James Holding is a 37-year-old British marine biologist who, in his own words, “saw the race on the news and couldn’t believe it was possible.”
I was unable to meet James personally under the circumstances
to ask how he was faring after the ninth and 6,000-mile leg across the Pacific from China to Oakland, where the “Clipper Round The World” http://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/index.php sailing fleet was now about to depart on its 10th leg to Panama, another 3,000 miles south. The 10 specially designed masthead cutters will then begin their last big push with a penultimate stop in New York en route to the UK where the race originated nearly a year ago.
In Oakland at the StrictlySail Pacific Boat Show to give my seminar “Getting Out There Alone,” I was about to talk about the special experience of solo sailing, the beauties of the ocean and the challenges of making one’s dream into reality. My own days at sea had changed the course of my life in ways I was still coming to appreciate. Some of these apply to anyone wishing to turn their own deeply felt desires into a specific plan of action, as these sailors were all doing.
The crew of the boat “New York” posed for a photo
with at least one crewmember’s parents looking on. They had journeyed all the way from southern England to greet their daughter, Elizabeth Allan, for whom this was a first sailing experience. And what an experience! She would be one of 14 women on a crew that included 44 individuals from varied walks of life - eldest 72, youngest 22 - and an average age of 46.
The 68-foot matched racing sloops are operated for profit under the chairmanship of renowned solo circumnavigator Robin Knox Johnson. They host crews of 18 aboard to give people a chance in global match racing to live the dream of sailing around the world. James was just one of hundreds who saw the opening and took it. (How many considered it but did not?)
James’ father scanned the crews as they prepared to disembark from Jack London Square April 14 under clear skies and a briskly rising northwesterly breeze, which would give them fast initial sailing south. He explained that James had suffered a back injury on the race into Australia but fought to get back aboard in China to continue the trip, toward which he had devoted nearly three years of his life and about 50,000 English pounds.
The 40,000-mile yacht race is not for the faint-hearted. A few days earlier, about 400 miles off the coast, a rogue wave estimated at 60-feet tall had rolled and damaged one of the fleet during the night and sent two crew members – airlifted off the disabled craft - to hospital.
Speaking of pounds – the other kind – one crew member on Qingdao reported a weight loss of about four stone so far, or roughly 70 pounds, although it was evident in scanning the crews that despite burning 5,000 calories-a-day at sea some had either gained weight or lost precious little along the way.
Food, one of the race spokesmen declared to the public gathering, becomes a subject of fascination if not obsession at sea. Everyone aboard will serve as cook and bottle-washer in an intensely shared and inter-dependent experience. Taking turns in the galley and cleaning up the boat teaches a mutually respectful behavior in which crewmembers realize that however they behave, “they will get their own back.” And, noted one of the organizers, the ocean has a way of bringing out important truths because “you learn a lot more about yourself when times are tough than you do when times are good.”
“Act to be!” would be my central theme, an exhortation first uttered to me by an interested observer after I arrived in Honolulu, where I had docked for repairs after a 25-day passage. Diligent planning (I thought) had not prepared me for the truly unexpected – it never can – and I had learned some crucial things about my own life and life in general. As you behave, so you become. The sea brings out certain truths, however difficult they might be.
Many consider embarking on sailing journeys – or other life initiatives – but are stymied by conditions that seem to obstruct them. The truth is that if you want rare or possibly life-changing experiences you must make your way from imaginings to intention and then action. And you may be far more ready than you think.
It is axiomatic that you know more today than at any prior time in your life. It follows therefore that you are now as capable as you have ever been.
What many people fail to appreciate of themselves is that whenever they have been clear about their intention and wholly committed, they have nearly always accomplished what they set out to do. (Or they have learned something valuable that they did not anticipate but could only have learned by ‘going out there.’)
Moreover, as my own experience would attest, the universe has a way of providing what is needed – in ideas, people and resources – to those who demonstrate their passionate and personal commitment to a course of action. While fear may be the most powerful human emotion, and fear of the unknown the most influential of our fears, we have the capacity to learn as we go. Life is a path that you beat as you walk it. Or sail it.
Those were to be my core messages. Years ago I had bought an ocean-going boat with a famous pedigree. Its original sister ship excelled in the first single-handed round-the-world race in 1968 under the hand of French soloist Bernard Moitessier – which suggested it might safely take me anywhere I might wish to sail. And that had been true. My sail from San Francisco to Hawaii and back aboard Feo, my 47-foot ketch, enabled me to confront difficult elements in my life and changed my course from journalist to corporate strategist to author and executive coach. And she has given my three children rare opportunities afforded by life on the water and the lessons of boat handling.
As I now stood among proud parents and well-wishers watching the “Clipper” fleet prepare to leave, I felt inspired by the initiative and courage in the crews, many of whom - like James Holding - had made their own leaps of faith to act on internal inspiration to go where so few had gone before.
James’ father confided that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have ever sailed around the world. I held that thought as Derry-Londonderry, festooned with streamers flying, slipped her lines and backed away from the dock, just one 68-foot ship of dreams crewed by people “acting to be” in ways that would change them forever.