Friends for life

Fantastic friendships have been forged.  Perhaps because we have been so incredibly interdependent, sharing an extreme and challenging environment – often tough in obvious and not so obvious ways.  We were both exposed and blessed by mother nature’s raw and sometimes indescribably beautiful, ever-changing backdrop.  But with no obvious escape from our crew and yacht, it was intense, crazy, funny and exhausting.  There really was no hiding from who we are when we are struggling, and how we all show up when absolutely disoriented by lack of sleep, extraordinary pressures and any semblance of our normal lives.

Billed as ‘the race of your life’, for some escaping the rat race of their previous life, we now have new friends for life.  We are all changed by our experience.  Perhaps we see ourselves and others in a new light?  Have our perspectives changed?  How will this change how we relate to others on our return?  Time will tell – and in my study I will explore this in detail.

It was incredible for Qingdao to celebrate a podium finish in Liverpool.  After racing for nearly a year our team finished first into Liverpool and overall third. I am happy for our skipper and round the worlder crew whose commitment and dedication was simply awesome.

For most the race result was not the primary goal at the outset, although whilst sailing our level of focus and commitment to racing fast unquestionably drove the team on to achieve success.

As part of the study all participants were asked about their motivations for doing the race.  These included to:

  • challenge themselves mentally and physically and for some to find a better me,
  • get out of their comfort zone,
  • learn true team working skills,
  • see the world and to meet people and in particular those from other cultures,
  • learn more about sailing,
  • kick start a new phase of their life,
  • have a life changing experience…

and many more – a very diverse collection of motivations.

Once their post race questionnaires have been completed, I look forward to exploring the extent to which the study participants have realised their intentions.

Please continue to support and follow me – and ask me questions if you are curious!

 

Exploring the impact of extraordinary challenge

Qingdao are ready for off as the Clipper fleet start their final race around Ireland to Liverpool today.  In the long Irish stop over some of the round the world crew have had time to pause, reflect and consider what their futures might hold.  Sometimes these uncertainties are tough to navigate.  It may take courage and time to understand the impact of their extraordinary adventure and how this influences what next.

Exploring the Impact of Extraordinary Challenge is a study that started a year ago.  It is an intentional process designed to understand what changes, in ourselves and others, and what acts as a catalyst for development.  By growing awareness and expanding perspectives we become increasingly able to shape our intentions, decide on and meet our goals, and choose how we want to live our lives.

A few words by way of background:  The Clipper race is billed as the ‘race of your life’.  There is much anecdotal evidence of self-discovery, but what happens and the extent to which perspectives change has not been assessed in a structured way.

At the start of the race all study participants completed a questionnaire and an assessment of their stage of development. For many years we have known that children have distinct developmental stages.  More recently new frameworks have enabled us to understand what it is to develop as a adult. The study is using the STAGES assessment framework to identify participants pre-race core stage of development.  This is the level of our perspective taking, how we make meaning of our life’s experiences, what influences our strategies and actions, and our likely strengths and challenges.

As we grow up our perspectives expand – it is not so much like climbing stairs – more like blowing up a balloon – and as our perspectives expand we can experience disorientation.  Equally discomfort and challenge can act as catalysts forcing us to dig deeper to make sense of what is happening.

So as we have been racing we have kept diaries to track our thinking and emotions, action and team experiences.  After the race there will be second STAGES assessment.  This before and after will be a quantitative assessment of where participants were, and now are from a development perspective – and so identifying what has changed and what might be next.

By exploring the impact of extraordinary challenge in this way my commitment is to increase awareness of what is to develop, what is possible, what are catalysts and what can trip us up.  I hope this will support those that are curious as they face different or similar disorienting challenges, and that new understanding and expanded perspectives enable us all to face any challenges, individually or in teams or groups, with an increased capacity to navigate in ever present uncertainty.

Feedback, questions or comments are welcome – and if you haven’t already supported my fundraising initiative please go to: 

 https://gogetfunding.com/susan-robins-clipper/

Your support is much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and found… and what next

 

One Tilly hat… after a long, very hot boat open day in a New York marina I left my favourite sailing hat on Qingdao. Happily found by a friend and now making the final Leg of the race back across the Atlantic without me – whilst I await their return to Liverpool at the end of July.

Before leaving New York, whilst meandering round Central Park ‘lost and found’ took on a whole different meaning. Having experimented with ferries, buses and a yellow cab we still arrived too late for the intended highlights of Central Park tour. So we set off on our own. After the uniformity of streets and avenues with numbers and straight lines the park is a soft, gentle, verdant and chaotic jumble of twists and turns. Eventually we found a small booth with a map. No longer confused and lost we assumed a more confident approach to finding the suggested highlights on our own.

Even with a map and the occasional reference to a phone, attempts to figure out the direction from the sun – mostly just overhead and rather hot – glances to recognisable tall buildings on the periphery, we missed our way, again and again. We weren’t alone. Others were looking at maps, consulting phone gps and it was actually very funny.

Of course we found the odd lake, delightful quiet spots and when you simple wander and accept that being lost is normal in Central Park and in fact perhaps the whole point – it is quite beautiful… meandering, enjoying whatever appears around the corner, the gorgeous variety of parkland and being temporarily lost, when so much of our time and our life requires us to show up as found – knowing where we are and what needs to be done.

When we are lost we open ourselves to the unexpected, we become more receptive, perhaps we engage different senses, become more aware of ourselves and our environment. If we can pause and accept our discomfort we may find we have different choices. In a moment we can be lost, then found… then lost again. Perhaps both are not just temporary, but also illusory and our challenge is to accept and navigate our way in perpetual change and uncertainty.

Developing our guiding, core principles… or in the case of the Park, finding the boundaries where Park once again meets city, may be challenging but it also becomes essential.

Now I am back home. It has been an amazing and incredible journey on so many different levels, nevertheless I am very happy to be back. One of my fellow round the world crew said one of the many things he had learnt along the way was just how much he appreciated his home and England. Naturally I am also very looking forward to being back on the water again closer to home, racing in the Solent in the next couple of weeks.

What next: When the Clipper race finishes in Liverpool I will be there to welcome my team home. Once the celebrations are over we will go our separate ways knowing we have made friends for life and for sure it won’t be long before we meet up again.

My work on the study will start in earnest as I pull together crew stories and diaries, interview study participants and complete assessments. This will not be rushed as the impact of our journeys will take time to digest and unfold. I know in myself how much has changed and I have seen it in others. My commitment is to reveal the impact of the quite extraordinary challenges we have faced and specifically explore the questions:

  • What has changed, how have our perspectives expanded, what have we learnt, how have we developed
  • How can this help us navigate uncertainty with more agility in the future and will this encourage or enable us to take on new challenges in the future
  • What have we discovered about ourselves, about other crew and team dynamics and to what extent is this as profound and enduring as our sailing has been phenomenal and exciting.

I continue to appreciate your support and hope you will challenge me by commenting with your feedback and questions.

 

Arrival in New York

Dawn broke as we approached New York on 14 June and I felt more profoundly than previously the excitement of sailing towards port. Once the race was over and still some distance offshore, our watch had a quiet and relaxed sail towards our destination with the glow of lights growing closer, before engine on and a golden sunrise spread its magic over the skyscrapers.

From a sailing perspective, our race result was disappointing and as ever did not tell the whole story of some exciting and varied sailing, a dramatic electrical storm, wind holes and some tough tactical decisions through the Caribbean and when in search of the Gulf Stream. For me the race was about so much more than the end result and this will be a story than unfolds when the whole race is finished at the of July and as I continue my study into the impact of our extraordinary challenges.

Once ashore a visit to the 9/11 memorial pools and museum and other walks provided new insights and reflection. An extract from the 9/11 mission statement read:  ‘May the lives remembered, the deeds recognised and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance’.

Several crew who are participating in the study have already noticed that their understanding and tolerance for others has increased during their Clipper race, so this quote resonated on a number of levels. As in any team and certainly onboard, strong differences of opinion and conflict arose and whilst hatred of others may have been the occasional extreme underlying emotion I think this was rare. Hatred is so often borne of ignorance which leads to intolerance.

Our own education and trajectories of learning, growth and development are exposed whilst racing and for sure, I dropped into and happily shed a little light on some of my own dark shadows and thus opportunities for development.

Whilst walking The High Line, a delightfully transformed old railway line, I was inspired by their welcome statement. They expressed concern for ‘divisive, hateful speech and actions’. Going on to affirm their commitment to ‘open spaces that reflect and celebrate the diversity of our communities’. This resonates again because all Clipper teams are very diverse and for me this increased both the challenge and the enjoyment of the race – in particular, getting to know and becoming friends with some of our Chinese ambassadors has been a great joy.

These messages of shifting from hatred and intolerance to celebrating diversity are, for me, glimmers of hope for a country, and perhaps for many others in our world who are in transition and seeking change.

Finally a call to action:  please add a comment on this blog with your experiences of challenges that have provoked change in you or your team.

 

 

 

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.