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!

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

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.