Meeting my crew

WARNING: This is a bit of an epic blog post for me. I’ve done the magic combo of gruelling exercise + delicious food so my fingers are ON FIRE!

Last Sunday, 500 or so people dressed in bright red jackets descended upon Portsmouth. 500 people all there to find out further details on the race route but most importantly, crew allocation. Who was going to be their skipper? Who was going to be in their crew?

I was just one out of these hundreds (that’s me, the one with the yellow halo. Should have worn a red & white striped hat). The excitement of this day had been building for me for quite a while. I was going to find out out who I’d be sharing a boat with during my legs of the race. I was also hopeful we’d find out the final ports planned for the race. This hope wasn’t entirely fulfilled, but I now finally know which crew I’ll be sailing with.

On arriving at Portsmouth Guildhall, it was great to see my Level 1 Crew again. I’d had to que for ages waiting for my photo to be taken only to be told I needed to wait until the end of the day, so it was nice to find a seat waiting for me reserved with my Clipper friends.

Red jackets on, we all sat at the back waiting to find out our crews. Would any of us be put together?

Waiting for it all to kick off in the back row
Waiting for it all to kick off in the back row

We first found out that the start of the race will be from St Katherines Docks in London, and most importantly for me, the finish will also be there! I always hoped that I’d get the chance to sail through Tower Bridge to a finish in London – sailing home near enough – and now it’s confirmed. If you’re reading this, I expect you to be there cheering please and not comment on how I smell after a while at sea.

Once the route had been confirmed (alas not the start ports for Legs 7 & 8), it was then the turn of the 12 skippers to each stand up in turn and read out the names of their crew. This was the really exciting and also really nervous bit.

Each skipper read out one half of their crew before moving onto the next skipper. The result was that those of us from L1 had to wait a pretty long time to find out which crew we were in as very few of us were mentioned in the first half.

Finally, our names were each read out and displayed on the screen. Turns out I’m the only Mia in the race. I’m pretty happy about that. Must be because no small children are allowed in,

I will be racing on Team Huw during the 15-16 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. We don’t know our sponsor yet (hence the name Team Huw) but since my name was read out, I’ve met a great group of people that I’m looking forward to sailing with.

It's real now, I'm on the website!
It’s real now, I’m on the website!

The rest of my L1 crew were spread across different boats, bizarrely, 4 ending up on the same boat!

Once the name-call had finished, we were all ushered off into our team rooms to talk team.

There were 33 of us there from Team Huw – all different nationalities, all different ages. Quite a few of the people there were doing the legs I’m on, so it was nice to meet people I’ll actually be sailing with. Huw then introduced himself and split us into groups so we could plan a) What our crew charter will be  b) How we want to be seen by other boats   c) What we expect from Huw as our Skipper.

It took a little while for us all to gel and get the thoughts going, but by the end we were coming out with some cracking plans. Standout things I’ve taken away from what my group discussed have to be: Boat Motto: “Fast & Fun”, Galley Rule No. 1: “Don’t let crap cooks cook alone” and finally, The Lego theme tune probably won’t go down well as crew song. Sad times.

Having various branded wristbands makes it even more official
Having various branded wristbands makes it even more official

After all that, we went for some drinks together at Gunwharf keys, following the stream of red clipper jackets all wandering that way. I had to leave fairly early to catch a train home, but it was good to start getting to know some of the others a little better. A midnight arrival back home and I was shattered, but crew allocation day totally lived up to my expectations.

A whole new language

This evening, it hit home to me how I’ve begun to learn a whole new language without even realising it. It came to me as I was sharing the dark arts of rowing with newbies at my rowing club.

 

“Start at the finish, then slide up to the catch”

“Bunnyhop for the first quarter of the slide”

“Get the split down but maintain the rate”

“Tap down a bit more to get your blades out before pivoting”

I’ve been rowing since I was a teenager, so all of these terms are deeply embedded in my memory. Its completely obvious what they all mean. Isn’t it?

Today, I was reminded how the rowing lingo I take so much for granted was like a whole new language to the people I was teaching. That it takes time to get your head around it and really understand what the terms refer to – just like it was for me during my first level of training for the race. The difference between rowing and sailing, however, is the SHEER QUANTITY of new terms you have to learn. Take the parts of the boat, for example. I used to think rowing could be a bit complex, but my perspectives have now radically changed!

Not much to learn here
Not much to learn here
Parts of a yacht
Slightly more to learn here

I’m not the most patient of people so I can sometimes find it a bit testing teaching rowing. How our skipper and first mate had the patience to teach 10 of us how to sail a 68ft yacht from scratch I’ll never know!

The upside is that having recently learnt something completely new, I really appreciated today how patience and clear explanations from your instructor make a difference. It completely makes the learning experience (or breaks it – I hope I don’t find out on level 2!).

I’ve now just got to crack on with remembering and surely learning lots of new terms as part of this sailing experience. The top picture is a brain-dump of what I’ve learnt so far from just one week, although I’m pretty sure there is a lot I’ve missed off. My Level 2 training is now just over a week away so I’ll soon be back on board with plenty of time to practice it all again soon.

A tad nervous

I’ve been slightly nervous the last couple of days. Not because of anything major, but all because of one line sent on an email last week: “one place left”.

The email in question was one sent from Clipper HQ letting me know that there was just one place left on Leg 8 – the final leg of the race. I’d expressed an interest but did I still want it? And if I did, I needed to get my revised contract back quickly or it was onto the waiting list with me. Nothing was guaranteed.

The Clipper RTW race is split into 8 legs and around 16 races, allowing people to join at different stages.

I originally only signed up to Leg 7 of the Clipper race as I’d initially resigned myself to one leg for holiday allowance and financial reasons. There was also the thought of crossing the world’s second largest ocean – slightly scary. After attending the interview and crew briefing days, however, I quickly realised that I really wanted to do Leg 8 too. How would I be able to step off the boat after the penultimate leg and fly back to the UK when the boat I had been on was sailing back?

I like to think I’m saving on a return flight, but adding on a extra leg to the race makes it even heftier financial commitment. It seems I’m not the only one that can’t resist doing more than one leg though: at the crew briefing day, not once did I meet someone doing just one leg. Every conversation was about how they were doing multiple legs and how they’d added more on along the way. When we were told at the that the race was nearly full, I had to sign up for the final leg, crazy woman that I am.

Luckily, today it was confirmed that I’d secured that final place on Leg 8. The result? Relief, but probably more nerves on too! The North Atlantic is going to be pretty damn scary, but the return home will make it worth it. I’m hoping we return to London as per last year – sailing under tower bridge after months away would be a brilliant end to this adventure.

What I’m doing and why…

Clipper-race In April 2016, for 3 months, I’ll be competing in “one of the planet’s toughest endurance challenges”: the 15/16 Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. As part of a crew, I’ll be racing 11 other yachts, sailing 9,000 miles on the penultimate and final legs of the race (Legs 7 & 8) from the West Coast of America to the UK, taking in the Panama canal, East Coast USA, the north Atlantic and Europe along the way.

“Why?!”

I’ve always had a slightly masochistic side to me that likes to challenge myself. I’m not talking anything ridiculous – up until now, it’s been all about rowing and hiking up mountains – but then I started passing the Clipper Yacht Race Posters on the tube.

I’ve been walking past these posters for a couple of years now, and every time I saw one, I always thought “I’d love to do that”. For some reason though, I never believed it was something I could do. Then, last November, I walked past another poster and realised the only thing stopping me from applying for this experience was me. What did I have to lose? A month later and I bit the bullet – I applied for an information pack, attended an interview and was accepted onto the race. I’m now at the beginning of a very exciting and very long journey preparing myself for 3 months at sea in 2016. So far, I’ve been on one of the boats, attended the January Crew Briefing and have an amazing “Race Crew” Henri Lloyd jacket (STASH!) which makes thing slightly more real. I’ve now got 4 weeks of training ahead of me in 2015, teaching me how to sail from scratch (I only do boats with oars at the moment) and preparing me for what is probably going to be the most challenging/terrifying experience of my life.