Crossing the North Pacific…

My greatest fear starting this race would be that I would be the one to go overboard, didn’t happen! Whoop whoop! Ok, so my ‘bar’ was low, but this leg was always going to be hard and dangerous. We’ve had broaches, phenomenal storms, freezing cold and hurricanes. We came through them laughing and unbeaten. We didn’t get a winners pennant, which was a disappointment, but the boat and we came through with a few bumps and scrapes but nowt to worry about. That’s a good result innit!

Arriving in QingDao was fun, the port and yacht club couldn’t have been more welcoming and I had a few days with the crew enjoying the city before joining the boat proper-like. Best thing about QingDao was the people who were so keen to engage and ask questions about life in the UK….simple stuff, such as what do you eat? How does your Medicare work? They were helpful and treated us like distinguished visitors. I showed a school of teenagers around the boat who had prepared a series of questions in English to ask me….”so , distinguished visitor to my city….would you prefer to referred to as a sailor or a warrior?!” They were adorable to the point that a short while after they had left one young girl returned with a beautifully calligraphic letter thanking me. It was full of (she said) inspirational quotes to lift my spirits with things got difficult. I’ll treasure that…even if I can’t read the quotes as they’re in Chinese.

So, we left and started sailing, my sailing sis Becca waving goodbye as we left QingDao behind.Arrival ceremony

The sailing wasn’t bad, took a week or so if I’m honest for the training to come back and although it made the journey a bit longer the slow going at the start due to fishing vessels, seaweed snarls and fog meant it gave me a wee bit of time to re-learn and refresh the stuff I’d forgot.

I had an amazing watch team….Nano , from Uruguay was my watch leader and I have learned so much from him, and Maz the queen of the cockpit who has passed her knowledge of how to work ropes and lines to me. Mikey Star has taught me how to repair and stitch sails (which I really enjoy…I know, right!), Neil welcomed me to the boat and showed me what’s what, Mikey shoulder from the West Country, has vastly increased my knowledge of pasties and their history, Lovely Dan, the best sailor and funniest drunk I think I have ever met and last but not least Taff, my lovely welsh fireman who helped me get through the super cold night watches with dexercise (exercising at 45 degrees is tricky) and rock choir. We discovered that we have a rare and seriously debilitating condition…..we can’t sing and only ever know the first line and chorus to every song ever written. It’s a curse but we endured! I’m not sure it was as much fun for the poor buggers that had to listen to us! Sorry guys!

The crew on the other watch were awesome too with a couple of honourable mentions to Kathy, my competitor for mother of the leg award, the kindest person I think I know, and Fretts, my bunk buddy and real life buddy and flat mate in port.

So what have I discovered? I not a natural sailor and I have to work very hard to understand the technical side of sailing. Not a problem and it doesn’t stop me enjoying myself….there is so much expertise on the boat and people are always willing to share . That’s said I still have a fair bit of time on the boat to go, so I have the luxury of time on my side.

I am a little accident prone…..when the boat bumped a wave I poured scalding water out of the kettle onto my leg and now have a battle scar. I’m going to tell people it’s a shark bite as its way more sexy. I also fell or rather, flew, from one side of the saloon to the other….fortunately my head broke my fall as I hit the wet locker. James and Dodge, our medics, wee awesome and the event passed without any drama, but I still have a lumpy head 🤕. Dr Dodges bedside manner is famous….’do you have a pulse? You’ll live!’ Surprisingly reassuring and welcome when you have injuries that you’d think about taking a duvet day for at home. You can’t have duvet days on a 24 hour racing watch system as at some point your bunk buddy will need your bed!

I didn’t get seasick…..that’s a relief!

I like the sea, it’s mesmerising, never still and sailing at night with a black sky and stars brighter than I have ever seen them is just plain overwhelming at times. Couple that with dolphins chasing the boat, covered in glittering phosphorescence, both spooky and cheeky at once. They are clearly curious about the boat and we spent a good hour just eyeballing each other. Just thinking about how truly special that was gets me all teary!

I get teary a lot! I haven’t been sad , a touch homesick at times, but i find the emotions that I have experienced, hourly,daily on this race are intense. This is like some weird social experiment where you put a load of people on s super stressful environment, not unlike being churned in a tumble dryer set to ‘bloody baltic’. My way of coping was to take an hour at a time, a watch at a time, and to try desperately hard not to take anything that annoyed or upset me below deck at the end of my watch. I also cry when I’m happy, and when I see beautiful things like whales and dolphins. I even tried my finding Nemo Dory whale voice……pretty unsuccessfully tbh!

Cold is not for me. I have NEVER been so cold in my life, there were times when it was so cold we couldn’t do more than an hour on deck. I’d come down and take the hours break before I went back up again just to get rid of the painful tingling and burning in my hands. Sometimes it didn’t stop. I came off watch one day and couldn’t drink my soup off the spoon as my cold shakes were shaking the soup off the spoon. Thanks to Maz for rubbing my limbs back to circulation and Lance for the loan of the hot water bottle. Seriously a life saver. At times I had layers on layers, and would wake up from my 4 hour off watch in my super toasty sleeping bag wondering how much I could pay a crew buddy to cover my shift and leave my in the only warm place on the boat!

So much has happened , I’ve learned so much about myself. I’m braver than I thought I was, I’m stronger emotionally than I thought. And I’m small! An emerging theme throughout this trip has been my height……

Started with Nano, when he couldn’t see me behind the helm saying ‘Lyndy Giggs, you are small’ and it went from there. If you need a small ease on a line, you do a ‘Lyndy ease’, if you want a really small ease, you do a ‘Lyndy pinkie ease’ etc etc. I’m thinking of trading my sleeping bag in for a grow bag!

So how do I feel about the next leg, sailing through the Panama Canal and into New York? Excited and more confident about how much more I can contribute to the boat which is a nice, nice feeling!

I’m excited that Paul’s going to be there, I didn’t even begin to comprehend that distance without contact is bloody hard. Really bloody hard, but I know he’s proud of me and that matters a lot and has really helped get through some of the tougher days. Will be one helluva emotional reunion.Paul so get the tissues ready!

And last but not least, thank you all for your best wishes, it’s hard to find time in a busy racing environment to respond to them all, but it helps so much to know you’re watching , that you care and continue to support me in the biggest undertaking of my life.

Keep watching and thinking pink!

Hi, my name is Lyndy and I suffer from Packing Anxiety…

So leaving home tomorrow for 4 1/2 months… what do I take? Paul (my husband) laughs at my packing. He laughed even harder when I mentioned that I was going to blog about packing because I hate packing!

I have discovered Packing Anxiety is a real thing & packing is my worst nightmare!

What more can I say? I have had to leave myself ages to pack, a full morning for instance, for a job that should take an hour.

This is what I have been doing in preparation for leaving, according to ‘him’

Pretend I don’t need to pack. Then panic for a few weeks, write endless lists, panic some more, pack. Unpack and put everything all over the spare bed, take a rest, panic again, take a few things out, panic again, ignore my lists and then pack 5 pairs of jeans and forget my undercrackers.

Apparently, this is what he does

Leave everything to the last second, grab stuff that’s (reasonably) clean and shove it all in the first bag he finds.

I think his method is possibly better, but he doesn’t worry about forgetting things and besides, all his clothes are the same! I think in prepping for this adventure I have developed acute packing anxiety, a dreadful condition which involves meticulous nightmares involving endless scenarios, what ifs and lists, and generally ends in me reaching for the gin.

Things I worry about include….

WHAT IF I get invited to a totally unexpected social occasion at the last minute?
WHAT IF I change my mind and want to wear something I didn’t bring?
WHAT IF the weather is completely different from the forecast?

WHAT IF I’m cold/hot/wet/haven’t got enough/ have too many?

My sensible side says ‘All right, what if? What happens to when these things pop up at home? I HANDLE IT. I DEAL WITH IT. I GET THROUGH IT!’ Or, nobody even notices and it’s absolutely not a problem. So why does it suddenly matter?

I also wonder if I have a touch of ‘Over-packers Syndrome’. Having thought of (and packed for) every eventuality – including a few impossible scenarios, I will have to get the cast of Spartacus to sit on my bag to zip it shut.  As I close my eyes to sleep that little packing monster in my brain pipes up….”HEY! You know what would be the best idea? Find 23 more things to put into that bag that you already had to sit on to zip shut, you know, just in case!”

I’m going to meet my delightful crewmates at Heathrow, who will, no doubt, burst laughing when they see me arrive struggling to carry what appears to be a body bag with a REALLY big body in it! I can hear them now…“Where’s your porter? Why did you bring so much stuff? You do realise you won’t need that ball gown, right?”

At least my packing nightmare will be over….or will it? Once it’s time to leave, I may find packing to go home is actually worse than packing for the trip!

 

Think Pink!

x

Pre-race butterflies….

‘The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.’  – Isak Dinesen

All I can say Is I hope that’s true. I applied for the race having never sailed a day in my life and you could say I jumped in at the deep end (see what I did there?!) with my initial choice of leg. The North Pacific Ocean is considered something of a challenge. Notorious for its winds gusting 60 knots plus and towering 70 ft swells, there are few reasons to sail here other than because you have to. This year, 700 people will have summited Mount Everest. Less than half that figure will have crossed these waters. True, there are faster and far easier ways to get to Seattle, but the kudos of having sailed arguably the roughest ocean in the world proved too attractive for me to resist. Approximately 3000 miles and 15 days into the race, my boat will cross the International Date Line, from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere, resulting in a groundhog day in the calendar and earning the right to have a golden dragon tattoo…cool!   Last summer I did 4 weeks training and then decided to sign up for two additional legs/races to complete my journey home. So I’ll also sail down the west and up the east coasts of America from Seattle to New York via the Panama Canal and then home across the Atlantic Ocean.

When we signed up for this race, we knew we’re amateur sailors and also that the sea doesn’t cut any slack. No amount of safety training will ever completely remove the possibility of an accident that could result in a serious injury, or death. Last year 2 sailors lost their lives on this very race doing what I will do. On Race Day 18 of this year’s race, the tally sadly rose with the passing of a sailor on board one of our competitor boats. Simon from Team Great Britain, a new friend, was washed overboard changing a sail. Unfortunately, his safety tether failed and he was detached from the boat. Despite an incredible recovery time of 36 minutes, he never regained consciousness and was buried at sea the following morning. This is a stark reminder of the inherent risks that accompany ocean sailing and how powerful the sea can be. I have had to remind myself why I choose to do this on more than one occasion. Taking any particular moment of my journey, even so far, you would be pushed to describe this as within my comfort zone; I’m so far from ‘outdoorsy’.

So what lies ahead for me?

Being a ‘bit chilly’ will take on a whole new significance for me, with the cold’s ability to penetrate my 5 thermal layers. My twice-gloved hands will be so waterlogged by icy sea water that they will freeze but feel like they’re burning. Massive waves will crash over the boat, soaking me to make sure I’m awake, even though I’m bushed from my 24/7 4-hour on/off shifts. I’ll wear the same clothes for days on end (yes, I will smell!) and I’ll be permanently soggy with either sweat or seawater, with no prospect of getting dry. At no point during my voyages will I shower, wash my hair or take a bath. Extravagances like these will have to wait until my wet feet are firmly back on dry land….that’s 33 days for the first leg.

Life at 45 degrees will be as testing as it sounds. Why 45 degrees? It’s the angle that the boat sails fastest. When sailing upwind, the boat will often be so far over that the guard rail on the low side will be submerged under water. The drop from the high side (where we sit) to the low side will be near-vertical, with only the safety tether to stop us from falling into the water below. The energy required to simply move from A to B means every movement has to be efficient. Trying to undress to use a toilet will take 20 mins just to remove all my thermals and wet weather gear.

Below deck, things are tough too. The inside of the boat is full of stuff that will become trip hazards, with low ledges, bare bolts and people being seasick. One bad step and the result is a bruised backside, cracked rib or bumped head if lucky; weirdly more race-ending injuries happen below deck! In bouncy weather conditions, loose objects like food tins, jars and crockery fly and roll across the boat. At night, everything is lit by a dim emergency red light; white light destroys night vision.  I will find myself suddenly woken up by a violent lurch as the boat slams into/off a wave, having to grab hold of the closest solid object and hang on while the boat tries its best to tip me out of my bunk (which, to be honest, is more like a lightly-padded shelf!)

A 24/7 race means that the boat is never quiet. As the boat cuts through the ocean, the swirly-swishy-splashy water sounds like there is a leak, a really gushy leak. Sometimes an enormous boom will thump as the hull slams itself through yet another wave that doesn’t want to give way. The winches will crunch and shriek as they are ground on just inches above my bunk. There’s also the noise of my crewmates working, talking, cooking and snoring. Who could possibly sleep in such conditions, in such a harsh environment? They say if you can’t sleep you probably haven’t worked hard enough – either that or invest in ear plugs!

But then….on a quieter watch looking out into a clear night sky, we’ll be on deck sharing some contraband chocolate and trying to identify the stars blinking through a blackness I’ve never experienced before.  If I look behind the boat, I’ll see a stream of neon, as phosphorescent plankton is churned in our trail. And at dawn, the sea birds start to fly with us again as they warm themselves up and maybe some curious dolphins might race us for a bit. These will be treasured as rare and special moments of calm amid all the chaos.

Within our 70ft yacht, we (20 crew) will never be more than a couple of feet apart; we even hot bunk as we change shifts.  I will experience a greater remoteness than I ever have. Besides my crewmates and competitors, the closest human beings to me will be in the International Space Station – 300 miles above. And I’m sure this will hit home when I’m scared and missing my family.

Conditions won’t always be quite so extreme; Central America will bring warmer temperatures and light winds. This will be a real test of our yacht racing and technical sailing skills. We’ll be constantly trimming our sails to find an extra quarter knot of boat speed that will mean the difference between first and last. How cool though, to sail through one of the engineering wonders of the world: the Panama Canal. As the boat rises through the locks on the Pacific side up to Gatun freshwater lake we’ll be flanked by rain forests. Then it’s down the locks on the other side and the waters of the Atlantic on our way to NYC!  But, as we sail past the Statue of Liberty and moor close to Ground Zero, we will probably be the only people in the city who have arrived from the west coast by sea. The city that never sleeps and I definitely won’t!

Then it’s homeward bound with plenty of racing still to be done. And, with almost 11,620 nautical miles of racing already behind me (40,000 for the boat), there are still valuable racing points for us to claim. The race will take us north and a check of the sea temperature will tell us when the boat is getting a helping push from the Gulf Stream. Then when it gives way to the cooler Labrador Current, the mixture in seawater often produces random thick fog banks. Our last ocean leg across the Atlantic will see things get exciting and bouncy again. We’ll need to stay focussed, race hard and sail safe. The route will have markers to avoid any close encounters with ice and will take us close to the Flemish Cap, made famous by the film The Perfect Storm. Then it’s a 2,000-mile blast back towards Europe and a warm welcome in Londonderry with a week-long celebration to mark our achievements – I’m expecting an endless flow of Guinness and hangovers!

With my mid-life crisis almost over (why didn’t I just buy a fast car or go on a cruise?!), it’ll be a great break to gather my thoughts and begin to put my achievements into perspective before a short and intense final race from Ireland back to Liverpool Albert Dock (and home, and family), with more important race points to collect. These final 900 miles will have all the pressure of extra time in the World Cup final coupled with a real feeling of pride sailing down the River Mersey into to the city where I was born.

So why I am I doing this?  Simply, I want to see if I can. People who know me well have said that this seems out of the blue and they have a point; my holidays typically involve sun, sea, cocktails and chillin’. Strangely, I feel I am being more true to myself and my nature than I ever have been. Honestly, I really like my life and very much appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to say this, but I would say my life up until this point was best described as safe, comfortable, textbook,  unremarkable and risk free. I have discovered a lot about myself, even so far.  My fear threshold has grown and with it a real sense of adventure. I’m starting to see what they mean when they say the greatest satisfaction in life comes from those achievements that are hard-earned both mentally and physically. I remain convinced that I can do so much more, see so much more, be so much more. I feel like I am writing my story the way I should have always written it, but was never courageous enough to. I just didn’t dare think I was good enough.

Yes… I really want to win a race or three. I’m not naïve enough to think that working hard and wanting to win is enough with so many variables beyond my control. But I know what I can control; my commitment, my outlook, and my enthusiasm. The actual crossing of the oceans is not the hard part. Uncomfortable and hard work, yes, but anyone could stay low and ride out the storms to the finish. This isn’t what I want. I want to be awesome. I want no job to beat me, whether it’s grinding a winch, climbing the mast in a storm or baking the perfect loaf of bread for my crewmate’s tea. I want to leave my boat in Liverpool on July 28th knowing I gave this everything and I’m able to say without doubt that I will achieve that. For me, this race is about enduring. Enduring the conditions, enduring the fatigue, enduring the people, enduring the defeats. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t know who said this, but it pretty much sums up how I feel. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” It might have been Mark Twain.

At the end of it all, I want to feel fearless. I already feel proud. But most of all, right now, I feel…..well, to be honest….butterflies. Butterflies the size of bloody elephants.

IMG_2607

If you’re interested you can follow my progress  here…..I’m on the pink boat!

Think Pink!

x

 

All at sea….

 

Ok, so I’m no JK Rowling but I’m going to give this writing blogging thingamajig a go.

A little under a year ago, I signed up to take part in 3 legs of the Clipper Round the World race. On the 23rd March, after nearly a year’s build-up and weeks of training, I will set sail on board Team Liverpool 2018 CV20 from the harbour of QingDao, China, racing 10 other boats to Seattle, Panama, New York, and Londonderry. 15,472 nautical miles and four and a half months (or 93 sailing days) later I will cross the finish line in Liverpool, on 28th July 2018.