move. With a long period of time between race start & Seattle, it means following the race is just little bit more exciting. Anticipation definitely adds to it. It also means I get to spend lots of time being excited with these guys! 

Totally like Rio – yes?!
Emily, Jon & I. That is the face of a woman wondering how she can sail around the world next race (not me!)

This Clipper malarkey is all about shared experiences and it’s great to share it with  the “shore support”: later leggers, returning leggers, friends and family.

Regular meet-ups mean that we stay in touch whilst exploring the world through restaurants rather than  via yacht. We’ve eaten our way through Brazilian & African food so far. Next stop: Aussie BBQ. It’s been enlightening talking to those that have come back from the boat (aka Emily & John) and it’s definitely made me question how I’m going to handle it. Time to practice being cheery when sleep-deprived or hungry rather than defaulting to massive sense of humour failures.  

Room for improvement before the race: not giving into hanger
 
So, the race may still be “4” months away, but I’m definitely enjoying the countdown to get there. Back to the race viewer now…leg 3 is underway!

Watching & Waiting

This time exactly one month ago, I’d probably just arrived home after seeing 12 huge yachts sail out of London to much fanfare. The previous few weeks had been a blur as Clipper & Clipperland had taken over my life: my last week of training, sailing our boat to London and then Race Start itself.

Since race start, my fellow crew on Visit Seattle have sailed over 5,000 miles to Rio and I’ve been tending to my family & friends that I’d quite honestly neglected during the excitement of August. I’ve also become what can only be described as a bit of a stalker, although not in the sinister way (if that’s possible).

This Clipper adventure & the people in it have been such a big part of my life over the last 6 months that it all felt rather strange when the boats left St Katherine’s docks, and the feeling still hasn’t really gone. I suppose it’s the feeling that things are a little bit on “pause”: no more sailing excitement for the next 6 months.

To make up for this, I have been following the race every day and become a bit of an addict. My homepage? The Clipper site. And yes, that is a picture of the boat on my desk ♥

If I can, at around 10 minutes past every hour, I check where the boats are (their positions will have been updated by then you see). Worry then ensures if their position hasn’t been updated and when the boat is in stealth mode – OH THE TENSION!

And another post from Mia...and another...
And another post from Mia…and another…

I’ve been trying to keep other people in the loop by sharing new blogs from Huw & the crew via Facebook and Twitter, and that has definitely helped keep the excitement alive. And actually, it has been pretty damned exciting.

Hearing the stories from the crew, be it through the clipper website or through blogs has been brilliant at bringing those of us left on land along for the ride. There are a whole host of Visit Seattle crew & supporters and Facebook has allowed us to share this buzz between us. It’s also been brilliant hearing from other crew members, and meeting up with crew-mate Andrew briefly the other day brought it home to me how sharing the excitement of this experience is one of the biggest things I’m missing with the boat now at sea. Understandably, only other crazy Clipperites want to talk sailing all day long. Friends, family & work colleagues: perhaps not so much.

After a couple of nights of poor sleep due to wondering whether Visit Seattle have made it to Rio yet (they still haven’t as I write), I’m now looking forward to a) seeing other crew on Saturday to celebrate VS reaching Rio b) hearing from those people who have been on the boat. It’s been a whole 2 days without a crew blog you see. Withdrawal symptoms are kicking in…

Race Start: “See you in Seattle”

Race start wasn’t just a day. It was a full-on, exciting, haphazard, momentous weekend – and that was for someone who isn’t even racing the first leg! The Clipper boats were finally leaving London for Rio. What it must have been like for those leaving on Leg 1, I can’t even begin to imagine.

Ain't no party like a Visit Seattle Party
Ain’t no party like a Visit Seattle Party
The weekend began by arriving at the boat ready for the 15-16 crew party. The atmosphere at Clipperland (aka St Katherine’s docks) was electric: huge numbers of people were milling about looking at the boats, but only special Clipper folk with special Clipper wristbands could go down onto them.

Our boat was completely packed. 4 weeks worth of food, 20-odd people’s worth of stuff: it was really rather warm & “cosy” below decks and this was just in the UK. Think of the doldrums! Time to meet some more crew that I hadn’t yet met (there are 56 of us after all) then it was off to do some dancing. Any excuse.

Look! HE'S HOLDING A SWORD!
Look! It might be a poor photo but HE’S HOLDING A SWORD!
For the Clipper crew party, hundreds of the Clipperati got together in London at the rather swish Grand Connaught Rooms. For once, we actually saw each other not in sailing kit. Turns out we all own normal clothes! Unsurprisingly, Visit Seattle were the first crew on the dancefloor and the last off with some most excellent moves in between. There was also much delight on the relevation that in his “action shot”,  our skipper Huw looks like he is holding a SWORD! Simply. Amazing.

For one reason or another (or just crap planning on my part) the next 2 nights were spent in a bunk on the boat, this time in my super-light sleeping bag rather than my normal super-massive Gauss bag. Lying there, it was quite surreal to think this would be my last night on our boat for 7 whole months. If I just hid in the sail locker, I could stow away to Rio…

(…I’m now writing on my phone from the sail locker. They haven’t found me yet…)

Sunday morning and it was Race start day. Although both later-leggers, Kate & I were joining the crew on the boat during the day to look after some drummers, so I joined the crew for breakfast. All dressed up in our official Visit Seattle kit (grey tshirts, green jackets), there was fun and laughter but also a little bit of tension in the air. I suppose it was a fairly big deal, sailing to Rio and all that.

Kate & I taking one last photo of the glorious-in-green Visit Seattle Crew
Kate & I taking one last photo of the glorious-in-green Visit Seattle Crew
The rest of the morning went by in a bit of a blur. Lots of prepping and photo taking. After hoisting our drummer up the mast, Kate & I stayed on the boat whilst the crew went up for their official send –off on the stage, processing in a line of little green men. We’re clearly going to be the party boat as there was dancing on stage and Huw admitted that we were all wannabe pirates. It was then time for goodbyes with people that I won’t see for a long time now, followed by frantic waving from supporters & fellow crewmates alike as Visit Seattle zoomed out of the marina. I didn’t want to stay and watch. That was it; Visit Seattle was off to swan about under Tower Bridge then sail to Rio.

The crew at their official send off. Dancing of course.
The crew at their official send off. Dancing of course.
I’m going to really miss my Clipper friends on that boat, even though we haven’t all known each other for all that long. After such a manic, sailing-filled month, it now feels a little odd the boat is gone and that my Clipper experience is on hold until April next year.  I’m already filling the gap a little by making sure crew, friends & family in the UK are kept up to date with blogs etc (ie. team stalker) and that we’ve got suitable parties organised, but it’s going to be a long time tracking them now. Visit Seattle is now just a little white boat symbol on a big grey digital ocean.

Follow the crew via Twitter @VisitSeattleRTW or search for Visit Seattle on Facebook

Visit Seattle - a little white boat on a big grey ocean.

London Delivery: the long way home

Beautiful image above courtesy of Shaun Roster shaunroster.com

Last week, it’s took me 4 days and 7 different modes of transport to get myself home. To be fair, it was 287 miles (as the crow flies). I did also get to take in the Isles of Scilly, various stations, Gosport and Old father Thames along the way.

Monday: St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, to Gosport via Lands end, Exeter, Salisbury & Portsmouth. 

Small plane. Massive excitement.
Small plane. Massive excitement.

A pretty exciting beginning to this trip. After a weekend in the Isles of Scilly, I crammed myself into a tiny plane along with 4 other tourists to get back to the mainline. Although only 11 minutes long, the flight was very exciting: you could see through the front of the plane and I was chuffed to fly over the FastNet yacht race too. Only catch was realising that Cornwall is actually really rather far away.

I’d naively assumed that south coast of the UK, everything is really close to each other. There’s a reason I didn’t continue geography past 14.
Turns out Gosport is a long way from Lands End.

With our flight landing at 2pm, there was no way I was goin to get to Hosport for the 5pm delivery arrival time. And rightly so, there was no way my boyfriend should have to make a 3 hour diversion to take me there. Cue a long train journey from Exeter to Porstmouth via salisbury. The result was a somewhat later arrival into Gosport culminating in the galley seats as a bunk for me as all the proper bunks were full. Cue hot bunking for the rest of the week.

Tuesday: Gosport to somewhere in the English Channel.
Farewell Gosport my old friend. After 6 months of visiting the place, this may be the last time I see GosVegas.

All 12 yachts set sail at 10am to deliver the boats to London. Settled conditions and some warm-up Mexican waves sailing out of Portsmouth made for some rather pleasant sailing.

Lined up for out mexican wave
Form an orderly que…most of the time

In contrast to level 4, we weren’t racing this week, we were merely “delivering”. This meant a pretty straightforward sail around the south coast, punctuated with some comedy media moments.

Whilst the rest of the crew race the world, I’ll be looking after media on shore (follow us @VisitSeattleRTW). This will become a distinctly off-shore role during Legs 7&8, however, so it was time for Ana (our crew media champion) and I to get some practice in with the shiny new cameras we have to record the race.

A very camera shy crew meant we media team mostly ended up interviewing ourselves. Despite this, we got some great little interviews. Saturday Kitchen Live is also going to be given a run for their money with “The Sunshine cafe with Mia & Leo”, created whilst on mother duty cooking pasta. This was followed by Sail Storytime with Karri. Think we were all perhaps a little over-tired.

Wednesday: somewhere in English Channel to Margate.
Day 3 brought a lot of time on engine and a lot of time at anchor. After sailing through the night, we arrived outside Margate where we anchored for to wait for the other yachts to arrive.

This gave us all some time to use. Cue lots of rope work, prepping new ropes to be rigged etc. Having hot bunked, I seemed to miss a fair chunk of this having not been woken up in my port side stealth-bunk. I did make myself useful though by cracking out the media kit and buffing up on interview techniques. Ana and I even got a crew blog done. Wonderful.

Thursday: Margate to Buckinghamshire via St Katherine’s docks, London.
A long, slow, engine-tastic day but what a place to sail into!
More media action was had on this day as we motored up the Thames in convoy, a beautiful procession of Clipper yachts. As we approached the city, we were informed that the crew had to all be matching. Frantic kit finding began as we all searched for matching items. Matching kit also meant the perfect excuse for crew hairstyles and crew facepaints done with style by Emily. This was enhanced further by diamantes for team media (critical piece of sailing kit).

Just a casual one of us by the O2


When we finally entered St Katherine’s docks, it all became rather real. All of the yachts lined up in their finery, ready for the open week to come. Alas, it was only half an hour on deck before I had to scoot off for the final part of my journey: the train back to MK. My boyfriend was delighted to find me in the same clothes I had last seen him in, but all in all, a cracking way to get home.

It was great to get the chance to sail our boat into London with more of the mighty Visit Seattle crew. The next time I sail on CV23 (our yacht) now will be in April. It’ll be an even longer journey home then: 12,000 miles from Seattle rather than 287 from the Scillys.

This just got real

Today, I’ve been in London seeing friends around what I’m now calling “Clipperland”.

St Katherine’s docks is awash with Clipper signs, carnival dancers and tourists and this is all now getting rather real.

Arriving into London on Thursday night I think made most of us on Visit Seattle realise that our adventure is imminent. It’s not just walking past posters anymore. It’s not just the interview, the training or the preparation anymore. Standing on a 70ft Yacht in St Katherine’s Docks, Clipper flags all around; that’s when I realised that this is it. I’m actually a crew member on a yacht that is going to sail around the world.

All around the docks are signs providing information on each of the teams. You can’t really see it, but MY NAME is on THAT SIGN by that TINY/MASSIVE YACHT! (depending on how you look at it) !

My name on an official Clipper sign! Oh Yeah!

9 months ago, the thought of signing up for this hadn’t even entered my mind.

How did I end up doing this again?!

Its not just about the posters anymore . But they are still pretty exciting…

Level 4: Dance if you want to go faster

It had been a couple of months since my Level 3 course, so it was with excitement and nerves that I approached the final level of training before the race. Level 4 was going to be about staying at sea for a week and racing. The last time I was out for a while on the boat was Level 2: an adventure, but I came back somewhat lighter due to sea sickness. Would I get sick again? How bad was I going to smell? And more importantly, how was I supposed to sail let alone race the boat?!

This week was the last Level 4 training course and the first time that all 12 Clipper Yachts were out racing. We were a select group on Team Huw: just a casual 11 crew. Turns out that’s the perfect number for a very fun week!

Being super-keen, Emily & I arrived at 7am on the first day. There was much excitement getting our shiny new red waterproofs and it was great seeing so many people from previous courses in the que all ready for the final week of training. No more practice kit for us. We were proper Clipper Crew now – allowed to wear red.

Rocking the red foulies

The first couple of days involved getting into the watch systems, a race start and sea sickness. We were split into 2 watches, each watch on deck for 4 hours then asleep for 4 hours. Our skipper Huw was not so lucky. Just as it will be in the race, Huw was the only pro sailor on board on this course. This meant he he had to catch sleep when he could, face-planted on a giant beanbag below decks when not having to deal with us lot. In the meantime, my watch (the mighty Starboard watch) became a mostly nocturnal crew.

The mighty starboard watch working hard. Selfies don't take themselves.
The mighty starboard watch working hard. Watch selfies don’t take themselves you know!

8pm – midnight was our favourite shift. 4am – 8am not so much. Upsides of this were cracking sunsets, sunrises and one glorious night where we could see the milky way, shooting stars, phosphorescent algae AND dolphins all in the space of half an hour. We would then have to wake up the Port watch for their night shift. I have never had to wake up so many sound-asleep people before as I did in this week. Quite a lot of shaking was required. I felt really bad.

Our 12noon – 4pm shift mostly involved dancing, speaking in stupid accents and occasionally playing with face paints as we always seemed to be in the French Doldrums on our watch. No wind, no sailing.
Things got a little more exciting when we went off-watch at midnight one night as the wind was rising. As Port watch came on deck, the conditions deteriorated, meaning those of us below decks got very little sleep for the next 4 hours as we worried what was going on above. Cue the vang getting broken but the whole crew now appreciating that you can’t pull the boat out of the water using it, however hard you try.

Flaking a sail – we did occassionally do something in the day!

Unlike Levels 2 & 3, I actually did a mother-watch this week. Somehow, I’d managed to escape it until now! Amancio, our crew victualler, had prepared an excellent menu: I ate better during this course than I do normally! Luckily for me, the boat wasn’t at a 45 degree angle whilst I was trying to cook nor was I feeling sea sick. The first couple of days were pretty rough so most of the crew were ill.

One of the best parts of the week was racing alongside 12 other boats after a “Le Mans” start. This is when all the boats line up side by side at sea, the crews staying at the back of their boats. When he start gun goes, everyone runs forward to raise sails and pick up speed before the other boats do. Has to be said we weren’t the best at this. The adrenaline was high, the enthusiasm was high – it was just a shame we didn’t really know what we were doing…

Life at 45 degrees
RACE RACE RACE!

It was a real learning experience this week as we were mostly left to ourselves to sail the boat as Huw sorted out the rest of the fleet below decks as the “lead skipper” (I like to think we were trusted to do so). This didn’t make for a particularly impressive race performance, but we did manage to adapt to the conditions and probably had way more fun than the winning boat. Everything in moderation right?

The whole crew sleeping in moderation. We had this skill sorted.

After spending most of the week racing or at anchor at night, our final day was spent on “skills and drills”. Much hilarity ensued as Emily & Karri were launched off in the dinghy in search of the ice cream boat (alas it was broken), we transferred miscellaneous food items to other boats, had a casual trip up the mast and challenged another crew to a on-water dance off. Cue most of Team Huw (now known as Visit Seattle) lining up on the side of the boat dancing to Taylor Swift “Shake it Off” with a pre-rehearsed routine. Oh yes. A strong performance.
Leo has made a brilliant video capturing the week including some of this fine dancing:

After a 2 month long gap between courses, it’s now only just under a week before I’ll be back on CV23 to sail from Gosport into St Katherine’s docks, London. This will be a different experience again as we’ll have double the number of people. After that, it’s the final week before Team Visit Seattle sail off to start the race. In a way, I almost don’t want the race to start: it’s been so fun getting to know everyone on the crew, and with a large chunk of them off sailing, it’s not going to be quite the same back here in the lovely England. No more sailing here for a while: it’s back to the computer screen to track the crews and back to rowing to get my boating fix.