Image from Clipper Round the World Yacht Race archives
Early evening one cold winters day in June. Freezing rain. Howling wind rattle windows and threatened to take the roof off. A load crack and a branch fell. Decapitating my roses. Six trembling dogs cower at my feet. Angry waves pound away at steep cliffs. The house warm and cosy. A fire merrily crackled in the hearth. Wrapped in a blanket I’m idly flipping through my son’s sailing magazine. Peter was watching Discovery Channel. James was preparing risotto for dinner.
Then I noticed the picture. A thumbnail size photograph of a lone sailor on the rail of a racing yacht. The boat drenched in breaking waves. The short blurb with the picture was an advertisement for crew in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race that would take place in 2007 and 2008.
Since my daughter, Helen’s death five months before, I’ve struggled to make sense of my life. I’ve asked God; ‘why’ too many times. I existed but did not live. Going about the motions of everyday living.
I sat looking at that photograph for a while.
Then I said to James; “I want to do this.”
I showed him the magazine. “I want to sail in this race. It’s me siting there. On that boat in that wild ocean.”
“Okay,” he said, call them. That’s James. I didn’t think he really believed that I would do it.
Two months later Peter, who was sixteen at that time and me, were on a flight to Southampton in the UK. A three-week intensive sail training schedule followed.
The day I stepped on the deck of Black Adder, a sleek sixty-eight foot sailing yacht, I shuddered. This was dumb, I thought. I’ve never sailed before. I’ve never even set foot on a sailing yacht. I don’t know the lingo. I don’t know anything about the ocean.
From a spur-of-the-moment decision on a stormy afternoon in Hermanus, South Africa to this? I’m mad.
I feared heights and I climbed a ninety foot mast. A feather drifts down. My guardian angel, perhaps. From the top the view was amazing. Fear is all in the mind. I’m claustrophobic and slept in a narrow bunk. Sharing cramped space below deck with twelve other souls. I was wet and cold and tired and hungry all the time. My body bruised and unused to such strenuous exercise. We sailed and made mistakes and learned. Twelve hours a day. Some days I was so tired I fell in my bunk and slept. Without taking off wet foul weather gear or brushing my teeth. Thee wasn’t time for fear anymore.
Late one night I sat on the deck. Sea-sick, home-sick. “What if I jump overboard now. I can’t do this.” We were on a training sail to Cornwall. I struggled with steering a straight course. Unlike my friend, Debs, who is a natural-born sailor. Without her encouragement I would have jumped overboard that day. Or threw in the towel and quit. Like a few others did.
That night was the turning point. I dug deep and found courage. I wasn’t going to give up. Or give in to fear and self-doubt. I didn’t give up in my fight with cancer. And I wasn’t about to start now. Giving up means letting down people who believe in you. Letting down yourself and letting go of your dreams.
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is about conquering fear. The acknowledgement that life is an adventure. It’s about being an inspiration for other people. I met so many people who faced similar tragedies. We laughed and talked and sometimes cried.
Life is there for the living.
Why worry about stuff that most of the time never actually happen. Our minds are our worst enemies.
A few months after that Peter and I were in Hawaii. From where we would sail to California, Panama and Jamaica in the Caribbean. Not everyone can afford the time to take eleven months off work or school.
That picture at the beginning of the post. I did get to experience exactly that. But that’s a story for another day.