Why I stayed on the boat for 5 months

In follow up to my other post about getting off the boat, I figured on balance I should also indicate why I decided to stay on (when other ’round the world’ crew on all boats had already been getting off sooner):

Euphoric Recall

There is a phrase that’s apparently often used in the AA, that also seems relevant to giving birth.  Euphoric Recall is effectively when your mind forgets all the bad times related to something, and then over exaggerates the positives.

As a result, within a few hours of arriving to our next port (which was generally when the waters would be calm significantly around the coasts, and we were about to be back on land), no matter how much time I’d spent whilst sailing, thinking about leaving the race, when you see land for the first time again in weeks, you can be so incredibly happy to be there, you learn to forget how tough it was getting there.  It was as if I could recall the thought process that I wanted to leave, but couldn’t connect to any of the emotions connected with it, so those thoughts didn’t seem real.

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Determination

I’d set myself a challenge, to sail around the world.

I knew it would be a challenge, I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  I didn’t appreciate how hard it would be (no-one really did), but I wasn’t going to just give up. It’s not something I’d done in the past, and didn’t plan to start now.  Stopping this race early, would possibly be the first time I’d ever quit anything unfinished.

However, Australia was the half way point.  The total ’round the world’ race had 8 ‘legs’.  Sailing around Australia would be going to the end of the fourth leg.  It was also closer to NZ than starting to sail ‘back again’ to the UK.

I knew that I would have covered most of the main sailing conditions by that time (80 foot swells, 120mph winds, heat, doldrums, storms, etc.).

I was still expecting to carry on all the way, despite my regular thought processes to the opposite under many of the sailing conditions.

My family had also gone out of their way to help me (when I nearly flew back from Rio to resolve the issues with my previous hotel’s new managers, and leave the race), so I was now doing this for them too, not just for me.

The people

Despite the very small number of exceptions, the vast majority of the people on board were really incredible people.

The Clipper Race attracted successful people from around the world, many of whom were leaders in their respective industries (you generally have to be pretty successful to afford the initial costs, as well as the time off work to complete the relevant parts of the challenge).

I would have conversations throughout the day and night about all manner of things.  We were that ‘close’ (in the physical sense of the word) that surface topics were often omitted, and most of the conversations were deep and meaningful.  I’ve always enjoyed finding out about people, what makes them who they are, what experiences have led them to this moment.

I watched real experts doing so many things, such as our on board MacGyver (Ship’s Engineer) who could fashion together virtually any repair from the numerous items and tools he had to hand, rethinking challenges and finding other solutions.  We had multiple crew conversant in countless languages. We had doctors, paramedics, nurses, IT programmers, property developers, marketing geniuses, health & safety experts, coaches, public servants, you name it!

There was always something to learn from someone on board.

The knowledge and experience

Obviously I’m not talking about the London Hackney Carriage taxi licence training, but the actual sailing knowledge gained as a direct result (and only a real direct result) of sailing.

Some more random things became common, like learning it is okay to wash up everything in fresh cold sea water (hot or even fresh water is too much of a luxury, and washing up liquid often wasn’t used).

Similarly leaning how to shower once every 8 days, in about 3 litres of tepid water if you’re lucky (and use only baby wipes the rest of the time).

How to balance yourself over a loo, while the boat is at 30 degrees, tipping up to 20 degrees randomly in any other direction at the same time (it’s like being in a portaloo with a canvass door, on the back of a truck, whilst the truck is driving over a muddy hilly festival site).

Making fresh bread every day, and for the latter part of the race particularly, eating pretty well too.

The scenery

Pretty much 5 hours out of port, all you can see is water for most of the journey.  You’re surrounded by water.  Your world is a 70 foot racing yacht, with a physical awareness a little beyond that with the waves about to hit you from the various angles.

Your visual reference does go beyond the surrounding waves, to the cloud formations (weirdly, because of the lack of rain caused by ground features, it doesn’t really rain all that much, although you do need to keep an eye out for sudden storms on the radar!)

But as the watch pattern is a 24/7 switching of shifts, every two days, you will see at least one sunrise and at least one sunset.  There aren’t many times of my life I’ve been that closely linked to watching them each day.

Luminescent plankton though, is incredible.  Watching the water light up from the movement of your boat, and even better, watching torpedoes of light, darting through the water on either side of the boat, on a starlit night, while the dolphins once again swim with us for 10 minutes or so.

Switching off from the rest of the world

There’s no TV on board, no internet, not really telephones (apart from emergency satellite phones).  Email was a new luxury at £1.50 per plain text email to send or to receive.

We generally had no idea what was going on with the rest of the world in terms of politics, TV shows, celebrities, etc.  Occasionally news would filter through from people’s private email, but in general, all we really knew about was what was happening on our small boat, what the weather may be doing around our planned route, and where the other boats were in relation to us.  That was our world.

I’d gone from managing 5 businesses side-by-side, including a luxury boutique hotel for 3 years immediately prior to the race.  My average working weeks were no less than 100 hours a week.  Getting on the boat did mean my hours on call were still about the same, but I was no effectively on a sabbatical from my previous work.  My plan was to ‘retire’ by this point, but it was certainly a weird way to start my retirement.

However, I did quite quickly realise, working that hard for that long, I’m not going to retire.  I was taking a sabbatical of sorts, but weirdly couldn’t wait to get back to doing other things, developing new ideas, and getting various things done.

In summary.

There were many incredible experiences on board.  It was certainly memorable, and I doubt I’ll ever forget so much of what I learned and what was ingrained into me from constant repetition.

Even though I made the decision to get off in Australia, and not get back on again, it was amazing,

Why I only sailed half way around the world

Many of my friends were aware that I’d signed up to sail around the world with Clipper Ventures Plc.  However, after around 20,000 miles, and around 5 months on the water in a stripped out 70 foot racing yacht, I decided to leave the yacht in Brisbane, Australia (effectively half way through the ‘race’).

My reasons were many, although those who knew my experiences whilst on the boat questioned more why I stayed on as long as I did!

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My existing Visa for New Zealand.

In March 2013, I was granted a rare 12 month unlimited ‘working holiday’ visa for NZ.  This effectively meant, that I had 12 months from the date of arrival (which I had to arrive by 15th March 2014), to live, work, and holiday in New Zealand.  I wouldn’t need to have a sponsored employer, I didn’t need to work Mon-Fri 9-5, I could effectively do what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it, and all very legally.  This was age capped at 35 years old, so as it was issued 2 weeks before my 36th birthday, there was no way I could get this type of visa again.

In April 2014, I heard about Clipper, and was intending to sign up for 3 ‘legs’ which would enable me to finish at the hotel, have some time to re-arrange things, do some sailing, and then arrive in NZ before my visa redemption period expired.

I was sold on the Round the World experience, and with the race starting literally the Sunday after my hotel lease expired on the Saturday, it seemed too good to miss.  I thought I wouldn’t get the chance to sail around the world like this again, and I’d be disappointed not to sign up all the way, so figured I’d re-apply for a more regular work visa for NZ after my return.

However, I realised while sailing, NZ was more important to me with a freedom visa, than having to apply for a full time job with someone else remotely, etc.

My long term dream had been to get back to NZ.  I didn’t want to miss out.

The cost – it was cheaper to get off the boat

I had already paid £43,100 for the journey (regardless of if I completed the experience or not), plus £2,100 for the compulsory insurance, plus extra staff to cover my shifts while doing the 22 days of intensive training prior to the race, plus new clothing and sailing kit required in addition, etc.

Whilst sailing, even though we officially had food on the boat even while in port, this didn’t happen in reality.  Things also wear out, new things were purchased to make the journey a little more comfortable, etc.

So on average, I was spending around £300-£400 per stopover, even while still living on the boat to reduce my costs.  Getting off half way around, would mean missing out on about another 10 stopovers, so likely another £4,000 saving by getting off.

While I was sailing, I was still managing some existing businesses and property rentals in the UK.  By getting off at the beginning of January, and returning to the UK for a few weeks, would enable me to carry out some of the work I’d otherwise pay other people to do, thereby earning/saving myself about £4,000 more than I would if I stayed on the boat, plus I could still get to NZ.

While I was on the boat, I was ripped off my the new managers of the hotel I’d been developing for the past 3 years.

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Six weeks into the journey, I received an email from my previous landlords (the first one sent to me since leaving), confirming that despite leaving contact details of traders I was happy to pay for, to paint the outside of the hotel, I’d need to pay £14,000 in additional repairs to the hotel (including for things like broken floor tiles that were broken before I moved in, etc..).

I very nearly flew back from Rio, Brazil, to resolve this.  Thankfully, my immediate family stepped in, and reduced the costs of the actual ‘repairs’ to less than £4,000.

Similarly, the new managers of the hotel, who had also agreed in person on the day I left, to buy over £13,500 of second hand equipment in the hotel (such as all the towels and bedding, coffee machines, additional kitchen equipment, etc. at very reasonable rates, along with many things I was giving them for free to help maintain the higher standards and ease of business) then decided to tell me they had changed their mind, and refused to pay even a fair price for it, nor even giving money for renting it all over the last 6 weeks.  Resulting in a final balance of around £5,000 paid, instead of the £13,500 agreed.  This was not on a ‘try before you buy’ option, they’d already tried it all during the free training I’d been providing them with over the previous months.  They had agreed to buy it all.

When my family very kindly went to pick up lots of it up (of the things they refused to buy).  They hadn’t even bothered washing many of the sheets in preparation, as they were still using them up to that day!

Ultimately, I was around £60,000 worse off by getting on the boat with Clipper.

By getting off in Australia, would stop that total getting any higher, and would give me the chance to earn some more money to help offset some of the costs.

I learnt what I wanted to learn, and achieved much of what I wanted to achieve.

Prior to Clipper, I had no experience of sailing, at all.  I’d never even set foot on a sailing boat.

After 20,000 miles, twice across the Atlantic, once across the Southern Ocean, and three times across the Bass Straight (north of Tasmania), in up to 80 knots winds gusting 120 knots, in up to 80 foot swells.. I felt like I’d effectively experienced what I wanted to experience.  Carrying on for 6 more months would pretty much just be more of the same, sometimes colder, perhaps with bigger waves, but nothing exactly new.

I’d already signed up for additional responsibilities on board, so was now the sail repairer (responsible for sail repairs if needed, and various restitching/whipping of ropes and anti-friction sheaths, although thankfully due to a great skipper, we didn’t need to make any significant repairs to the sails throughout my time on board), the media manager (responsible for sending back a daily text blog, daily photo, and weekly edited video), and from leg 4, head victualler too (responsible for the planning, purchasing, distribution, and meals for all the crew on board within a budget of just £3.50 per day per person). I was also one of the key helms again (particularly in the first races, and then during the latter part of the race after some time away mid-legs) so when the conditions were more tough, or the race physically closer, I was one of the crew assigned to steer it through.

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Also, as one of the taller, generally fitter, stronger crew members (even at a reduced fitness through the seasickness), I was also up at the mast a lot, expected on the main winches and grinders during higher race conditions (i.e. race starts), involved in moving the sails around more often than some of the other crew, etc.

If something needed doing, this was a race, so I would focus on trying to be the first to help as soon as a request was made (which was the opposite to some other’s thoughts I discovered, who’s thoughts seemed more along the lines of ‘has anyone else got there yet, if not, I’ll go’).

I wasn’t an expert, and certainly wouldn’t be better than many of the other crew with their previous sailing experience, no matter how much more I did on board. But my skipper did very kindly hold me in high regard of his crew.  I was always ready to listen, did whatever I could to improve, and worked hard wherever possible.

My learning curve had been steep.

However, I realised that doing this for the rest of the circumnavigation (round the world, rather than just half way around the world), wasn’t really going to teach me significantly more than I’d already experienced.  Yes, I could certainly be better at sail trimming, more experienced on the helm, etc.  But how would this help me longer term?  Would it really make that much difference to my life?

My learning curve had been steep to start, but was now levelling out.  Doubling my time on board would not double my performance.

My health would also be worse, financially I’d be worse off too, I also wouldn’t have been following my very long term dream of getting to NZ.  But I would have been able to say ‘I sailed all the way round the world’.

Just to be able to say that, wasn’t enough for me to carry on.

I was still getting sea sick after 5 months

Prior to signing up to sail around the world, I’d never been on sailing boat before.  In the past, I’d had no problems with motion sickness in cars, coaches, planes, or ferries.  But, for most of the journey around to the other side of the world, I’d be at varying levels of sea sickness while sailing with Clipper.

This wasn’t helped by cross contamination of my food with my intolerances, the efforts of particular crew members to bring me down, etc.  But even with all this going on, I still only missed 2 hours of one of my watch patterns throughout the races, coming out of Albany, Western Australia.  And also needed to take 90 minutes below deck whilst suffering from cold shock during the early race start coming out of Brest in France.

Many people apparently get through sea sickness in 24 hours.  Occasionally it can take 48 hours.  In rare occasions is can take up to 2 weeks on the water.  In exceptional cases it can take 3 months.  However, I am apparently one of those very few unlucky people who just never quite got my sea legs.

50% of my time on board, I felt at less than 50% of my land fitness.  Even at the best times (apart from the rare doldrums of absolute calm for 2 days), I wouldn’t get much above 75% of my land fitness.

Fortunately I didn’t experience the thought of preferring to die than stay on the boat (as I did during my training in the English Channel), but I would throw up pretty often.

Through extensive practise, I learnt various triggers that pushed me over the edge of sickness to non-‘recovery’ (where I’d need at least 2 sleep cycles to get back above 35% again), so things like trying to avoid the navigation station / media computers for more than 20 minutes in rough conditions, no more than 2 minutes in the sail locker much of the race, not putting my head directly down in the bilges for more than 15 seconds, etc.

Things like getting my back and head ‘horizontal’ (or at least parallel to the deck) helped stop the downward spiral of sickness.  Trying to fix on the horizon, as with being on the helm in most conditions, etc.

However, with regular cross contamination of my food (I’m intolerant to meat, fish, eggs, and poultry, which tend to make me ill for 2-5 days if I have food that contains those ingredients), at some stages of the race, I would also have to miss at least 2 main meals every 3 days because they’d forgotten again to make my vegetarian option, and there was then no time or space for me to be able to make it myself.

I lost 7kg in the first 2 months of sailing.  There was also one particular crew member who’s focus was to make my life on board as hard as possible.

Similarly, there was another crew member, who was the epitome of greed and selfishness in so many ways.  Her idea of a good conversation was taking you to the side, to tell you how she’d heard someone say something to someone else two weeks earlier, and how this should make you feel bad.

I eventually had enough of always hearing her negativity, that I set myself a challenge, to only ask her ‘how she was’ next, after she asked me about about how I was doing first, this didn’t happen, so I expanded it to hearing her asking someone else too (it was a small boat so you could generally hear everything anyway).. after this didn’t happen for a while, I expanded my rules again, to ask her when I heard her say anything positive about anyone at all (which I already knew she hadn’t done since my target started)!  I wasn’t closed off to speaking with her, and would still have a conversation of sorts.  But even with all these options, it took her 10 days to say anything that wasn’t self-serving.

There was also a campaign of hatred against me from one of the other crew

As I discovered in Sydney, after discussing my planned exit with one of the main crew, I was informed that one person in particular who’d been making my interactions with her very challenging at the best of times, hadn’t just been making my life hell directly (including the snide comments she’d make about me to others when she knew I could hear, etc.), but she had apparently been “spearheading a vendetta against me”, since before the race had even started.

This older women in her 50’s, had such low self-esteem that she deny any wrong-doing in absolutely anything she did (no matter how obvious it was that it was her sole responsibility).  She’d do everything she could to position herself as the Queen Bee, mainly by bringing down those around her who may have been higher (regardless of their experience or appropriate status on board, because she instinctively knew better apparently).  By standing on the necks of those who’d caress her ego, positioning themselves beneath her.

She was a very strong presence, someone you didn’t want to cross or get towards the wrong side of, overly vocal, and with a bark that would echo throughout the yacht day and night.

Fortunately, she did eventually ease her presence progressively as the races progressed, and when in port, she mixed with the other crew less and less.  But she didn’t really let up with me.

Apparently, during the race preparation weeks, because of what I’d been fortunate to work towards and achieve in my life so far, she’d taken it upon herself to pronounce me as a liar and a two-faced fraud.  I had been working towards my ‘early retirement at around 35’ for some 18 years. Averaging 100-120 hours a week for many of those years.  Being very careful with my money, investing frugally, gaining as many skills and experiences as I could to get myself to NZ, etc. so I had been very busy.  I’d also made a decision not to have kids, not watch much TV, and had not been in a significant relationships for much of that time, thus giving me more time in each day.

However, according to her, there was no way one person could possibly have done even some of what I’d achieved in my life at my age (I’m not wealthy, but I can now support myself financially at this stage of my life if I live carefully, so effectively I considered myself semi-retired).

As a result, anything I did to try and help someone, was me being two-faced.
So using the stills or video camera for my work as media manager, meant that I was being lazy when there were other things to do (i.e. when conditions were worse, even if three people were sat still watching, if I was trying to take pictures of other people working, this was wrong, and I should be the one pulling the sail instead, which I would have been doing 5 seconds later anyway).

She physically gained energy and joy from making me feel like absolute crap.  Every day she’d use a new technique, and every day she wouldn’t give up until she broke through. I watched from outside myself on one occasion, when I feeling unusually stronger that day, that she began her onslaught of insults, jibes, remarks and undoings.  I blocked them for quite a while but she was relentless, and carried on attacking by whatever means she felt the most cutting, until she broke me.  Once this was finally achieved, I actually watched her jiggle with excitement that she’d won once again.

As head victualler for the first two months of the trip, she had decided that my egg free vegetarian diet (actual food intolerance) was an inconvenience, and was too much to cater for.  She also stated repeatedly that she couldn’t be bothered in using the correct chopping boards for meat, fish, and vegetarian food, because it was too much trouble (making me repeatedly ill from cross-contamination) and would encourage other crew not to bother either.  It was all just in my mind anyway, as she was an expert in preparing for 20 people daily on a boat, because she’d raised two kids in a house with a family of four.

While sailing, when the repeating thought patterns of whatever she’d just said and done again became too much once again, I’d take to meditating, or doing press-ups any time of the day or night.

Other people assumed that when I was meditating, i was at my most peaceful, but the reverse was true, this was when I was at the most stress, and couldn’t release this without verbalising my negativity which I was very much against doing for crew morale (however, visualising breathing it out whilst meditating was one of the most effective to release this tension without upsetting the other crew).

Similarly, if her energy had caused me greater anger that I couldn’t simply breath out, I would jump to do rapid press-ups instead as a release.  This happened so often (at least daily), that 20 press-ups on a slanted boat, whilst the boat was rocking side to side and front to back, became easy!
Again, the other crew put this down to my attempts at maintaining a higher level of physical fitness, but again, for the most part, it was a way to help release the stress and anger I felt, without vocalising it as poison with the other crew.

I was trapped on a boat with this woman for nearly 5 months. Months on from leaving that boat, just seeing a glimpse of her in a photo without prior warning, I’d find it very difficult not to feel physically sick.

Yes, there were still a lot of unresolved issues with her.

I lost my smile

Despite many of the other crew commenting on my continued smile regardless of the conditions, (one crew member even felt this was another reason I was a liar.. because he didn’t think someone could be that happy for that long), to me I felt incredibly unhappy.

I made very conscious efforts to make the vast majority of all my communications with the other crew as positive, supportive, etc.  And would always try to have a large welcoming smile for any other crew member I’d interact with.

Despite being in my mid 30’s, prior to the race, strangers would consistently age me as in my mid 20’s.  But after a few months on the water, people would guess my age at my mid-30’s.  I’d effectively aged 10 years in just a few months on the water!

What was the shocker for me, was when walking down a back-street in Sydney, and I caught sight of my reflection.

From the late 1990’s, I have a self-development process of only ever seeing the last reflection of myself as a smiling person.  Therefore, whenever I’d see a reflection in a shop window, a mirror in a corridor, etc. I’d ensure that the last visual reference of myself was with a natural smile.

Walking down this street in Sydney, I saw some windows that would clearly have a reflection, so I imagined myself with a big smile spread across my face, as I had done so many times before.  It felt like a smile, and I knew what I was expecting to see.  However, on reaching that window, the face that bounced back at me, wasn’t smiling, but very serious.
I stopped in the street.  I tried harder to think of happier thoughts.  I looked again, nothing had really changed.

It took 2 minutes, to get even a glimmer of a sustained smile in my reflection, with efforts that would have normally resulted in a huge beaming face unable to contain my happiness in its confines.

I knew at that moment, this race had to stop for me.

In summary.

It’s very weird seeing the various updates from the other crew as they continue on their journey towards race finish.

I did have some incredible moments on board, but I’ve also been able to achieve a huge amount since getting off the boat.   There are of course many times I would have liked to have finished the trip, but I am very glad to be off.

Given the chance to change that period of my life, would I have done it again?
No.

Would I recommend other people do it with Clipper?
No.

Do I regret doing it?
I would have regretted not doing it, but I don’t regret doing it.
I am however disappointed with how much money the experience cost me, both directly and indirectly.

I am now in NZ, and I’m trying to make the most from the experiences gained.

I also aim to find some way to make that experience pay me the £60,000 back it cost me (i.e. by working on super yachts, using the experience as part of my book, TV show, etc.)

So watch this space!

Clipper preparations – from excitement to trepidation

A few weeks ago, if you’d asked me who ‘Clipper’ were, I would have said they make cigarette lighters, now it seems there’s been not much else going on in my mind but yacht racing preparations.  I’m already trying to plan menus for the crew, clothing, maintenance, …  and so far, I’ve only set foot on a boat for about 10 minutes whilst down in Gosport getting measured up for the crew clothing (the ‘oil skins’ as they can be known).

In all that time, the overriding emotion has been excitement.  For my family and close friends however, they seem to have been making up the other concerns of fear, nervousness, and trepidation (particularly when watching YouTube clips of 20 meter high waves crashing across the boat like a cork caught in the rapids, which up until today has just been making me even more excited).

Today however, my DVD box set series of the Clipper 11/12 race called ‘Against the Tide 2’ arrived, and I’ve been watching the first three episodes.

I do appreciate that the show is a highlight of the most exciting parts of the race (11 months of the race, across 10 boats, is reduced to just 6 hours of footage in total), so the examples used of a skipper getting a broken nose from a 12 stone pendulum of a crew member flailing around on a single rope just above the deck, doesn’t happen on a daily basis.. however, for the first time, my ongoing excitement has been more normalised into a feeling of “what have I got myself into!?”.

The reality check has been useful though, at least I have now slightly better realised that this will be a massive undertaking.  I look forward to the crew allocation day tomorrow.. meeting a lot of the rest of my crew for the first time!