Chasing the Albatross

My adventure in search of a bird by David Lawson



0 Update Monday 29th January

  • by David Lawson
  • 29-01-2018

Well the first part of my sailing adventure has now come to an end and I’ve been released from the ‘Clipper bubble’. I left The Whitsundays on Friday 19th January and after a boat ride and 3 flights I arrived back in the UK on Saturday 20th.

The obvious question is was it hard to leave it all behind and the simple answer for me is no it wasn’t.

My original plan had always been to do two Legs, namely Legs 3 and 4, and I had always been comfortable with that and it was exactly the right way for me to approach my adventure. The second Leg really helped me to consolidate on the experiences of the first Leg and build on these to get the most out of my experience. I always knew that I’d be coming home after the Whitsundays and it has turned out to be the right decision for me.

Whilst I take my hat off to anyone who is doing the whole circumnavigation I know I couldn’t do it. I think it takes a special kind of determination to see out the 11 months the whole trip takes and it doesn’t have that pull for me and to be fair ocean racing is a hard thing to do. It’s very demanding and very tiring and pulls on a lot of reserves both mentally and physically. Plus, and this is a very big plus, my eldest daughter Rebecca will be having her first child in February, my first grandchild, and I have two businesses to run and whilst I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity and the special support of my wife, my family, my friends and my clients I actually want to be home now and get back to my life at home and my work.

I’m lucky in that I have Leg 8 to look forward to in June/July but for now it’s back to the ‘real world’ as Andie would say.

So what now? Well I thought it would be useful to use the practical experience I have gained and the insights I’ve had to continue my blog from the comfort of my armchair with a glass of wine or two to savour whilst I speculate about what is going on on the water for the crew facing the challenge of Leg 5 from The Whitsundays to Sanya and ultimately Quingdao where Leg 5 finishes.

Today the crews have made their final preparations and joined the boats for a taster race just off the coast to determine the start order for the beginning of the next Leg tomorrow. Getting ready to join the boat normally starts a few days ahead of race start day. I would normally take my kit down to the boat over 2 days, just to make the bags more manageable to carry.

The first thing you want to know when getting onto the boat is where you’ll be sleeping, who you’ll be sharing a bunk with and which cubby you can put all your kit in. The bunks are allocated by Clive who acts as Team Coordinator. It’s always good to buy him a pint or two at stopovers!

On my races I was fortunate to have a bunk to myself although from time to time because of illness I did share with others.

On the boat the Skipper has his own bunk for the duration of the whole race. He’s situated on the starboard side at the stern by the navigation station. The Watch Leaders share a bunk on the opposite side to Matt and next to the navigation station. The Coxwains, Trevor and Stian, are just ahead of the Skipper on the starboard side and for the rest of the crew it’s a matter of allocation by Clive.

Sharing a bunk means that you have to roll your sleeping bag up after your sleep ready for your bunk buddy to use. All your kit needs putting away in the cubby allocated to you. You very soon get used to being organised as it’s a real pain having to search around for kit. All my stuff was in dry bags which had been labelled up so I knew what was where. But even with the best of planning some stuff inevitably goes missing. Having said that I only lost one pair of glasses in my 3 months on board. Quite an achievement for me!

The other challenge is inevitably water and some of the cubby lockers do get water in them and your stuff has a little swim. My credit cards went swimming for 2 days on Leg 3 but I did manage to dry them out and they still worked when we arrived in Australia. Result! The only way to deal with this is to have enough dry bags to store kit in and to bail the lockers out regularly. There’s nothing much more that can be done.

So with kit on the boat and with bunks allocated it’s now a matter of working our which Watch you’re on and who your Mother buddy will be. There are 2 Watches (port and starboard)  and this is the team of people you’ll be working with during your on watch. For Leg 3 I was on Starboard Watch and on Leg 4 I was on Port Watch. These are the people you’ll get to know best on the boat because you’ll spend so much time with them. You’ll learn their strengths, their weaknesses, their little foibles, their habits, their likes, their dislikes and what makes then tick.

For anyone interested in human nature then the boat environment is a great source of material. You could easily write a comprehensive PHD paper if you wanted to as there is so much material to observe and gather on the boat. It’s a real microcosm of human life and all of human life is here. It’s fascinating!

Once all these things are done it’s a case of focussing on the race ahead. For the new ‘Leggers’ it’s a case of slotting in, finding your place in the team and finding your rhythm on the boat. For the ‘Worlders’ it’s a case of helping the newbies to settle in and getting your focus back, after the break, for the Leg ahead and another new start. ‘Leggers’ will be nervous and anxious to start with as they focus on trying to remember what to do and how to do it and they’ll be keen to get stuck in.

I remember it well. All the doubts come at once and then once you’re out on the water it suddenly all comes back together and suddenly you’re off and running, well not literally, and your adventure has begun and it’s all ahead of you. Great!

So now as the boats motor towards the Race Start point just beyond the Great Barrier Reef the new team on PSP will be getting to know each other and the gelling process, away from the ‘normal bubble’ of life, will commence as they immerse themselves in their new ‘Clipper bubble’.

Race start will be at 2am UK time, noon in Australia. Whilst it is taking some time to get back into my own rhythm now I’m back home I’m not sure I’ll be setting my alarm clock for 2am. But my thoughts and hopes will be with all aboard PSP and I wish them fair winds and a safe passage for the race ahead…….and of course I really do hope they can achieve a win on the back of their good results over the last few Legs. Time will tell but for now there is no harm in dreaming!

Charitable donations

You may recall that I am using this opportunity to raise some funds for charity. See the following link on who I’m supporting and how to donate:

Thank you for your support.