Every day is a new day

After being at sea for 7 days New York is now only some 650 miles away and the end of my race is drawing closer. Some of the round the worlders are counting down the days until their journey finishes in Liverpool at the end of July. I sense they are weary and are very much on the way home, whilst those like me that are only doing one or two legs are appreciating just what an incredible journey this is – realising we have only a few more days to go.

Our initial days upwind at a silly angle were as uncomfortable as ever, not helped by poor ventilation down below and a level of humidity that was and still remains quite horrible. One of our crew has renamed our galley, the rainforest cafe, as our bodies do what they can to cool us down. Last night when it was quiet I felt a sense of guilty pleasure when I found the time and a small amount of fresh water to wash. At breakfast today, now we are downwind sailing, we were able to joke about how dehumanising conditions are down below.

In amongst all of the obvious discomfort, we are sailing in glorious sunshine, with blue skies and seas, and it is impossible not to appreciate small things every day. From glorious, infinitely varied sunrises and sunsets that never cease to delight, with one particularly exquisite sunrise from behind a small island between Haiti and Jamaica which brought tears of joy to my eyes and will stay etched on my retina and the scripts of my memory. Night skies are equally remarkable. How often in our daily life do we fail to notice the treasures around us everyday, that are absolutely accessible, if we only pause, open our eyes, minds and hearts?

There have been moments when I have felt unwell as my body struggles to adjust to the food, the heat and humidity and I have acknowledged my immediate vulnerability. Others have helped and through their simple gestures of care, kindness and support I have quickly recovered to enjoy the next day. I know that every day is a new day and I am blessed that these moments pass. What I won’t forget is that we are all vulnerable in different ways at different times and little, subtle things make such a huge difference – and I am profoundly grateful for these reminders and to those for whom simple kindness and compassion comes easily.

As a team we had some dysfunctional moments, mostly petty bickering, some of which relates to old issues that resurface, that have not been addressed or resolved and it is too easy to adopt a default and somewhat childish behavioural pattern. Humour and some distraction provide a different perspective and after some much needed sleep or rest in our different ways we resurface to continue on this epic journey – each with varying levels of interest, motivation and orientation to our individual needs and those of our team, and equally different abilities to see each other’s  perspectives, how they interrelate and then act on this awareness.

These are just some of the less obvious challenges we face every day. I remain open and curious as to how these perspectives and challenges evolve.

Time stands still

I remember a poem that starts “Busy busy busy, rush rush rush” – and I am smiling to myself as we have now been at leisure since our Canal transit for several days and we have just heard our departure is delayed. Fingers crossed, we should be off tomorrow, 3 June. Once we leave there will be another day of motoring before the race starts – and we are all really hoping for some good winds to ensure an exciting sail up to New York.

Our Canal transit on 30th was filled with mixed emotions for me. Expectations were high and yet it was some what underwhelming. The morning sunrise found me excited and happy to be on the water again with the sun creating beautiful vistas across the bay, back to the city skyscrapers and busy commercial traffic. Our pilot onboard we headed for the bridge and under we went into the canal itself. We rafted up with two other boats and rose through the initial three locks. It is quite an amazing feat of engineering constructed in a harsh tropical climate when yellow fever and malaria were endemic.

Quite early on it became clear that our transit may take longer than a day and we may have to anchor up in Lake Gatun at the mercy of humidity, tropical rain and mosquitos. There was uncertainty, confusion and frustration. On a buoy we waited for our second pilot and attempted to accept the uncertainty with pragmatism. Such is sailing and such is life.

It was curious to witness our varied approaches ranging from…why did we not know, who is to blame, what is going to be done to resolve.. will we, won’t we transit today and when… how do we find out who knows …resting in uncertainty and the do nothing option because we will figure it all out whatever … because we have no choice … because what will be, will be … passively relaxed… and/or because nothing really matters …and yet this is surely not the case… we can choose what matters, our attitude and our reality… and perhaps drop into some semblance of balanced equanimity!

We eventually set off again in the dark – misty and mysterious, then many bright lights as transit the final three locks and arrive at the marina. After a long day and a final long minibus we are relieved to find hotel rooms with air conditioning at 4am… phew. After three nights and another to come there is really very little to do here, so we eat, sleep, swim and quite happily time stand stills.

 

What a difference a day makes

Finally on 27 May we have arrived in Panama after far too long motoring. Our race finished on 17 May and since then we have been motoring sometimes motor sailing and sometimes towing or being towed to save on fuel.  Not quite what we expected, but such is life – perhaps best to expect the unexpected!  Our Canal transit is on 30th and our race up to New York starts of 2 June.

Reflecting on our race…  after being in the lead for days we saw all our hard work frustrated by several days of ghosting around in light and fluky winds. Futile efforts to find zephyrs of breeze, avoid adverse current and have the most appropriate sails up were all in vain.

Bizarre to find we were all bunched up and together in what turned out to be a lottery. We couldn’t help but reflect that if the race had been called at the first finish gate it would have been more representative of the overall race. We weren’t alone in the topsy turvey mayhem. I reflected on how we all started together and almost finished together, then perhaps not obviously related but such is the topsy turvey nature of a tired mind…I was reminded that we sometimes say… ‘we come into this world with nothing and we go out with nothing.’

Whilst this might be true in a concrete sense in a more subtle sense this is far from the case.

It is surely about the journey and the traces and tracks that we leave on ourselves, others and our environment.  I have been touched and inspired by many and even in this simplest sense perhaps their evolutionary influence runs through and with me and beyond. Ripples extending.

I speak with Sunrise, one of our Chinese ambassadors who writes exquisitely beautiful blogs for our crew diaries. He acknowledges and appreciates my encouragement. He wants to write poetry and I suggest he experiments and is not constrained by any conventional understanding of what poetry is or is not.

As we started our motor further south the seas were glassy with flying fish creating delightful tiny tracks on the surface of the ocean, the occasional small clouds reflected in what could be a mirror, punctuated with solitary turtles drifting apparently aimlessly by. Each day seems to bring an increase in temperature and humidity, somewhat sapping our energy. The expansive cloud and sea-scapes infinitely layered, dynamic and quite beautiful.

Our track took us down the surprisingly long length of Mexican coast line and past Guatemala – sadly we cannot pause to explore. Instead we had time to pause and reflect on our own journeys – and for sure any internal exploration of what is happening to us, in ourselves, is so much more challenging than any external adventure.

 

Time Becomes Meaningless

 

Just over two weeks since we left Seattle and we are now somewhere off Mexico’s long coast line and from the ships log I am reminded today is the 16 May. Glimpses of coastal mountains by day and the loom of lights at night, we have consistent downwind sailing conditions which are now predominantly light and fluky.  So gloriously beautiful hot days frustrated by what makes for tough racing conditions. 

Ocean sailing really does make a nonsense of time in a conventional sense.  At a first level its either dark or light and we are either on or off watch – but with 3 x 4 hour and 2 x 6 hour watches – and our longest sleep time during daylight, time itself seems rather curiously meaningless. There is perhaps just a simple binary sense of time… that in this moment of now there is one moment that is gone in the next?  On the last race one of the crew set her body clock by associating porridge with breakfast – although when the porridge ran out this reference point disappeared.  Another crew observed the irony of choosing a sport that gives you 5 ‘morning’ times in 24 hours. (Just to get enough rest it’s important to take a short or as long a nap as possible in each off watch.)

Racing adds another dimension when conditions are such that the off watch potential for rest gets gobbled up by sail changes and/or repair work.

Cumulative disorientation can create its own pressure and stressors as perspectives get lost. With a little thought or a pause for reflection there are numerous opportunities for learning and development. What are the little things that challenge us, cause distress and are blown out of proportion and equally those that lift the mood and punctuate our peculiar reality of routines and rituals with joy?

I rediscovered a grumpy part of myself several days ago and reminded myself of the question …’what do you do when you can’t get what you want’.  I reflected …what would the wiser ego counsel?  This thinking process didn’t take me very far and it wasn’t until I sat more deeply with the feeling and its own emotional rawness of unacknowledged needs and wants that I felt a deeper compassion for myself and others who fall into this grumpy persona to a greater or lesser extent – from time to time. Later the immeasurable quality of equanimity washed through my awareness, my perspective shifted more profoundly and I found a sense of greater ease. 

Uplifting moments of joy are more obvious and numerous. This race has already brought us an exquisite multitude of wildlife:  juvenile boobies resting on our bowsprit;  whales swimming incredibly close by;  so many dolphins leaping some 250m off our beam with the sea spray glistening in the dying sunshine;  tiny specks of blue possibly jelly fish creatures catching the morning light, swirling in the deeper ocean blue;  and sunsets, sunrises, the Milky Way, our favourite constellations and countless stars.  How blessed we are. Whilst with and amongst the crew a smile, recognition, appreciation, humour, kindness – all heal and restore – and remind me of three other immeasurables – love, joy and compassion

How Time Flies

Day 7 of our race – a week since we left Seattle and we are somewhere off California – although we are a long way off shore and we could be anywhere as the Ocean stretches as far as the eye can see.  The Pacific has been kind to us with the wind behind us and swells to surf on – so a flat boat – much appreciated as we settle into out watch routines.  For a couple of days we had some magical waves, curling white tipped, touches of turquoise, ripples on the surface of larger waves as we hummed through the water.

We have a wildlife watch and so far we have had sea birds graceful circling around, one small pigeon who took rest on the pulpit and with whom we shared a few bread crumbs, and the occasional sighting of marine life.  Yesterday there were whales, although missed by me as I was tucked up off watch – there was much excitement as two majestic creatures kept us company for a short while, close enough – but not too close!

My media role on board has been focused so far on encouraging our crew to write daily blogs for the Clipper website.  After a reluctant start more are becoming interested in sharing their perspectives and stories.  I have been touched most recently by one of our Chinese ambassadors who has written lyrically and from the heart about his motivations for racing and his experiences so far.

For any of you who wish to follow the progress of Qingdao there is a race tracker on the main website and a daily blog by our skipper and also a crew blog. So far sending photos has eluded our technical capability but we will crack this soon – although our main focus and most of our time is preoccupied with sailing as fast as possible!

Fundraising

For those of you who haven’t already seen my fundraising page please check out:  https://gogetfunding.com/susan-robins-clipper/

I am incredibly grateful to those of you who have already made a donation to sponsor and support my study and fundraising for Unicef – and I continue to appreciate all contributions very much.

I and my fellow team buddies make our final preparations for departure on the 29th – and as well as being our social secretary I have agreed to help with media – always happy to share a story and in future may also have a few photos for you when we arrive – first stop Panama.

Smiles – Susan

 

 

Love is… phenomenal

Have I got your attention?  Charlotte, my daughter, was wondering whether my study would be a ‘kiss and tell’ story. Sadly this isn’t quite my intention. So how about a love story?

‘This is my passion, my drug’… one of our Clipper skippers wrote….most ‘will never see nature unleashed like this… this is what makes us human…these wild ocean vistas get tattooed on your soul’.  Some of us who sail love being at sea with a depth that is unfathomable to others.

The endless expansiveness of sea, sky, multitude of different greys and blues and extraordinary sunsets, sunrises and stars where you wonder about the infinite universe, the wind that is harsh, bracing, or benign, gentle, soft. The sound of the sea caressing the hull – ok – so sometimes back on planet earth there is also the crazy mayhem of crashing and slamming into confused seas. Nevertheless truly awake, can we take in the diversity which brings those moments of being completely tuned into the sea, your boat, friends and team mates?  when there is sense of peace, quiet, focused yet totally lost in that moment -exquisite, sublime, surreal?

Yes for sure on this race there are more conventional love stories – exciting in there own way perhaps – but not for today.  Can we stay curious and open to the many shapes, forms, meanings, realities and interpretations of love?

Now in Seattle we toast those who have wrestled with the extremes, the full spectrum of Mother Nature, to arrive here safely across the North Pacific. They have experienced everything from wind holes to hurricane force winds and phenomenal seas. Previously I had no idea of all the different categories of sea state, from calm, slight, through to rough and at the top of the scale, anything above 14m is called ‘phenomenal’. So when I use this word in future I will be reminded of all that it signifies… something that is way beyond most people’s reality.

Phenomenal can also mean perceptible through the senses. So as I prepare for my next sail I am reflecting on how our senses come first, giving us an infinite source of learning and development, feeding our secondary thinking capacity. Perhaps I will experiment with turning down the thinking and paying more attention to sensing!

A special mention for my sailing heroes the Leg 6 Qingdao team, who arrived first into Seattle – our first first. The toughest race so far. Words superfluous, when their eyes tell the stories, ranging from exhilaration to exhaustion.

‘Winning is a habit’ …so no pressure for those of us that join for Leg 7!