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!

Leaving on a jet plane…again

After a brief few weeks in England I am heading off on 20 April to Seattle to rejoin the team for Leg 7. Our race starts on 29th, first stop just north west of the Panama Canal, then through the canal to start our race up to New York. I am enjoying feeling excited and happy.

Recently I have reminded myself several times of a diary entry I made whilst sweltering in the sticky heat of our Leg 5 equator crossing. “I will never again complain when it is cold, wet and grey.” Walking around in the city glancing wistfully at the grey skies and the magnificence of St Paul’s cathedral and surrounding gardens I am conscious that we are blessed indeed by all that is beautiful right here right now.

In myself I remain quite spaced out, disoriented and still digesting my incredible adventures so far. As my feet have hardly touched the ground, re-acclimatising to a watch system and life on the ocean should not be that tricky!

To recap on the study I am doing to explore the impact of extraordinary challenge. I am assessing how our perspectives shift – in the face of the multitude of challenges. This commits me and my fellow participants to asking ourselves many questions… what are we learning, how are we growing, developing … what are we noticing about ourselves and others? What’s shifting for us and in the team?

So far – and it is very early days yet… I feel a renewed and deep appreciation for life, living and all that being human is. I may be slightly disorienting but my eyes feel wider open – less filtered and less filtering – sensory receptors more finely tuned, seeing afresh, newly. I am not sure whether I feel more alive or am meeting life anew, refreshed.

I hugely enjoyed being at sea. Racing down wind and helming in some glorious conditions was wonderfully exhilarating. I have also had to dig deep and take a look at the reality of my anxiety and vulnerabilities – very real and yet not real. Certainly as ever the reality was not as tough as what was feared. I have made some well-trodden mistakes…over thinking, not caring for myself enough. How tough it is to break habitual responses particularly when the environment is unfamiliar and threatening. It takes great courage to make new mistakes and for sure I exposed how much work I have to – further development I have yet to embrace and address for myself.

Courage comes in so many different shapes and forms. Not always mighty, majestic and obvious.

From a team point of view we are an incredibly diverse bunch who are absolutely interdependent and yet in the moment our behaviours are sometimes at completely odds with this. Nevertheless the depth of friendships made and the camaraderie that emerges is also intensified and can carry you through the dark night.

On a 70 foot racing boat which is primitive, with the barest minimum of creature comforts, in an unpredictable external environment, contrasting and sometimes extreme conditions there are many stressors. It can be like a tinder box. Little things can be blown way out of proportion – we can all over react or withdraw. Retaining any sort of dispassionate, non judgemental observation and keeping a balanced pragmatic approach is a rare gift. Having a clear focus, finding some humour, keeping a sense of perspective and having a clear structure to what we are doing makes a massive difference.

Some have observed and behave as if hard work is the only currency…and yet we all contribute in different ways… and the value of kindness and gratitude is immeasurable.

For those that are interested in the objective and intentions of my study let me know or you could check out the brief outline on my fundraising page:

Thank you again to all who are supporting me.

Let me have your feedback and comments or better still, ask me questions if you are curious! I ask and love being asked really challenging questions. Combining my passion for sailing with this study is part of my commitment to the principles of what is known as “action inquiry” – a continuing process of transformational learning and development…acting and enquiring.

So now it’s next stop Seattle to continue the “race of your life” … rejoining my hugely brave buddies, who have nearly completed their courageous racing across the mighty Pacific – an incredible journey with the most massive seas, extreme cold and the wildest of wind speeds. What stories they will have to share!

Safely home

Our welcome on arrival in Qingdao on 15 March was amazing.  Loud and colourful with crowds out to cheer us into our home port.  Land and some creature comforts were much appreciated.  In our final days we had fog, the wind died again, followed by some very chilly conditions and a final blast of wind to get us across the finish line.

I felt the strength of the bonds we have within the team and am glad that I return again in Seattle to join them for Leg 7.  Departing 20 April for Seattle with race departure on 29 April sailing south to the Panama Canal – before heading north for New York.

Whilst they do the tough stuff across the North Pacific I take a couple of weeks to tour China and catch up at home.

Writing this now when I am safely back in the UK, I have realised that although we sometimes say, ‘home is where the heart is’, for sure my heart is where my home is. Accessible any time any where.  No beginning no end.  And of course my spiritual home is at sea – perhaps the expansive nature of the oceans just gives my spirit the freedom to reconnect to itself.

From my travels in China I have many abiding memories, stories, impressions – too many to share here – for those that are curious please connect in the normal way.  Suffice to say, as our young guide said ‘seeing believing’.  I am lucky to have witnessed the extent to which the Chinese have been transforming and developing over the last 30 years.  Their extraordinary evolution with its exponential rate of change has brought substantial alleviation of poetry, economic expansion, some freedom of speech, access to education and opportunities for hard work to be rewarded.  They are enormously diverse and now celebrate their minorities and cultural and religious heritage.  I remain curious about their development.  What will the deep transformation which they plan next entail?  Addressing pollution, poverty, corruption:  can they and their leaders continue to develop  and navigate in the complexity all that has been unleashed?

The Silk Road brought them Buddhism and as a people they are deeply superstitious with many values, rituals and practices profoundly engrained within their psyche.

One poets letter/symbols depicted:  “Only kindness brings peace.”  How beautifully this resonates.

I will carry this with me.

Please join me again towards the end of April.


Deeply Grateful

This race from Sanya to Qingdao has been incredibly varied, from tropical sunshine to crisp and chilly and all manner of wind and sea conditions. We have had some tough times – hence no blog until what is now less than 300 miles to go and day 11 – and the early hours of 14 March.

After several benign days we started to experience lumpy, unpredictable, rough seas, upwind sailing, in a boat that sails at a silly angle and is poorly designed for beating into the wind. I have been very relieved to experience the strength, resilience and leadership of our round the world crew, watch leaders and skipper. They gave me the confidence to struggle out of my berth, find kit and make it onto a slopping deck, and scramble around. I noticed I just stopped thinking, and was just hanging on in there, taking care, as best I could, of my body and managing to function in a basic way. Getting a few bruises along the way, wishing I had some experience at mountain climbing as we clip on and off to manoeuvre on deck.

Before leaving I realised I was afraid of what lay ahead – acknowledging this in myself and sharing this with our skipper and my watch leader brought perspective, reassurance and ease within myself.

It wasn’t until we woke up to flat seas off the beautiful, mountainous coastline of Taiwan on what was day 8 – Sunday 11th – I think – another glorious sunrise and a flat boat as the wind had eased and changed direction – oh joy – that I felt human again. I wrote a crew blog for the Clipper website entitled Cheerful Again. Heartfelt gratitude for mother nature’s blessings, team buddies who are kind and generous of themselves. Just not being at silly angle was a most welcome respite.

Since then we have continued with a flat boat and crew morale has improved as those that were sick have been back on deck. Our watch system has changed back to a two watch system with dedicated mothers responsible for cooking and cleaning etc. Net net results include yummy fresh bread, much improved food – and a happy team.

As we sail north the weather is becoming properly chilly and we are digging out our sleeping bags and thermals. The China seas at night are ridiculously busy with fishing traffic – making it tough, tense and very demanding for our navigations. Tonight – in the early hours my mother watch buddy is clued to the nav station as we sail goose winged – our kite and full main delicately balanced – between lines of dangerous fishing nets. In the early light of day the mass of rusty fishing boats make a curious sight – but in the darkness of the night – you can feel the tension and stress energy rippling and resonating through the boat and crew. Hot drinks for those on deck are embargoed, whilst focus is maintained.

Fresh bread is in the oven, with the most delicious aroma. This will be my simple gift to watch buddies when they finish their watch at 4am, before we hand over to the new watch and snuggle back into our berths – safe in the knowledge that they too will be vigilant in watching over us and our boat as we continued north to Qingdao – our home port, with arrival perhaps in the next couple of days.

From adrenaline fuelled arrival in Sanya … to apprehension ahead of departure for Qingdao


The last twenty miles approaching Sanya finally brought us some wind. Flying the kite approaching land peppered with lights was just the beginning of the excitement. Fishing boats with incomprehensible light configurations and an oil rig was pretty disorientating. Hats off to our skipper and navigators as we seemed to pass very close to other boats and gybed before dropping the kite and hoisting white sails for the finish line.

An amazing welcome of ribs and boats with firecrackers as we approach the harbour entrance. Second over the line and third after redress to another competitor. Intense and exhilarating with adrenaline surging through remnants of fatigue.

Our Chinese hosts’ display of dancing dragons and a wonderful ceremony all in the middle of the night was loud, colourful and quite fantastic. We finally returned to our boat and had a few hours sleep before morning brought us a deep clean and many jobs to do.

We have now had over a week in Sanya … the Chinese tropical paradise … busy days on the boat and a little time for exploration of this city. Only in the last 20 – 30 years this now vast and densely populated area has transformed what was previously a farming and fishing community. Hotel complexes abound, with the guides keen to share with us their pride in the growing wealth and booming property development and 7 star Dubai like resorts. Beaches once naturally white now already have sand imported to maintain the tourist beaches.

The climate is warm and pleasant and the mountains provide a verdant backdrop to a beautiful but now scarred coastline… deeply ironic that in making what is naturally wonderful accessible, we disfigure and destroy. Visits to cultural tourist areas intrigue me and provide an insight into Buddhist spiritual traditions and practices and ethnic mountain people and their way of life.

Today is 4 March and we are off to Qingdao. A very different leg ahead. From warm to seriously chilly, heavy winds against current. Upwind sailing. Thankful that we have a great team to support us, some who have seen the Southern Ocean and are able to coach us and keep us safe.

I am not alone in my feelings of apprehension and now we are finally ready and good to go I am looking forward to be at sea again. Yes will be focused as we sail into the city that has sponsored our boat. There is quite a bit of pressure to get results. I am sure this is not incompatible with having some fun too. A happy boat performs well.

Love to all my family, friends and our supporters. Smiles. Susan.


Busy Busy

Yesterday was a day of kite mares. Standing orders from our skipper including many practical instructions to keep us safe including notification of approaching shipping, engine room equipment maintenance etc. They also include more basic requirements for racing with kite up… namely – no broaches, no wraps, no f**k ups.

This can be quite a challenge. Perhaps inevitably with inconsistent wave patterns and wind strength, we had a couple of breaches of these standing orders – net net tired crew, now well practiced at quick kite drop, new smaller kite up to maintain speed, repair work done, wool-ing, packing, get small kite down, larger one back up – phew. In these sticky conditions it is tough and exhausting.

Everyone is working hard and at this stage we are focused and playing to people’s strengths. So it was quite amusing when with the 3 of the 4 grinders being manned by women, men watching on standby with less demanding jobs and skipper observed this might not be best approach. Despite all training in gym I had stitch, plus a good cardio work out, before we all got the giggles, which might just have slowed us down a bit – haha! Question mark, early stage delirium setting in as sleep deprivation and surreal nature of living in closely confined space for our now very closely knit team.

Out and about we have had more commercial shipping, sadly little evidence of marine life other than the odd flying fish landing on deck. We seem to have avoided further kite mares and today has brought sunshine.

After three weeks at sea we are now in the final 400 miles, in stealth mode for 24 hours, closely watching with our nearest competitors, as winds are expected to decrease the pressure is on as we approach race finish and China.

Smiles. Susan.

How fragile we are

After the sunshine comes the rain. Beautiful, cooling rain, rain and more rain. The last few days have brought plenty of rain and today I wonder whether it’s possible that my skin might go mouldy, with these humid conditions.

Subtle changes in temperature, environment, what we eat, how interrupted our sleep pattern is, remind me how sensitive we are. How resilient in some ways and yet how sensitive. So too our world. Having spent a week on an ecological paradise called Lady Elliott Island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, I witnessed the dedication and commitment of a few to nurturing and supporting the regeneration of a fragile ego system. An island that was almost barren has through revegetation come to support a haven for birds who in turn bring the nutrients to support natural trees and plants. Through their scientist’s education I appreciate more profoundly than ever the impact of rising temperatures on coral systems and the incredible, fragile bio diversity of our oceans.

Here and now on Qingdao we have started the Ocean Sprint part of our race, but Mother Nature decides our fate with light breezes it feels rather too gentle and our progress somewhat frustration compared to previous days. After the sunshine comes the rain, then more rain and drizzle… then more rain. At some point some sunshine again for sure.

We celebrated Valentines Day and then yesterday Chinese New Year. Our two Chinese ambassadors, who join as crew sponsored by the government in Qingdao, cooked us some traditional Chinese food. And today it’s more simple fare…wraps corn beef and spam again. Some 1000 miles from Sanya and the possibility of fresh fruits and vegetables!

Smiles. Susan.

Mile ( and chocolate ) Munching

Tracking steadily north west in beautiful conditions with good speed in the right direction. How lucky we are … endless blue seas, glorious conditions, light clouds, occasionally grey with some warm rain, but not often enough to make the addition of soap worth the risk that it stops mid way through nature’s shower. And by night we have the Southern Cross kite still visible as a backdrop to our own kite propelling us across the ocean. Exhilarating helming with our massive sail plan.

Conditions down below are basic, continuing extraordinarily sticky. Compounded one evening by having to cook sausages, mash and beans, although much appreciated by the crew, working over a hot stove is an endurance test requiring much humour to help preserve ones sanity.

Happily I gave up on any semblance of sanity many moons ago… evidence abounds including signing up for a leg which promised the extremes of heat and cold and much more along the way!

Food and the ritual of meal times becomes super important… with creativity required to make very basic ingredients, tasty…with corn beef, spam, cheese wraps again for lunch, I am very grateful to one of our round the worlders, Andy who has just shared some of his Lindt dark chocolate orange intense … His wife brought kilos of this delicious treat to the Sydney stop over all the way from their home in Switzerland. Kindness and chocolate = bliss?

This is surely an experience of sensory extremes: compact racing boat showing no signs of cooling down; 20 people bunk sharing, or napping in the forepeak on salty damp sails, pressed into anywhere with a vaguely flat surface; short bursts of intense physical activity; hours of concentration and focus on instruments, or the luff of a sail, and endless trimming; reviewing forecast and competition activity; searing sunshine and heat and the respite and gift of night time with an infinite starry landscape. And for sure there is more variety to come. Sanya our first Chinese destination is now 1800 miles to go.

Thank you to family, friends and all supporters, with especially big hugs to Charlotte and Nick whose birthdays I have missed this month – smiles. Susan.

Champagne Sailing

Nearly two weeks at sea and we are blessed by breeze again, miles and miles of blue ocean and an expansive sky scape…sailing by stars or a few fair weather clouds. In the last week we have come through the doldrums with some motor sailing through light patches, a visitation by Neptune and a fun celebration as we crossed the equator, and then against expectations we came across a big wind hole which has meant very slow progress for 2 days. Happily a chance to have salt water showers, slowdown our routine, rest a little, chill out, chat and get to know each other.

We are a well run ship with our skipper, mate and initially two watch leaders and a clear structure and understanding of jobs to do to ensure we remain fed, clean and equipment monitored and maintained. A lean racing machine … haha! In fact we had pretty much got settled into our routine when it was decided to change the system from two to three watches. Objective to enable people to get more rest, improve sharing and allocation of jobs and trial a routine that will keep the optimum number on deck in what is searing heat and as we progress further north upwind and colder more challenging conditions.

The changes led to quite a lot of initial consternation and confusion. Most notably because some people had to change their bunks and arrangements for bunk sharing. Including sorting out and shifting all their kit. Bunks even when shared are a semblance of personal space and privacy. Most had some practical extra work and then there was some friction and evidence of concern about invasion of space. Also it was quickly realised that the watch timings suggested would mean everyone having the same pattern of time of deck. Mine would have been noon – 1600 and then the graveyard slot from midnight til 0400 am. Every day. Oh joy!

Happily the timings were sorted out with further tweaks to the plan. Good news, and yet more confusion.

24 hours on our skipper led a good team meeting and we are settling into the new structure and routine. These are critical building blocks for us all. We are good spirits. I am very happy with the changes …it has meant a new watch leader and team. It is easy to find yourself only getting to know people on your own watch, this shake up means more friends, increased variety and because we have more free time, more conversation. And hopefully as we are happy and better rested, a properly lean efficient racing machine… with perhaps a little time for us reflect on just how blessed we are to be here, now, witnessing the wonders of our universe.

Time is something we may have more than previously anticipated… as light winds mean so far we have only covered just over a third of our expected distance of 4242 nautical miles!

Much appreciation to all family, friends and supporters, smiles. Susan

Time Flies

Day 7 finds us in the doldrums with a cormorant resting on our starboard helm.  Since we left Airlie beach it has got hotter and hotter and we are all melting. Burning sun and high humidity.  Night time is glorious not just for the wide expanse of stars some nights but also simply because of the relative relief from the heat.

Our team is made up of a diverse crew of 20 – mostly Europeans, Swiss, German, French plus our Chinese ambassadors.  Our round the world crew are an experienced pretty well bonded bunch, who have shown us newbie leggers much patience as we become reacquainted with sailing the Clipper 70.

We are lucky that the conditions so far have been quite benign, mostly off the wind, although even the little we had upwind was pretty uncomfortable.  Scrambling around at 45 degrees becomes quite a challenge above and below decks.

So far mother nature has been kind to us… one night we witnessed a wonderful lunar eclipse, another a massive rain squall of warm rain, which was a blissful shower and temporary respite from the heat. Helming with intense rain tested the capability of my eyelids as I struggled to see, with mouth wide open to enjoy the taste of fresh water, happily not captured on film by our media crew!

Hard to believe we have been at sea for a week. Little time for conversation not related to sailing and the race, as for the most part we are pretty focused. This is of course essential as we have much to learn to work together on sail changes and all aspects of contributing to the safe running of our boat.  As we have more time together I hope this will change. And we certainly do have much time together as this is a long race.  Each day seems to merge into another and as we wake after being off watch it matters not what time of day it is… sleep ,eat, sail, repeat.

For me this race will be as much about the sailing as about the people – what can we learn about ourselves and from each other in these cramped conditions. What I have noticed so far is that simple kindness, being willing to contribute and appreciation for advice or help given makes a massive difference to living together.  And I remain deeply curious to discover more about my fellow team mates.