‘Fun in the sun’
The theory bit…
My level 3 training started with 5 days of classroom theory. I must admit to not really looking forward to this bit as I’d heard it was a bit of a hard slog and I wasn’t too keen on spending 5 days indoors, however it turned out to be quite enjoyable. It was the first time I’ve really had to apply my brain in years and I found it quite stimulating – is that sad? The whole 5 days were a bit like being at University again; learning theory in the day with a lecturer, chatting with your mates trying to work out if you’ve understood it all, escaping outside to sit in the sun at break time then spending the evening with friends chatting over dinner and a few drinks whilst trying to do your homework. I couldn’t have asked for more really, and to top it all off, I passed my Day Skipper Theory exam at the end of it. I was also lucky enough to meet up with Barry and Pete who I had done level 1 with. They had both flown in for the 10 days training and not only were we together in the classroom but we were also on the same training boat. It was so great to see them again, we spent a bit of time reminiscing about level 1 and sharing a few in jokes from that week.
Also attending the same theory course was Jussie. Jussie worked harder that anyone else during the training and if anyone deserved to pass it was her. Jussie has had a double lung transplant and is doing the race as part of a transplant tag team. I would be privileged to be on the same boat as her. She has a real zest for life, optimism, energy, determination and strength; she sees every day as a gift and really embodies ‘seize the day’. Jussie has had some of the most intense experiences in life that anyone could have, and, she has come out of them a fighter and a winner. Her strength of character, determination and optimism are a real inspiration to me. I hope I can embody some of that on the race, especially when I am cold, wet, tired and miserable. Her transplant has, in part, made her the person she is today and has certainly enhanced her outlook on life. She very much believes that life is for living, that every day is a gift and that life should be lived to the full. I have never met anyone so positive, strong and inspirational. I like to think that I grab opportunities with both hands and that my outlook is ‘glass half full’ but I think spending more time with Jussie would really open my eyes to just how important life is and how much we can make of it if we want to. I think she would cause me, in a good way, to question some priorities and values in life and to re-evaluate some things that I currently take for granted. I know she has learnt from the hardships in her life and I, selfishly, would like a bit of that, without having to go through what Jussie has in order to learn the lessons. She is an inspirational role model and an amazing person. Take a peak at her websites if you’d like to know a bit more.
Level 3 Practical…
So, theory over, it was off to the boat to meet the rest of the crew, skipper and first mate for the next 5 days at sea.
I guess this is the closest we will get during training to replicating the experience of old crew leaving and new crew joining. Those of us who went onto do the practical straight after the theory very quickly got to know our new crew and became ‘one team’. It was lovely to meet up with Lexi again (also, another Level 1 crew mate). Meeting new crew is one of the bits I am most looking forward to on the race. I suspect after 5 weeks with the same people, we will be desperate for fresh ideas, new conversations, better jokes, renewed enthusiasm and energy and a whole new dynamic, especially for us round the worlders who will need ‘new blood’ to stop us killing each other or becoming institutionalised!
The main purpose of level 3 was to allow us to experience a realistic watch pattern, so we set sail from Gosport for 5 days of 24 hour sailing – well, when I say sailing… there was a little bit of motoring involved because with the gloriously sunny calm weather came light or no wind for some of the time!
I was apprehensive about sleeping for only 3 or 4 hours at a time (I’m an 8 hours a night kind of girl!), especially as once you’ve faffed about a bit at either end 3 or 4 hours turns into only 2 or 3 hours. Then there’s also the experience of eating meals out of sync eg. getting out of your bunk and instead eating breakfast, having dinner or having lunch then going straight to bed! The first 24 hours were mainly a waking affair for me. When I was meant to be off watch I would lie in my bunk listening to the sea passing the hull right next to my head, the on watch doing aerobics on deck, changing sails or tacking. All the while thinking to myself ‘must sleep, must sleep, must sleep’ (not productive as I’m sure those of you who have tried this will kow!) However, 24 hours and one tired person later, as my head hit my [borrowed from Emirate airlines, just the perfect size for my bunk and super comfy!] pillow, sleep became less of an issue and I appeared to have got the hang of it – it may have been the earplugs that helped and doing a bit of yoga breathing but whatever it was my body just seemed to adapt to both the sleeping and the eating, and, for the first time at sea, I actually put on weight – may have been the numerous biscuits I ate through the night watches!
Getting into a watch system also shed a bit of light on ‘how on earth can you have 18 people in such a small space?’ as although 68 foot is quite big for a boat, by the time you add a living area, kitchen, nav station, 2 toilets, rope locker and various storage spaces it doesn’t leave much room for people and bunks. There were even times on board when it was hard to know that there was another watch on the boat. Changeover can often be in a bit of a haze, either because it’s dark or you are half asleep, so there were occasions when I don’t think I actually spoke to more than 1 or 2 of the other watch as we swapped over, and once in your bunk you kind of forget that there are others around you. That is, until a sail change happens! Sails on the Clipper boats are huge and very heavy, they are all stored on the floor in the ghetto [a nice name for our sleeping area!] right next to the off watch’s sleeping heads! It is a ninja mission for 4 people, to retrieve the appropriate sail, which may well be under 2 or 3 other, large, heavy sails and haul it out of the ghetto, round a couple of corners, through a sea door and up on deck without waking anyone, then, reverse the whole process with the sail that is on deck which they have just taken down.
I was looking forward to the conversations through the night watches – there is something about the ‘wee small hours’ which changes the level of conversation among people. During many camping holidays and mountaineering trips I have really enjoyed the conversations between friends once the sun has set and the stars have come out. This weeks sailing was no exception and I’m sure the race will bring more of the same. We spent the night watch under the most amazing clear skys peppered with millions of stars [Did you know here are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on the earth?]. When all was calm and we had no sail changes or tacking to do we sat in the newly named Jacuzzi (snake pit) drinking champagne (tea) and swapping stories. I was able to introduce my giraffe facts and Lloyd brought the alphabet game to the Jacuzzi party – you name a country then the next person has to name a country which starts with the same letter that the first country ended in, sounds very simple but it’s quite remarkable how many countries end in ‘A’ – I think I may need to work on my geographical knowledge as well as my giraffe facts before the start of the race! Our night watches also passed quickly as we were lucky enough to have both the sunrise and sunset watch – I’ve never seen the sunrise over the sea before and given our clear and calm weather the sunrises were spectacular.
I’m under no illusion that the weather we experienced this week is unlikely to be in any way representative of the majority of the race but, it was lovely to have 10 days ‘Fun in the sun.’