Upcoming Treks  :  Past Treks  :  Members  :  News  :  Links  :  Home   

Around the World with Catherine Nurrsaw

Aug 7, 2006

And tragically the last time I can legitimately greet you with such salty seadog sayings as "Ahoy" and "Avast", or encourage you to "Shiver me timbers" - not that my timbers are in any need of shivering at the moment, thank you very much.

So yes, I'm back on dry land - home is the sailor, home from the sea and all that kind of thing. For anyone who has not yet caught up with the news on the Clipper website, we arrived back on Saturday 29th July, in 2nd place overall, with WA in first place.

After 6 podium places in 6 races (from the Durban-to-Fremantle race to the Victoria-to-Jamaica race) we had looked in good shape to finish first overall, but it was not to be. Finishing in 8th place in the Atlantic crossing from New York to Jersey, where we were accompanied throughout the race by our very own private wind-hole, put us in an almost impossible position to reclaim the lead.

We got off to a great start on the Jersey-to-Holyhead race, but it became immediately clear that WA had adopted the strategy of shadowing our every move. We tacked, they tacked. We went inshore, they went inshore. We changed sails, they changed sails. A perfectly sensible strategy for them to adopt, given that as long as they finished the race within a point or so of us they would inevitably win the race overall, but somewhat frustrating. So in the end, they finished in 2nd place and we finished in 3rd, meaning that whatever happened in the final race (from Holyhead to Liverpool, which was only for half points) they would finish in first place overall with us in second.

This made the final race less stressful than it might have been otherwise, but also a bit less interesting. After a very minimal deep-clean and a brief rest in Holyhead we set off again up to Liverpool. Actually, the rest of the fleet set off - we were somehow tuned in to the wrong radio channel and were unaware that the race had started. When we heard the gun we thought it was the 10-minute warning, until we noticed that all the other boats were moving in a strangely purposeful manner in one direction. It was lucky that we were actually facing in the right direction at the time and were able to get our sails up fast and join in the race!

Once again we were accompanied by our trusty wind-hole, although on this occasion its effects were felt to some extent by the whole fleet. Much tacking too and fro but really very little forward movement and an awful lot of sails hanging about flapping uselessly. We arrived at the finishing line at the mouth of the Mersey in a rather uninspiring 8th place.

We then had to take part in a distinctly odd "fun race" along the Mersey, for which we suddenly had more wind than we'd had in the last three races put together. None of the skippers had been at all keen on this additional race being tacked on at the end of the whole thing - the ideas of "fun" and "race" having become somewhat oxymoronic by this stage - but Liverpool council insisted and even put up some sort of trophy, so it was agreed that a race of sorts must take place. However, it was also agreed that there were to be no proper rules and that a boat that had not won previously must win this one. Connor - skipper of Cardiff - was insistent that victory should be his, but by dint of some cunning manouevering we were able to allow Glasgow to win.

A fine array of sails were on display, from the Yankee 1 (great big headsail) to a storm gyb (little tiny sail only for use in extremely strong winds - never used by us at all) - but they were primarily for display since, in spite of the wind, almost all of the boats were using their engines. We roared down the Mersey in a bewildering and potentially catastrophic series of tacks, turns and near misses. At one point Durban was significantly in the lead but there was a plaintive radio message from further back in the fleet that we were leaving people behind so we slowed down. In fact, we crossed the finishing line with our engine in reverse to ensure that Glasgow would finish ahead of us in first place.

The sudden unexpectedly strong winds and the fast pace of tacking unfortunately did result in one injury. Someone on New York Clipper, who had previously had a hip replacement, fell and twisted their leg (we were told it was dislocated though I am not sure if this is correct) and had to be evacuated by a lifeboat and taken to hospital - a sad end to the race for that person.

For the rest of us, it was wonderful to be back in England and to see family and friends in the crowds waiting to cheer us home. My parents and some friends had come out on the ferry that dodged in and out of the racing boats, and later on we were all reunited on the docks. Much later on, in fact - first there was a ridiculous amount of unnecessary processing up and down with the boats in different formations in front of the adoring crowds - most of whom had sensibly gone indoors anyway, since the unEnglish hot weather and drought that we'd heard so much about had vanished as soon as we arrived back in England and it was by now pouring with rain.

Anyway, it was fantastic to be reunited with my parents and friends - many, many thanks to those of you who were there - it was just amazing to be met by so many of you! There wasn't much time to chat before the prizegiving (a very low-key affair compared with most of the others), then I was whisked away to dinner with 15 of my friends and family, then off to a crew party to say farewell to the crews from the other boats.

My farewells to the Durban crew were said the next day at a lovely barbeque party out at the Dee Sailing Club - a very relaxed, fun affair during the course of which we auctioned off various items of Durban Clipper memorabilia to raise money for a charity that helps street kids in Durban. The first place pennant for our race from Durban to Fremantle went for an astonishing 375, while even a can of condensed milk brought in about 14! In total, we raised over 1300 from the auction, which will be given to the charity together with any remaining money from our boat fund.

It was very strange and difficult to say goodbye to the people I have been living in such extraordinarily close quarters with for over 11 months. For me, the position in the race wasn't really all that important (though I know most of my crew would disagree strongly!) - sailing round the world was the challenge and ending the race with all of us still talking to each other and - for the most part - very close to each other was a triumph.

For most of the crew that was their final farewell, but I had agreed to help to get the boat back down to Gosport, along with Craig and a few others. We set off on Monday into some fairly rough conditions - the Irish Sea was its normal bouncy self again, after the glassy calm of the final race - and a couple of crew-members rediscovered the joys of sea-sickness. We took shelter the first night in Holyhead, then proceeded in rather better conditions down the coast of Wales (spectacularly beautiful), round Land's End (ditto), and along the Cornish Coast (ditto again). We stopped for another night in Fowey (not far from Plymouth) - a truly lovely place that I am determined to visit for much longer some time.

We were extremely reluctant to leave the next morning, and were trying to come up with excuses why we might be unable to leave - a medical emergency was one suggestion and Anna gamely flung herself down the companionway and sprained her ankle severely. Unfortunately she conmpletely mis-timed this bit of drama as we had already left Fowey and were well on the way to Plymouth to refuel. While the rest of the crew dealt with the refueling I had to get Anna (wheeled along on a luggage trolley up to the dockside) into a taxi and to the local casualty department to get all bandaged up. No lasting damage done, fortunately, and Anna remained impressively cheerful thoughout.

After my last night watch ever (dolphins outlined in phosphorescence - wow!) we finally made our rendezvous with most of the rest of the fleet at the Needles off the Isle of Wight on Friday morning. We then proceeded through Cowes in formation, and so on to Gosport. I was called up on deck to see, to my amazement, my parents and my brother-in-law alongside the boat, racing along in a very fast rib and having a whale of a time!

And that is finally that, folks. I took part in my final deep clean, cleared out my lockers and left the boat that has been home for nearly a year. It's an odd feeling and I'm probably going to need a bit of time to work out exactly how I feel about it. I know that I would not have missed doing this for the world, I know that I wouldn't do it again (well, not exaclty the same thing, anyway...), I know that I loved much of it, hated some of it and was horribly bored by parts of it, and I know that I visited some fantastic places, met some incredible people and have made amazing friendships... for the rest, I don't know.

However, I do know that the promise made at the start of the race by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has not been fulfilled. He stated - quite categorically - that the one thing we could be certain of was that anyone doing this race would come back three inches taller. I am not. I have checked.

Think I can get my money back?

Speaking of money - a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me to do this race. Thanks to you I have raised over 2000 for the MS Society. And if anyone who gets this has not yet sponsored me - it's not too late!

And thank you to all of you who have gamely struggled through all these e-mail reports with me, and have provided such enthusiastic support (or have convincingly faked enthusiasm) throughout the race. Never mind the North Pacific - you guys had it tough!

And so, for the very last time (at least, until I head off on my next adventure...):

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tell us your story:

Members are always invited to send us their personal stories related to travel, trekking and professional achievement. Click here to email the news editor.
  About IP-Trek   :  Legal  :   Credits  :  Contact