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Posted Wed 4 September 2019

With the Clipper Race underway, I caught up with a sailor friend to find out what life at sea is really like. Here is that account.

You leave on an incredible high, adrenaline pumping, with a mix of emotions: pride, apprehension, confidence and nerves. This is the moment you’ve pictured for months, the send-off you’ve imagined, the culmination of all the application process and training. This is it: not a rehearsal, but finally the real thing.

But those initial minutes are so quickly gone and we’re out in the Channel. We’re quiet now, each deep in their own thoughts. Bravado gone now there is no one to see it.

For me at least the first days at sea are tricky. I’m still trying to behave as if I’m on land with those lists going through my head. Have I showered, changed my clothes, made that phone call? Did I remember to send that email and reply to that letter? But gradually, little by little, my land based world recedes and I settle into the rhythm of sailing. Four hours on and four hours off mean I sleep better than I have for years, the movement of the boat lulling me off in no time. Simple food that I wouldn’t necessarily choose on land tastes so good eaten outdoors and I wolf it down.

Seasickness hits on day three when we catch an ocean swell. The boat is rolling every which way and I slowly begin to feel unwell. The nausea mounts and I would happily slide over the side. It’s now that I need my crew mates to carry me. I can’t pull my weight. Skipper sends me below and I meekly obey. I sleep and to my horror wake up three hours later. I go on deck, stammering my apologies. Skipper brushes these aside: ‘No time for talking, your watch started 5 minutes ago’.

I’m clear headed and acclimatised now, feeling lean and strong. I’ve found my sea legs. Others go through what I’ve just had, sooner or later. The super confident ones all succumb eventually, but we cover for each other. Skipper is quiet, the only one of us not on the watch timetable. He’s always about, often deep in thought, glancing at the sails, checking the chart, casting an eye over the galley, the bunks, the heads. This is our living space for the next 6 weeks…

Catherine Cowen, Plastic Surgery Blogger