If I’ve programmed this correctly then this is another blog posts that goes back in time as I travel. Right now, as this is published, I should be at sea. Not, I hasten to add, as a crew member on the UNICEF Clipper yacht, but hopefully as a foot passenger on the Buenos Aires to Calina ferry across the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay. The lead yachts could well be in Punta del Este by now and it will be 6 days before I must “report for duty” and 11 days to my own Race Start. Time to wind the clock back again to THE Race Start and the run up to 1st September.
The Bank Holiday Monday prior to Race Start saw me don my boat-tour-guide rig to show, first Ruth, and then son Alastair, daughter-in-law-law Sarah, brother Paul, and sister-in-law-to-be Janine around the UNICEF yacht alongside in St Katherine’s Dock, London. We had a good crawl around the yacht – in some cases quite literally, and the beautiful day and hot weather only served to point out the lack of air conditioning! For Ruth it was her second look around the inside of a Clipper yacht; she remains unconvinced it constitutes a sensible means of travel, and for Alastair, Sarah, Paul and Janine this was a first. Sadly Ruth had to depart early to meet other commitments back home but the rest of us finished the day with suitable refreshments.
It was also my first opportunity to look around the Clipper Race village at St Katherine’s Dock.
Our Code 3 Spinnaker was also available to “sign” with donations going to the UNICEF UK charity. Ruth and I both signed.
Some of the UNICEF crew were already living onboard the yacht by then, most notably Holly, our sail repair team-leader and a circumnavigator from the West coast of the US and Joe, with whom I will cross the South Atlantic this year and the North Atlantic next year. Joe is doing Legs 1, 2, 7 and 8.
Various other members of the crew were around and between guided tours I helped Joe, Sarah (who I did Level 4 with in July – see Blog 81: Race 2 Day 3 latest ….. 4800 nautical miles still left to race, so let’s wind the clock back a bit, published 18 September) who is doing Leg 4 around Australia, and Thom who is doing Leg 1 of this edition of the Race but has competed in TWO previous editions and has the t-shirts and hats to prove it, empty the sail locker of all the sails so everything below decks could be cleaned for a media event later that afternoon.
The UNICEF yacht also moved berths for this filming..
which also produced this excellent, Ian Wiggin-led guided tour of OUR yacht…..
The Tuesday and Wednesday of that week saw me dashing between London, Harwich and Eccleshall before I was back in London at St Katherine’s Dock again to collect my UNICEF branded kit – a rather smart UNICEF/Musto jacket and a couple of UNICEF Clipper shirts – and join a host of UNICEF crew members for the official naming ceremony of our yacht .
Now I’ve actually only ever been to a couple of ship naming/launch ceremonies previously. One was the naming of a big cruise liner in Southampton when I was the Captain of the city’s adopted name-sake destroyer, and the second was as the Captain Designate of HMS BULWARK as she went down the slipway at Barrow.
What all three ceremonies had in common (apart from years of maritime tradition, strong sense of family and belonging etc etc etc) was ………………. champagne!
The following night (Friday) Ruth and I were back in London for the pre-race party only to then drive back to Eccleshall that same night (getting home at 0500 on Saturday morning) in order to be “on duty” at the annual Eccleshall Show at 0630! On Sunday we were ……… back in London! It was Race Start Day.
The atmosphere was fantastic with thousands of people in St Katherine’s Dock and many more lining the banks of the Thames. All the circumnavigators and the crew completing Leg 1 were already onboard. There were at least a dozen or so other crew members who had come down to London to see our team mates off. It was exciting and emotional and, if I’m being completely honest, made me wish I was doing Leg 1. To my very great surprise, having popped down onto the pontoon and then onboard the yacht to say our farewells, those of us who were fortunate to be present in our UNICEF branded clothing were invited to join the circumnavigators and the Leg 1 crew who were about to sail away from London, in the farewell parade and stage appearance prior to the yachts slipping their lines. A couple of my team mates who had collected their branded kit that very morning just had time to slip away and change. A few more continued to watch from the quay side. I felt honoured and privileged to be taking part. Unfortunately it did mean Ruth was left watching from the quay as once onboard we were not allowed off the yacht until it was time to parade and, as the last yacht programmed to sail, we were the last team to parade.
As is often the way at these times, as a team, we invite each other to share thoughts. More often than not this is done by throwing a knotted rope around. When the rope comes to you, it’s your turn to share your thoughts. Today’s topic, not unnaturally, was “what are you most excited about and what are you most worried about?” Not necessarily in that order. When it came to my turn it was quite easy. I talked about the excitement I felt for my team mates sailing in just a few hours and the enormous unexpected privilege I felt at being able to join in what I had always assumed would be their parade today. When it came to concerns I explained that when I left Ruth on the quay I had told her I was just “popping onboard to say a few quick goodbyes”, but as I had not returned my real concern was that Ruth might be thinking I was about to do Leg 1 after all!
Eventually it became our turn to parade around the various basins that constitute St Katherine’s Dock and then finally up onto the stage to the “our song” – see Blog 85: Here We Go, published 7 October. A quick interview by Ian and then, to much cheering and waving, we made our way back to the boat.
The event was televised and friends watching on BOTH sides of the Atlantic sent us screenshots, the cameraman appearing to take a particular shine to Ruth 😉
This time it really was time for the goodbyes (at least until Punta for me)
and I rejoined Ruth and the other supporters to watch the Fleet proceed out of the Dock and into the Thames.
So, a few other thoughts as I waved them off and was left looking at an empty St Katherine’s Dock? First and foremost it was admiration for my fellow team mates, and all the other Clipperees, departing today. I knew how much more I had yet to organise and sort out in my life before I would be ready to Race and all these people had already achieved that. In particular a huge admiration for those about to spend the next 11 months circumnavigating the globe. I could see the mixture of excitement, anticipation and nervousness in everyone’s demeanour and hear it in their voices and I was excited and nervous for them in turn.
In the final few seconds before UNICEF slipped her lines someone in the crowd turned to me and said, “she looks as if she is straining to go,” and it was true, the yacht did look eager to depart and was pulling at her lines. No sudden gust of wind. No impatient revving of the engine from Ian. No prop wash from departing sister yachts. Although I too had noticed it, that restless movement indicating a desire to depart, I didn’t really give it another thought …………. until that is, I read the skipper’s final pre-sailing message to the UNICEF team when I finally reached home. But a little more about that in my next blog………
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
and for UNICEF UK see:
Please take a look. Thank you.