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from
ham to helm
and back
BY CATHERINE McKENNA
China… fascinating, mysterious, challenging Michael and I are fully committed and and overwhelmed with overload of mental
and infuriating! I have been here for six enthusiastic members of HPC, it is very much in and physical information that I am trying to
days and whether it is the chronic jet lag the non playing social and supportive aspects of process. The pitch and toss of the yacht in big
induced by my thirty six hour journey from the club. In fact, stepping off the delightful vine waves off shore, the noise of the snapping
Heathrow or the sheer terror at the prospect clad club terrace on a sunny Sunday afternoon of sails alongside groans of ropes reacting
of my immediate future that is responsible and treading in the divots, is about as sporty as to the tension of forty eight tons to the inch
for my slightly dazed demeanour I couldn’t I have ever managed to be. from our ninety foot mast. The harsh reality of
say. The only thing I can be certain of at this continual sail changes being run to get the best
moment is that there is no going back! So after having helped prepare and provision my performance out of our boat and understanding
team’s yacht Nova Scotia, taken part in the race of the physical demands of helping to bring
The date is February 24th 2008, the place is trials in China, attended the team briefi ngs on down a huge sail while clipped on with a safety
Qingdao, home of the Chinese Olympic Sailing weather, tactics and our Skipper’s expectations line to the foredeck in ocean conditions rather
Marina…and the scene around me is chaotic of us as his crew, here I am, with my heart in than in the middle of the Solent is slowly
and surreal! I am standing on the deck of a 68 my mouth now that the time for departure has dawning on me.
foot Dubois designed racing yacht, one of a fi nally arrived. In less than an hour we are about
fl eet of ten identical yachts that are competing to embark upon a Trans-Pacifi c crossing that And if that were not enough, four hours later I
against each other in the Clipper Round The would take us twenty eight days non stop to am woken to do it all again, but this time in the
World Challenge, an ocean going race that reach the beautiful islands of Hawaii. dark of night. As I inch my way along the deck,
circumnavigates the world, and I am about to I feel like I am on a screaming locomotive that
take up my place in this great adventure. And if I had honestly known then what I know is running on its side, with a roaring Niagara
For those of you in Ham Polo Club that know now, I seriously wonder if I would have carried just below my feet. It is fast and furious and I
me a little, you will realise just how unlikely a on! It is also at this point I should reveal that I am frightened beyond belief. But I have a duty
scenario this actually is! While my husband have never actually really sailed before….my to my crew to carry out the responsibilities
entire sailing experience has been a total of that have been designated to me, and a duty
three weeks training with Clipper Adventures… to myself to believe that I am capable of this.
so you can see, my credentials for this It’s a close run thing, but on crawling back to
undertaking are looking pretty interesting! the safety of the cockpit I feel the resulting
euphoria of having risen to a physical challenge
So it is the moment of truth, the yachts are impossible for me to even imagine at one point
casting off one by one, and as we make a in my life, and the incredible satisfaction of the
carefully orchestrated fi nal formation sail knowledge that my fellow crew members take
around the Olympic harbour, we are deafened it for granted that they can trust me to do the
by the fi recrackers, showered with ticker tape, job assigned!
serenaded by dancing girls in traditional
costume brandishing clashing cymbals, cheered So the days and nights settle into a two watch
on by the crowds in their thousands and tracked system of four hours on deck, four hours rest
by helicopters laden with photographers during the day and three hours on/off during
endeavouring to capture spectacular aerial the night. Once a week you become Mother to
photographs of the departing fl eet. In short, the rest of the crew, working through the day to
Qingdao has come out to party and seems to provide breakfast, lunch, supper and everything
view us as the dress rehearsal to the plans laid in between, which believe me is a different
for the upcoming Olympics. The atmosphere kind of hard work! Providing copious amounts
f
t
y
f
i
all around us is electric and the excitement on of food for fourteen hungry sailors is no mean
board our boat in anticipation of the race start feat, we baked our own bread every day, and
is palpable. The radio in our navigation station planned fresh vegetables and fruits to last very
erupts into life and the countdown starts……. carefully. We made up powdered milk, and what
ten seconds later, the crack of the starting pistol we couldn’t do with canned corned beef isn’t
galvanises the entire crew into action stations, worth writing about…. I have eaten some very
my adventure has really begun. interesting variants of cottage pie and spaghetti
Bolognese using this delightful ingredient! All
Three hours later and my watch are able to achieved from a tiny galley with three small gas
leave the deck to get some rest, I am exhausted rings, two small ovens and no hot water.
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