Clipper Race Training: Level 2

As you may have noticed from my absence, I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to write about my Clipper Race Training while on the course itself. My four hours on watch at any given time had me schlepping gear, changing sails, hoisting sails, tacking, gybing, reefing, filling in the log book and cooking, while my four hours off watch saw me pretty much fast asleep within seconds of climbing into the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag.

In short, I’ve barely had time to brush my teeth, let alone sit down and write.

So, rather than open up my computer before falling asleep each day, I found myself typing notes onto my iPhone so I could keep a diary of sorts while wrapped up in the relative comfort of my tilted berth.

And this is was the result:

Day 1

Surprise! I have the same skipper I had for my Level 1 Training! I’m taking bets now on how many push-ups Jim will make me do this week.

Out of the 11 crew on my boat, 9 of them are girls. I wonder if Jim tried to trade in his crew when he saw his roster. I can just see him with his head in his hands saying, “Please, God, let there be no crying this week.”

Skipper Jim Level 2 Clipper Race Training

I’m already familiar with Jim’s “I’m not messing around” look

Day 2

Sea Survival Training was more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve never seen a group of people so expertly sidetrack an instructor with unnecessary questions. But, really, it’s the instructor’s fault for bringing up sea water enemas as a method for hydration. And, of course, this was the perfect segue to discussion of how shoving a Mars bar up an unconscious person’s rectum could save their life. Apparently, you can do that. I felt sorry for the instructor because we could talk about nothing else for the rest of the day.

As if the discussion couldn’t get any weirder, someone asked what to do with a body if someone dies in the life raft. There were suggestions to tie the body to the outside of the life raft in case there’s a chance of bringing the person home to their family. The instructor quickly dismissed this idea, however, saying we’d all get eaten by sharks. You would think this would be an uncomfortable conversation to have. But in a world where friend-to-friend enemas and Mars bar suppositories are the norm, an open discussion about what one should and shouldn’t do with a dead person in a life raft was just par for course.

FYI, apparently it is illegal to eat human flesh unless you’re at sea. Oh, the things you learn when preparing for life on an offshore racing yacht.

clipper race sea survival training

Sea Survival Training drove home the risks of ocean racing and how to prepare

Day 3

Having Jim as my skipper for the second course in a row means I already know his motivational one-liners (“Grind like it’s Friday night!”, “Pull that halyard like someone’s got your handbag!”, “This isn’t a pleasure boat, it’s a racing boat, people!”).

I also know to expect the unexpected, like having to drop our lunch for a man-overboard drill because Jim tipped the dummy into the water while we mindlessly munched on our sandwiches.

clipper race training man overboard

Level 2 team mate, Orla, rescuing “Bob” in a man overboard drill

Day 4

These girls aren’t the Finishing School types, which I’m grateful for. They can dish it out to Jim as well as they can take it. They work hard and laugh hard. And in the pub after a hard day of sailing? I dare anyone to drink these ladies under the table.

Today we finally go out to sea with no plans to return to port for 5 days. We stock up on provisions and leave the docks at 11:30 am in 25-knot winds. My favorite place at the moment – when I’m not earning my dinner sweating up sails or working the grinder – is at the helm. What a sensation to pilot a 70-foot yacht as it hums along at a pleasant 10-12 knot clip.

level 2 clipper race training tasha helm

My favorite spot on Level 2 Training: the helm

Day 5

30-knot winds, it’s pissing down with rain and the boat is bouncing at a constant 40-degree heel.

The skipper throws the 85-kilo dummy overboard for a man-overboard drill in rough seas. I look down and realize I’m wearing the “pants of power,” the harness that means I’m the one who will be hoisted over the side as the waves crash up against the hull.

As I reach the surface of the water, in the trough of a wave, I reach out to grab the dummy floating past just as a wave crashes over my head, dousing me in icy water and threatening to yank the dummy from my grasp. I’m trying to find a strap on Bob (our dummy) that will allow me to attach a tether to him. But the force of the moving boat against the waves threatens to pull Bob away from me as I fumble for a loop to attach the tether to.

“Where the fuck do I grab him?!” I scream.

“Just hook onto anything!” Someone screams back.

I find a space in Bob’s life jacket and hold the tether in my fist while I jam my hand through Bob’s jacket and reach back to clip onto my own chest strap.

“Made!” I scream. “Get me the hell out of here!”

The halyard begins to raise and, to my relief, I’m dropped back on deck while the crew fumbles to drag Bob, soaking wet, over the guard rails.

In my mind, I’m imagining Bob is a real person. And I’m overwhelmed with the responsibility of retrieving a man overboard from what I perceive to be rough seas, though I know this is nothing compared to the seas we’ll encounter in the Southern Ocean. “What if I couldn’t hold on to him?” I think. “What if I couldn’t find a way to tether myself to him while being thrown around in the sea? How could I ever live with myself if I failed to retrieve someone in a real-life situation?”

I shudder from the cold of my wet foulies and at the thought of being responsible for whether someone lives or dies out here on the ocean.

clipper race training level 2 turf to surf

Even when it’s cold and wet, life on a race boat is still an amazing thrill

Day 6

WTF? I am screaming into the wind, trying to hold onto the Yankee headsail as it whips and lashes and tries to wrench itself violently from my grasp. “COME ON, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” I scream at the sail in a last-ditch attempt to muster the dregs of my strength from an adrenalin rush as my left leg is wrapped around the leech of a sail that’s trying desperately to throw me over the guard rails. My whole body and mind is engaged in battle with a force I don’t have the strength to fight alone. Three other crew are fighting beside me to bring the sail down in Force 8 winds while the rest of the boat is either throwing up off the stern or lying in bed puking into galley pots.

When we finally jerk the sail down and safely onto the foredeck, I look around and see a war zone of casualties on deck. One crew member is slumped over the stern, throwing up over the rails. Two other crew try to move forward to help but find themselves slowed by nausea as they try not to spew tuna and sweetcorn all over their fellow crew.

In the moments after we wrenched the over-powered Yankee sail onto deck, I sit in the cockpit and shudder a tearful sigh of relief. I’m not sure what’s upset me so much about this incident, but I think it’s the realization that I’m only as strong as my crew and my training. No amount of weight-lifting was going to get that sail in by itself.

The Skipper makes an executive decision to return to Gosport Marina, having been at sea for less than two full days. The crew is simultaneously relieved and disappointed. As is the Skipper.

clipper race training gosport marina

Returning to our haven at Gosport Marina allowed us time to calmly regroup

Day 7

What a difference a hot shower and some food makes. After a night in port, a soaked-through, barely functioning crew is transformed into the dry, rosy-cheeked chatty people I met on our first day of training.

Deep, contented snoring reverberated through “the ghetto” (the crew’s quarters) last night, and this morning a happy, healed fully functioning crew is on deck and ready to take on the seas again. The morale is so strong it’s tangible, which proves to us all that even the lowest moments at sea are only temporary.

Jim greets us with, “This was a wake-up call for all of you. Your old level of discomfort is now your new norm. Let’s move on and do some sailing.”

level 2 clipper race training at sea

With a little time to regroup, the crew start having fun again

Day 8

The last two days have been full of sunshine, laughter and jokes about “grinding through the night.” It’s like the crew died a small death and were resurrected as a stronger, hardier team.

By the time we get back to port for the end of our Level 2 Course, we’re joking about Bee having found a new boyfriend in Bob, the man-overboard dummy, since she spent countless hours in his lap trying to stabilize herself as she threw up over the rails. We laugh as we wash the tuna and sweetcorn off the deck, the last remnants of our misery. And we tease Jim, our Skipper, as he begs us to please stop hugging each other so much. He can only take so much femininity on his watch.

We finish off the course with copious amounts of wine in Gosport Marina’s Boat House Café and move on to Tiger Tiger, a nightclub in Portsmouth that could rival anything you might find on the Jersey Shore.

And before you judge, remember it’s Friday night and we’ve been to Hell and back.

level 2 clipper race training drink up

With the sailing comes the drinking (Photo credit: Orla Reed)

Day 9

I wake up to unfamiliar faces in a berth that’s not my own, cuddling a Yankee sail. WTF? Where am I?

“Tasha. Tasha? TASHA.” A petite brunette is nudging me in the shoulder.

“Huh? WAH?! Where..what?!” I sit bolt upright, turning my head left, then right, trying to make sense of my surroundings as a pain stabs me in the temple. I see Ryan squeezed into the one-man berth beside me. Which explains why I’m hugging a sail. I must have gone to sleep on Ryan’s boat.

“Your crew is looking for you for the deep clean,” the stranger says, explaining why she’s woken me up.

“Wah? Where? What time is it?!” I say.

“Seven o’clock.”

“Shit!” I say, shaking Ryan. “I was supposed to be up for deep cleaning at 6:30! Owwww!” I clutch my head from the pain that’s just surged through my skull. How many Long Island Iced Teas did I drink last night?

As I stumble out of Ryan’s boat and onto the docks in my club clothes from the night before, I hear laughter from my boat next door. I look up to see my crew pointing, as I stagger down the dock towards my boat, which is swarming with busy crew scrubbing the deck.

“Oh God, is this the yachting equivalent of the walk of shame?!” I yelp.

“That bloke you were snogging last night seems pretty nice,” someone yells, as laughter erupts again.

My head is still pounding, but before long I’m barefoot on deck, sweating out my hangover as I scrub floorboards and piece together memories from the previous night with my Level 2 Crew.

level 2 clipper race training deep clean

Deep cleaning a boat after race training is a team effort

Let’s just say, we had our ups and our downs during Level 2 Training. But we lived through it and, in many ways, we survived it because we had each other.

Looking in from the outside, you might question why anyone would endure the hell we’ve been through and the hellish unknown that’s yet to come. But as I joke around with the extraordinary, resilient, hungover friends I’ve made this week, I realize I wouldn’t trade the bad, life-questioning moments for a million more of the good.

Because without the bad, the good just wouldn’t be quite as good.

level 2 clipper race training sunshine

Clipper Race Training forms a bond that isn’t easily forgotten

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race starting September 1st, 2013 from St. Katharine’s Docks in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Sea Survival Training for the Clipper Race

“You’re not a survivor until you’re in the pub telling your story over a pint three days later,” says John, our Sea Survival Training instructor. “Until then, there’s still a chance you could die.”

That has to be the quote of the day,” I think…until John says, “No one’s died in a Clipper Race YET. But it’s only a matter of time. I mean, statistically speaking.”

John is full of inspirational gems like this. He drives home the necessity of Sea Survival Training with terrifying stories of death and danger on the high seas, assuring us that this course will significantly decrease our chances of dying.

But all I can think about now is that one of us might very well die on this race. I mean, statistically speaking.

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If you’ve ever met me, you know I have quite an extensive mental archive of disaster stories I’ve collected over the years as cautionary tales to taking on crazy adventures like, say, climbing Mt. Everest with Jon Krakauer (the Angela Lansbury of the mountaineering world – wherever he goes, someone dies) or, say, sailing across the Southern Ocean. Which no novice sailor in their right mind would do.

I often recount the tragedies I’ve cataloged in my head in great detail when I’m feeling nervous about the latest adventure on my horizon or when I’m anticipating ALL THE WAYS I could die. It’s a habit that causes my friends and family to seriously question my lifestyle choices and makes me wish I hadn’t read so many Jon Krakauer books.

But I can’t help but be attracted to disaster stories. I devour stories of freak avalanches in Outside Magazine and capsized ships in Sailing World. These stories resonate with me so acutely that, years later, I can remember the exact wording of the original article.

Travel writer Mike Sowden says, “Storytelling is SEO for human brains.” Which might explain why, when I meet women on boats who leave all the sailing to their husbands, my brain recalls the story of Luke Stimson, the British sailor who fell overboard when sailing from Japan to the UK. Luke’s pregnant, non-sailing wife stood on deck as her husband disappeared from view behind the vessel, frozen by incompetence, unable to stop or maneuver the boat. Luke was never seen again, which resulted in the manifestation of my #1 biggest sailing fear: Losing someone overboard.

And then there are the sailing-in-storms disaster stories that generate oodles of money in book deals and movie rights, like The Perfect Storm where the boat is destroyed and EVERYONE DIES. Scenes from movies like this come to mind any time I find myself caught out sailing in bad weather. It’s like the Google app in my brain automatically adds the word “tragedy” to any search for “sailing stories.” Because adventure + disaster = memorable.

Remember that great story about that happy, well-adjusted guy who sailed around the world, saw some beautiful places and never had a single thing go wrong? No? Oh, that’s right. BECAUSE THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. And if it did, it would hardly be worth talking about.

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I’m furiously taking notes during my Sea Survival Training Course, which Clipper has required us to take as part of our Level 2 Race Training. And my brain is working over-time as it archives story after story of things gone wrong during rescue missions, mistakes made by crew when deploying life rafts and, really, any tale that ends in death or injury.

I justify my obsessive note-taking, telling myself it will help me remember how to survive in an emergency if I ever need to abandon ship. But the truth is my brain just switches to auto-archive mode any time the subject of “death” or “dismemberment” comes up.

As a result, following my Sea Survival Training, the “newly archived” section of my brain now reads like this:

  • 1979 Fastnet Race: 303 yachts started the race; 86 yachts finished. Force 11 storm. 24 yachts abandoned. 5 ships sank. 18 died (15 yachtsmen, 3 rescuers).
  • Maurice and Maralyn Bailey: Survived for 117 days on a rubber raft before being rescued in the Pacific Ocean. Maurice wrote about the experience in his book 117 Days Adrift. Note to self: Don’t read this while at sea.
  • 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race: 115 yachts started the race; 44 yachts finished. 55 sailors had to be air-lifted from their yachts by helicopter. 6 sailors died. Because of this disaster, all offshore race crew are now required to have Sea Survival Training.

When John, our Sea Survival instructor, explains there is still a chance you could die from something called “secondary drowning,” even after you have been rescued and are firmly planted on dry land, I open a new mental file containing stories illustrating all the indirect ways I could die at sea.

And here are some of the things I learned in Sea Survival Training that are now permanently burned into my brain, for better or for worse:

  • Secondary Drowning: For three days after any ocean rescue, you are still at risk of dying because of the trauma your body has endured. It’s crucial to remain mentally aware of your fragile state and fight any urge to relax. The difference between survival and death after rescue comes down to mental tenacity.
  • Stay with your boat as long as possible: I’ve heard the saying, “always step up into the life raft,” (because if the boat hasn’t sunk, you’re safer on board) but it was the stories and statistics told during training that really drove home this concept. The fact that so many abandoned ships are found intact, floating into ports weeks and months later shows that boats really are stronger than the people who sail them.
sea survival training life raft clipper

My group, learning to deploy a life raft correctly

  • Don’t eat or drink for the first 24 hours: Apparently you can kick your body into survival mode and help it conserve energy by refraining from eating or drinking for the first 24 hours of being in a life raft. This helps you save your rations AND lets your body know this shit’s for real.
  • Your life raft pump can be turned into an enema: I know, right?! So, drinking sea water will kill you. But apparently you can absorb salt water by enema if you’ve run out of fresh drinking water. Who knew? Sure, you may never be able to look your crew in the eye again, but hey, at least you’ll live to keep that secret FOREVER.
  • Conserving energy and body heat in the water is a team effort: We learned how to form human “lily pads” and “chains” in the water to increase our collective chances of survival. By pulling your knees up to your chest, and staying with your crew, you will keep your core warm in the water for longer until you can get to your life raft.
sea survival training human lily pad

Forming a “human lily pad” can help conserve heat and keep an unconscious victim close by (I’m the “unconscious victim” in the middle)

  • Don’t get into the life raft when it is upside down: You need to be in the water to turn the life raft right side up. You can’t flip the raft over once you’re inside it. This is important to know because our instructor told a story about a yacht crew who got into their raft when it was upside down and decided to cut a hole in the top of the raft (which was really the bottom) rather than get back in the water to right it. The raft sank and they all died. The end.
sea survival training upside down life raft

Me, learning to right an upside down life raft

So, what did I take away from all this talk of dying at sea while floating around in a life raft in a heated swimming pool?

Well, for one, I actually know what a life raft looks like now and what it does. I’m guessing many of the cruisers who have life rafts strapped to their foredecks have never actually seen a raft in action and therefore may not know what to do with it in an emergency.

So, was this a useful class to take, even if I wasn’t planning to go ocean racing? Absolutely. I’ve learned the right and wrong way to deploy a life raft and I learned how to save someone’s life with an enema (which is hands-down my favorite “life hack” of the year).

Will I actually remember anything I learned if I find myself in need of being rescued on the ocean? Most likely.

Why? Because of the crazy disaster stories. SEO FOR HUMAN BRAINS, PEOPLE. I’m telling you, it works. That’s why the world loves a good disaster story. Because tragedies are memorable. And, if we’re lucky, we can learn from them.

sea survival training clipper race

My Level 2 Clipper Race crew at Sea Survival Training

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race starting September 1st, 2013 from St. Katharine’s Docks in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

A Round-the-World Challenge

1)    When I think about my upcoming adventures, all I can think of is how I’m going to end up lying in a pool of my own blood.

2)   When I think about my upcoming adventures, I start to think I might die in the Southern Ocean.

3)    When I think about my upcoming adventures, I’m filled with serenity — I’m so relaxed that I feel like I’m being soothed to sleep in a warm bubble bath.

One of these sentences is a lie. Can you guess which one?

I used to play this game – two truths and a lie – with my English language students at the start of class to get them conversing and practicing their English in a relaxed environment. We call these little games “warmers,” since they help students warm up to speaking a foreign language using phrases they know already before challenging them to try out more difficult language constructions.

I’m not sure what made me think of this, but I suppose I’m feeling like I could use a “warmer,” an activity that eases me into the intense experience I’ve just jumped into. The experience that’s about to take me on a seven-month rollercoaster ride as I circumnavigate the world by planes, trains, yachts, cars, buses, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and god-knows-what-else.

around the world travel hideaway

Hideaway waits for us in the D.R. as we travel around the world.

Ryan and I have just completed a 10-month sailing journey from New York to the Caribbean. And now, our boat Hideaway is resting peacefully on dry land in Luperon, Dominican Republic, awaiting our return next year.

Which means a new adventure is now officially underway. We’ve challenged ourselves to take on a full round-the-world trip using as many modes of transport as possible along the way. It all started a week ago in New York, where we flew with our two cats, Charlie and Celia, and handed them over to my parents, who will spoil them rotten with fresh fish and solid ground until we return.

When I say this trip is already underway, I mean before we even boarded our flight to London for our Clipper Round the World Race training, we’d already hitched a ride with friends to Albany (✔car), rode Amtrak to New York City (✔train), stayed with friends on their sailboat (✔dinghy) and toured the Big Apple doing business and visiting friends (✔subway). So, I’d say we’re off to a healthy start.

port washington travel around the world

We’re lucky we can stay with friends on their boats when visiting New York

This is our ambitious itinerary for the next seven months as we travel around the world:

  • Complete our Level 2 and 3 Training for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race without injury. (If you followed along for Level 1, you know about me lying in a pool of my own blood.)
  • Race 70-foot yachts from London, UK to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Fly to Cape Town, South Africa. Swim with some sharks.
  • Anxiously await the arrival of the Clipper Race yachts’ from Rio.
  • Take on Leg 3 of Clipper Round the World, which means racing from Cape Town to Western Australia across the angry Southern Ocean.
  • Travel around Australia. See some kangaroos. Cuddle some koalas.
  • Fly to Southeast Asia for some more traveling. Hit Thailand for a full-moon party.
  • Work our way back to New York via the western U.S. states.
  • Spoil our cats with love and cuddles before taking them on a plane with us back to the Dominican Republic.

I’m not going to lie: this travel outline has me pretty excited. And also pretty stressed. I mean, what we’re about to do is no joke.

So, while I’m practically skipping from city to city (and by skipping, I mean schlepping heavy ocean racing gear), I’m also suffering sleepless nights as my brain wanders to places I can’t even fathom. Like the Southern Ocean.

If you’re a landlubber, you’ve probably never even heard of the Southern Ocean, since it’s not one of the seven seas taught in grade-school geography. But if you’ve ever sailed, you know this beast by name.

Dare to look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll get charming tidbits like this:

Cyclonic storms travel eastward around the continent and frequently become intense because of the temperature   contrast between ice and open ocean.

Sailors know latitudes from 40 to 70 degrees south as the “Roaring Forties”, “Furious Fifties” and “Shrieking Sixties” due to high winds and large waves that form as winds blow around the entire globe unimpeded by any land-mass.

Ice and open ocean. Large waves. That’s the stuff legends are made of.

So, when travel writer Mike Sowden (the talent behind the blog Fevered Mutterings) wrote in an email, “I’m totally jealous of your itinerary. But I’m hiding it really well. *stabs self in thigh with pen a number of times* I’M TOTALLY FINE DAMMIT.”

I felt compelled to reply with this warning:

Keep in mind, I COULD DIE. IN THE SOUTHERN OCEAN. I’m sort of kidding, but then again I’m not.

Most people don’t sail the Southern Ocean because, well, they know better. But my husband? My husband says, “I totally want to sail the Southern Ocean because there’s no way in hell I would ever do that on my own boat.” And here I naively thought he’d signed us up for the two MOST FUN legs of the race. London to Rio! Yay! Cape Town to Perth! What?! What do you mean two boats were dis-masted, a Skipper broke his leg, and they had a man overboard in the last race?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!

So, you may be jealous, but do remember that it is very stressful to be me. I’m always getting myself into stuff that sounds like a terrible idea to everyone else, but makes me want to do it even more. And then sometimes I break myself and people worry about me, and still I come out of it feeling like it was totally worth it. And I just keep chasing that feeling all over the world. Doing that to yourself all the time is REALLY stressful. And fun. You still want my itinerary?

Before I left New York, I spent a day with my parents, who seem utterly baffled by me and the challenges I pursue. “What makes you want to do this?” my dad asked.

I didn’t really know how to answer at the time, so instead I described the exhilarating experience of learning to race a yacht in harsh elements with a crew of strangers who I depend on for safety and support. I could tell from the pained looks on my parents’ faces that what I was describing with a grin sounded to them like the kind of hell that saner people would go to great lengths to avoid. And, despite myself, I understood what they were feeling.

As I lie awake at night, thinking about the Southern Ocean and the vast unknown that I will inevitably face, I feel a seed of panic rise in my gut. It’s an intense and familiar feeling, and one that I’ve learned to acknowledge and face like a worthy challenger. Because, ultimately, I have faith in my experiences, which have shown me both the terror and joy of ski racing, mountain climbing, learning a new language, playing roller derby, falling in love, running marathons, starting a business, riding a motorcycle, traveling alone, sailing to the Caribbean and countless life-changing occurrences.

And, time and again, those experiences have taught me that on the other side of fear lies freedom. Which is exactly what makes me want to do this.

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Follow us here on the Clipper Round the World Race as we update from our satellite phone. Also, check out the Turf to Surf Facebook Page for updates as we travel around the world.

The Dominican Republic: An Indie Travel Paradise

Independent travel in the Dominican Republic couldn’t be easier. Which is why I’m confused by the droves of tourists who come to the D.R. to stay at the many fenced-in all-inclusive resorts, the sterile havens that offer all-you-can-eat buffets, watered-down cocktails and organized family activities in a “secure environment.” Which is tourism-speak for  “complete isolation from real Dominican life.”

Is that really what people want these days? Or has the tourism industry managed to convince everyone that travel is dangerous outside an organized tour?

These last three months in the Dominican Republic, our goal has been to get off the boat, recharge our batteries and get in serious shape for the next chapter of our adventures: the Clipper Round the World Race. And though I’m packing up my life and getting ready to leave the D.R., I’m already thinking of all the things I want to do and see when I return. Because, even after three months, I can’t get enough of this island.

And every time I spot a group of pale, sunburnt tourists wearing matching wristbands, I think “They have no idea what they’re missing.”

Driving along the coast on a motorbike, eating cheap fish dinners by the roadside, jumping off cliffs to go swimming, playing in the streets with Haitians kids, befriending the local banana vendor, playing soccer with Dominicans, learning to make morir soñandos from fresh mangos, hitchhiking, laughing with Dominicans as 20 people squeeze into a guagua for 6 passengers and finding an unnamed bar where locals dance Bachata until sunrise. These are the experiences I will remember of my travels on the north Dominican coast.

And when we return from our fun, stressful adventures racing yachts to Brazil and Australia, I have no doubt we’ll be ready to explore what the south coast of the Dominican Republic has to offer.

I just wish I could convince the rest of the traveling world that the Dominican Republic is a safe, friendly country to explore independently. Made even friendlier for those not tethered to a sun-blistered herd of vacationers with newly braided corn-rows.

But to get to know the real Dominican Republic, you have to get away from the all-inclusive resorts and step out into the unknown. Speak some bad Spanish, get lost, eat four-dollar meals, take the wrong bus, dance with old ladies and drink too much rum with a guy named Felix who tells gruesome stories about Trujillo’s reign of terror.

You might regret the hangover. But, trust me, you’ll never regret the experience.

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Photographic evidence of how great travel in the Dominican Republic is:

luperon travel in the dominican republic

From the minute we stepped off the boat, we felt welcomed in the D.R.

travel in the dominican republic imber

Right away, we made friends to explore the countryside with

pork travel in the dominican republic

We ate some strange and delicious things…

lovebirds travel in the dominican republic

Met some interesting animals…

brugal travel in the dominican republic

Drank some Brugal…

kiteboarding cabarete travel in the dominican republic

And headed for Cabarete to check out the kiteboarding scene.

cabarete travel in the dominican republic

We fell in love with Cabarete and decided to make it our home base for 3 months.

crossfit travel in the dominican republic

Where I trained every day at a local gym for surfers…

cross-fit dominican republic

And worked my body into shape for the upcoming Clipper Race.

millennium hotel travel in the dominican republic

But independent travel has its luxuries too – like this one at $5/day.

paddleboard travel in the dominican republic

Or you can book your own private tour without the throng of tourists.

motorbike travel in the dominican republic

Or, better yet, just take off on the open road when you choose…

playa caleton travel in the dominican republic

…to find serene places like this.

dudu travel in the dominican republic

Or thrilling experiences like this.

boat travel in the dominican republic

But you have to get off the boat. And away from the all-inclusive resorts.

To see more photos of Turf to Surf’s travels in the Dominican Republic, visit our Facebook Photo Albums.

Inspirational Nomads: Sam Rossiter, Fitness Trainer

Welcome to Inspirational Nomads, a Turf to Surf series where I interview travelers around the world about working abroad and living their dreams.

I’ve met dynamic characters all over the world doing every kind of job imaginable and I’ve been inspired by their stories about where they’ve traveled, what they’ve done for work and the amazing adventures they’ve had. Read on to learn more about the people who travel and work and how they got their start.

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“What doesn’t challenge you won’t change you!” is a regularly shouted mantra from Fitness Trainer Sam Rossiter while his students are drowning in sweat and their faces are contorted with pain and exhaustion during his classes at Rogue Fitness in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.

Rogue Fitness is a beach-loving athlete’s dream. With an open-air gym, yoga loft overlooking the beach, skate ramp, circus trapeze and a bar and restaurant serving healthy, protein-packed smoothies and meals, it is the most comprehensive fitness complex in the Dominican Republic, and probably the whole of the Caribbean. It’s also where I train four times a week in an effort to keep up with Cabarete’s hard-bodied surfers, kiteboarders, gymnasts, mountain climbers and extreme athletes who are attracted to this town for the same reasons I am: the sports and the beach lifestyle.

Sam is a hard-core athlete and personal trainer who has worked at Rogue Fitness for over two years, punishing his students with just the kind of intense, nauseating workouts they expect. “I used to say if you puked in my class, the class was free,” Sam tells me. “But so many people puked, I wasn’t making any money. So I had to stop that.”

In every class Sam teaches, it’s evident that (1) he could beat anyone in a beer-can-crushing competition, (2) he loves his job, and (3) he loves to torture people (which goes well with #2). When Sam isn’t telling me to “man-up” and peel my wimpy self off the floor, sometimes we chat about Cabarete and traveling the world. And how he landed his dream job abroad.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Oxford, England in the countryside. We had a farm with no animals, but plenty of land to tear up on dirt bikes. Our neighbors hated us.

How did you get into fitness?

After I left school, I became a qualified sports coach and through my studies of exercise physiology, I became obsessed with gymnastics and free-running. I tried to apply what I knew about human movement to a discipline to try and be the best I could be.

I love being able to do what normal people can’t. But mainly because back flips are super awesome — everybody knows that.

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Sam, teaching the Body Sculpt class I attend.

Did you always want to travel?

Doesn’t everybody? The thing is, most people want to, but few have the huevos to pack up their things and book a ticket. They’re afraid of leaving what they have behind. Scared of losing what they think they own, when clearly it is their possessions that own them.

I couldn’t wait to get out of England. It’s cold and it always rains. And if the rest of the world knew what a ‘chav’ was, you wouldn’t want to go there either. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood though, or better parents. I always had this dream of sandy beaches and clear waters for when I retired. Now I have no idea what I’m going do when I retire since I’m 24 and live on the beach.

What was it like when you first got to Cabarete?

When I first got here, I was overwhelmed by how many people I met; people were always coming and going. Over 2 years later, I now know that’s just another thing that never changes about this town. You get used to it, and it’s awesome.

Everybody’s here for the same reason: to enjoy life. The language barrier was a challenge at first, but after a while you learn a little and your confidence goes right up.

How did you end up working at Rogue Fitness?

When I first moved here I didn’t have a job and I only knew one person, Susi Mai. She grew up here and introduced me to some awesome people who were so willing to help me out in finding my feet.

After a while here, you learn that that’s just how this town is. Everyone’s so chilled and all the locals know each other. But if I wanted to stay here, I had to find work. So I posted fliers all around town advertising personal training and massage services. My company is called FreeRUNFitness. It took a while before the work started coming in. Now I get lots of business just from word of mouth.

Susi introduced me to Zach who, at the time, was working in MiGym (which is now Rogue Fitness). When he left for the winter, I took over for him and ran the gym for the next year. A year later, Zach created Rogue Fitness at the Extreme Hotel and we continued working together. Here we run all our own personal training sessions, sports massage therapy, fitness camps, Cross-Fit and Body Sculpt classes.

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The poster boys for Rogue Fitness Cabarete – not too shabby.

What do you like about living abroad? About living in Cabarete?

It’s my dream land. It’s paradise. Imagine waking up every single morning to the sunlight in your eyes and the warmth on your face with palm tree leaves waving in the wind. That’s the view from my window, and my day starts when the sun rises. Much better than an alarm clock, don’t you think?

I ride a motorbike up and down a 5-minute stretch of coast to the gym, and then another 2 minutes to get to the center of town. I live at the main surf spot here, Encuentro. It’s a small town, so nothing’s too far away.

I love Cabarete. It has so much to offer and I’m totally happy here. There’s a saying that goes, “Freedom is doing whatever you want, whereas happiness is loving whatever you do.”

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Sam, doing a super awesome back flip on Kite Beach.

What advice would you give someone who wants to travel and work as a fitness trainer?

I had no idea what life would be like out here; I was apprehensive and wasn’t sure how long I could live abroad.

And it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Everybody else who lives here has the same basic story of how they ended up here, so I can only urge you to travel! Pack your things, book a ticket, send out applications, go online and contact people. Learn a language, learn to surf, fall in love. Do something with your life that means something to you. But you’ve got to be willing to take the risk and go out into the unknown.

A lot of people say they go traveling to ‘find themselves’. I thought that once too, but then I went traveling and I found that life wasn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. And it’s so simple! Just be yourself! After all, everybody else is taken.

Sam is a USN sponsored athlete – check out his video “Challenge Yourself”:

Follow Rogue Fitness Cabarete on their Facebook Page. And if you want to see how hard-core Rogue Fitness athletes are, check out this video made by allidoistravel:

Sometimes a crisis creates a community

When the fire gets within 200 meters of our back yard, I begin thinking about what to pack. Cats, computer, Clipper Race gear, running shoes, camera…oh yeah, passports and documents… is that too much? Can I throw in my iPad?

“What? No clothes, but you want your running shoes?” Ryan asks, as I run around the house, flustered by the smell of smoke and the sound of wood crackling in our backyard. A sound I really only want to hear at a beach bonfire party. Far away from my house.

We were only gone for an hour or two, at our gym on Kite Beach in Cabarete, but by the time we returned to our neighborhood, the sky behind our house was a crimson haze of blazing heat and smoke. And Dominicans were standing in the street, staring towards our housing complex, Bali Hai, saying, “The lagoon’s on fire. This is bad.”

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The sky was a color like we’d never seen before

As we got closer to Bali Hai, the crackling and snapping of burning branches grew closer, so we followed the noise until we found ourselves parked in front of a neighboring hostel. There was a confused looking backpacker standing in the driveway with all her belongings, so we stopped to ask if she was okay. She said the hostel was evacuating, but she didn’t know where to go. We pointed her towards the Surf Camp up the road and asked if she knew how the fire started.

“Some fishermen tried to clear a path through the brush to the Lagoon, but I guess it got out of control,” she said.

Out of control was right. The fire was so close to the hostel that the trees were bathed in red and orange, which would have been beautiful if it were a sunset in Sri Lanka. But the heat we felt coming off the lagoon behind the hostel had me seriously worried. Do we pack up and get out of here now, or do we get a second opinion?

It was like that classroom exercise I used to do with my ESL students to get them chatting in English. “If your house were on fire and you could only take five things, what five things would you take?”

“Your running shoes?” Ryan asks again, as we go over my packing list.

“If the fire’s moving fast, I want to be able to run.” I say. “I mean I only get five things and, well, what about my passport? That’s taking up one of my five things. I don’t have room for clothes.”

“Why is it only five things?” Ryan asks.

“It’s a classroom exercise. You know the one.”

“This is a REAL fire,” Ryan says. “We aren’t really restricted to five things. Wait, why are the cats on your list but not me?”

“Should we go see if Germán needs help?” I say, changing the subject.

Germán is our landlord at Bali Hai and being that he owns the complex of eight houses near the lagoon that is now on fire, he is visibly stressed. Moments before, he rushed past us in the road, damp with sweat, carrying a machete in one hand and a small bucket in the other. I suggest to Ryan that we keep a close eye on him, as I’m not sure how one fights a two-story fire with a bucket and a machete.

But the biggest concern seems to be our neighbor’s house across the way, which is located right on the lagoon, with a few thatched-roof huts practically touching the water. So we head in their direction. And since the fire is now blazing its way up the lagoon, charging straight for our neighbor’s backyard, everyone from Bali Hai is in the yard keeping a lookout for signs of trouble and any indication that we should clear out.

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We worried this hut in our neighbor’s yard would be swallowed by the fire

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Not to mention this grass hut, sitting on the water

“Where’s the fire department?” I ask, as the flames start licking the reeds under the wooden balcony I’m standing on. Laughter erupts from all directions, which doesn’t answer my question, but at least tells me not to wait around for a rescue. My watch says it’s 10 pm and the fire’s been blazing for five hours now. And still no signs of a fire truck.

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Ryan on our neighbor’s balcony with the fire ablaze behind him

Around 10:30 pm, Ryan and I go back to Bali Hai to see if our neighbors are clearing out yet. Which is when we see Germán and his brother run past us towards a wooded field behind Bali Hai, again carrying a machete and a bucket. We run after them to see if we can be of any assistance. But as I watch Germán attack hanging tree branches over the lagoon with his machete while throwing what might as well be thimbles full of water at the towering inferno, I’m at a loss as to how to be useful in this situation.

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German and his brother silhoutted against the fire they’re trying to kill with a machete

In the end, what saved Bali Hai and our neighborhood was not the fire department, or a machete and a bucket, but a small, man-made canal that had been dug along the length of the lagoon two years ago, separating the thick vegetation that was ablaze on the water and the trees near the houses that ran along the perimeter. When the fire got close to land, it died out slowly, unable to cross the canal to the houses on the other side. And as we watched the fire abate, we heard two fire trucks pull up behind us, having arrived on the scene about six hours too late.

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Oh, hello! Have you heard about the fire?

After two months of living in Cabarete, we’ve not met any of our neighbors outside of the Bali Hai complex. But on this evening, everyone was gathered together — Italians, Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans and more — chatting in English about life in the Dominican Republic and expressing concern for our neighbors and their property.

It was one of those moments when I realized that you could live in a community for years and never really be a part of it. But bring on a crisis, and somehow our lives become woven together. And a community emerges.

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Neighbors gathered together in solidarity

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Bali Hai, safe and sound for now

Food provisioning: 7 regretful lessons

“Do we have to throw everything?” Ryan asks, as we pull cans upon cans of coconut milk, tomato paste, soup and more from the bowels of our galley storage on board Hideaway.

“Did I not tell you what happened when these guys returned to their boat in Tahiti after leaving it for six months?” I say insistently, holding up my copy of Torre DeRoche’s “Love with a Chance of Drowning,” my latest sailing adventure read.

“I glove up and attack the worst job: wiping up piles of maggoty mush. I hold my breath and scoop up the chunky stew, tossing it in garbage bags. All of our food gets flung into the dumpster; over a thousand dollars’ worth of canned goods, flour, sugar, grains, pastas, dried potatoes, cereals, olives, yeast, long-life dairy— all spoiled.”

Maggoty mush. That’s all I can think of now when I see a can of beans sitting on our galley shelf. “We have to throw it all. Just think maggots.”

I don’t know why Ryan’s complaining. He tried to throw most of our provisions overboard, along with my shoe collection, when we reached the Bahamas with an over-weighted stern, only to find that someone had written regulations against that sort of thing.

But now, looking at the massive pile of uneaten food we’ll be throwing out if we can’t find someone to give it to, I’m mostly annoyed that I fell into the over-provisioning trap. Even after I promised myself back in Fort Lauderdale that I wouldn’t get carried away.

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All our leftover canned goods, not including other dried goods.

But the more sailing blogs I browsed and the more I saw how much provisioning other cruisers were doing for the Bahamas, the more nervous I got. And before we knew it, we’d nearly sunk our boat under the weight of everything we bought. Forty-eight bottles of wine? Check. Twenty-six cans of coconut milk? Check. Three thousand four hundred sixty-two tubes of tomato paste? Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. And could someone please tell me what the hell it is I’m supposed to do with tomato paste anyway?

And it wasn’t just fellow cruisers who were going overboard. Even Skipper Bob’s Bahamas Bound guide recommended provisioning as though we’d never see a grocery store after waving goodbye to the Florida coast.  Which in hindsight is just plain daft. So I’ll say it now for those of you who are wondering, “Yes, Virginia, they have food in the Bahamas.”

So now, looking back on our provisioning mistakes, I’m writing this reminder to myself to be a little more sensible in the future.

Lesson #1: Bahamians eat, too.

Contrary to Skipper Bob’s wisdom and the intrepid cruising bloggers before us, Bahamians eat food, just like you and me. And as the average inhabitant of these idyllic isles is not a hunter-gatherer, but a 21st-century citizen, they generally congregate in stores to buy their supplies.

Looking for something to cook while traveling around these islands? Try heading to a local grocery store or market, where you’ll find many a well-fed Bahamian shopping to their heart’s content.

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“I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken. There is no fresh, affordable food in the Bahamas.” (Nassau)

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“Oh, I see. These $6/lb. peppers must be imaginary, then.” (Nassau)

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“What?!  That can’t be FOOD!” Ryan, in disbelief that we found food a day away from Nassau. (Highborne Cay)

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“Oh yeah, there’s food.” Ryan, looking ever smug at the grocery store in George Town.

Lesson #2: If we didn’t eat it before, we won’t eat it now.

Traveling on a boat has changed many things about our lives, but what it hasn’t done is turn us into someone else.

As such, my visions of transforming myself into a healthy morning oatmeal eater and Ryan into a quinoa and soup lover simply did not happen. It turns out I still like Ramen noodles and eggs for breakfast and Ryan likes anything that doesn’t involve quinoa or soup.

Lesson #3: We can never have too much wine.

48 bottles may sound like a ridiculous amount of wine for two people to get through in just three months, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little focus and determination. Seeing as we ran out half way between Nassau and George Town, we must have been really determined.

Thankfully, though, the Bahamians seemed to know we were coming and duly stocked their stores with exotic imports. Sparkling California Champagne for $10? Yes, please.

And on those days when we felt compelled to reduce our carbon footprint and “go local,” we treated ourselves to a bottle of Fire in De Hole “Erotic Rum” for $8. Hells yeah.

Lesson #4: Food shopping in a foreign country is a cultural experience.

Roadside vegetable stands, hole-in-the-wall eateries, Saturday markets and fishermen’s docks are some of the most vibrant centers of life in any community, and some of the most sensory places to experience a new culture.

By stocking our boat so well with food that we’d never have to step ashore to buy anything more than a pint of milk or a jug of distilled water, I feel we robbed ourselves of the need to go exploring for unusual ingredients or something new to cook with.

For some this may be a plus (I mean, can you even trust food you’ve never heard of?) but for us, it’s crucial that we get off the boat and spend a significant amount of time on shore, lest I start ranting about things I hate about living on a boat. So why not spend some of that time ashore searching for the ingredients to try out a local recipe? If nothing else, it could lead to a story-worthy experience.

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Meals like this are cheap and delicious in the Bahamas, if you get off the tourist track.

Lesson #5: Our favorite foods bring more joy when they’re hard to come by.

Ryan’s face, when he picked up a packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs in a George Town Bahamas grocery store, was that of a kid whose Christmas dreams had just been fulfilled.

We didn’t bring any chocolate on board with us when we left Florida because, well, we thought we’d be transformed into oatmeal and quinoa-eating health nuts by the time we reached the Caribbean. But, apparently we lacked the dedication we had when we drank ALL THE WINE. So finding Ryan’s favorite British treats after months of chocolate deprivation was truly a delicious moment.

Lesson #6: Trying to save money up front costs more in the end.

Before arriving to the Bahamas, we were told that things would be five or six times more expensive than in the US. In hindsight, having traveled my fair share of both cheap and expensive countries, I should have known better than to believe this. As it was, things were only 20-50% more expensive in the Bahamas.

But by buying a truck-load of provisions before we left the US, we actually spent more money than we would have if we’d provisioned as we went along because over half the food we bought never got eaten. I mean, who would choose canned soup and tinned meat over the 50%-more-expensive frozen steaks and fresh vegetables found on any inhabited island?

With the price of food we’re now throwing out, I’m guessing we just increased the cost of what we actually paid by about 50%. Some savings, eh? Not to mention, that money could have gone elsewhere…

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“What was I thinking?!”

Lesson #7: Who are we supporting?

You hear time and again how important tourists are to a country’s economy. Especially in the Bahamas, where an estimated 60% of its GDP comes from tourism alone.

And if the Bahamas were anything like New York City, you could just imagine tourists getting taxis, paying exorbitant hotel prices, buying hot dogs, seeing Broadway shows and having dinner at TGI Fridays before rushing off to the Apple Store to buy half a dozen iThingamawhatits they don’t actually need. Who cares if they don’t need it; it’s great for the economy, right?

Now think of cruisers in the Bahamas. How much do we spend on hotels? Nothing. We bring our own “house.” How much do we spend on transportation? Nothing. I mean, we may not travel quickly, but our boat will get us anywhere…eventually. What about buying iThingamawhatsits and bad t-shirts? There’s not much to buy, but there are plenty of free shells to bring back as souvenirs. Fuel? Not so much; it’s a sailboat. Water? Nada. I’m holding out for a free water tap. Shows and entertainment? The night sky is free, and the marine life doesn’t charge admission.

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Hideaway, stripped free of canned goods and ready to rest in Luperon for the hurricane season.

So what do cruisers in the Bahamas spend their money on? Not much, really, unless they eat out a lot or stay at marinas. Which doesn’t often happen with cruisers who’ve provisioned like they’re going to the moon in an effort to keep costs down.

But as I sit here, staring at the gluttonous pile of food I’m now burdened with getting rid of, it pains me to think that the 50% I saved on groceries in Florida — which isn’t really savings when I’m throwing most of it out — could have been spent on groceries in the Bahamas as we traveled through. We could have sailed with a lighter load and uncluttered back berth and just spent money on what we needed, when we needed it. We could have contributed that 50% to the economy of the very country that welcomed us in to enjoy its picturesque islands. And we could have avoided wasting space and money on supplies we wouldn’t use.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. These are the words that accompany any important lesson, I suppose. So what did we learn from this experience? The next time we provision for island hopping, we will only buy enough to get us to the next inhabited island. And when we get there, we’ll be damned sure to head down to the nearest mom-and-pop store and buy us some over-priced foreign food. Because that’s the sane thing to do.

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Taking down our courtesy American, British and Cocktail-Time Flags for hurricane season.

4 Lessons Learned in Level 1 Clipper Race Training

“DROP AND GIVE ME FIVE!” Skipper Jim yells as I freeze and look up to realize I’ve just run below the boom on the low side of the boat — a major sailboat safety no-no.

“Shit! My bad!” I say, unloading the runner line from the winch. “Can I do my push-ups after the race?”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO ADD A ZERO AND MAKE IT FIFTY?! Give me five NOW!”

“Damn it!” I drop on the deck, cursing myself for wasted time while pumping out five push-ups as fast as I can. An instant later, I’m back in position at the back-stay runner, with taut muscles and high adrenalin beating my heart against my rib cage.

My boat is competing against Ryan’s boat in a racing headsail change to test our mettle and see how much we’ve learned this week on our Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Race. And right now I’m focused on nothing more than winning. Which means doing each job quickly, efficiently and without mistakes.

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Nikki and Andrew hanking on the new sail as quickly as possible

“Ready to TACK!” shouts the helmsman.

“Runner coming BACK!” I scream, pulling in the runner line, alternating hands and rotating my shoulders as fast as I can to make up for the seconds lost doing penalty push-ups. “READY!”

“HELMS TO LEE!”

As we tack, the boat zings with sheets being pulled in on the headsail, mainsail and staysail. I grind in my runner until it creaks under tension and I look over at Ryan’s boat. His team is still crouched on deck, flaking their sail. They’re nowhere near ready to tack.

“YESSSS!!!” My crew shouts victoriously, rushing to the rails just as our boat passes closely enough for our opponents to see the whites of our teeth. Jim chuckles as the other skipper shouts to his defeated crew, “Feel the PAIN!”

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Crew mate, Dave, getting ready to hit the grinder

Sure, it’s not an official race, and it’s only a race to see how fast we can change our headsail, but this minor victory means a great deal to me. It means I have officially fallen in love with ocean racing.

Which is quite a statement from a girl who wasn’t convinced she even liked sailing a few months ago. And here I am, counting down the days until I’m standing on deck with my fellow crew, poised to hoist our sails under London’s Tower Bridge and race off to France, and then Brazil.

When I say,  “I can’t wait,” it is a gross understatement.

I have learned so much this week during my training, and it has whetted my appetite for victory on the high seas. I still have a long way to go, but here is a little taste of what I’ve experienced and taken away from my first week on a racing yacht:

Lesson 1: The only similarity between cruising and racing is that they both involve boats.

Nothing else is even remotely the same. Where cruising boats are designed to be comfortable and easy-going, racing boats are designed to be fast and working hard at all times. Comfort is of minimal importance.

I learned this my first night on board when I had to climb over a heap of sails to squeeze myself into my Spartan top bunk. It didn’t look like the most comfortable resting space, but I was so exhausted by the time I unfolded my legs inside my sleeping bag that it took no more than five minutes for me to pass out cold. I don’t think I even changed out of my thermals, which means (1) I was too tired to care, and (2) my bunk was exactly as comfortable as it needed to be.

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Nikki, my bunk mate, sitting on the sails that live below our berths.

Lesson 2: When it comes to crew, determination and technique are more valuable than youth and big muscles.

The ages of my fellow crew ranged from their twenties to their sixties and our physiques ran the gamut from small and light to big and stocky. But everyone, and I mean everyone, brought something to the table in addition to their bold determination. Small girls hoisted large sails, learning how to use their full body weight to sweat the heavy halyards. Large men crawled into small spaces and developed nimble fingers for tying knots quickly. And everyone worked the winch grinder until they thought their arms would fall off. And then they ground some more.

And we all watched in awe as our oldest crew member, Gil, volunteered to be hoisted up to the top of the mast, calling out periodically, “Higher! Take me higher!” And when she was lowered safely back onto the deck, we eagerly asked, “How was it?”

“Fucking BRILLIANT!” Gil exclaimed with a grin as wide as her face.

Which just happens to be how I feel about my first week on a racing yacht.

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Gil’s reaction to being up to the top of the mast and back

Lesson 3: The skipper is the boss in more ways than one.

The skipper is less like a manager and more like a military general. His job is to keep his crew safe and motivated while engaged in battle at sea. That might be battle with the sea, or it might be battle at sea against other boats. It depends on the seas and the circumstances.

By making us drop and do push-ups anytime one of us breached a safety protocol, Jim showed how seriously he took our safety. And he repeatedly drove home the fact that we were on a racing boat, not a pleasure boat, giving us challenges that came with time constraints. “You’ve got 6 minutes to get that sail flaked and stowed!” He’d shout, while adding, “And THEN you can have lunch!”

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Skipper Jim at the helm

On the docks in the Isle of Wight one morning, when Jim noticed the other Level 1 boat was getting ready to cast off, Jim interrupted our morning coffee to dole out jobs and get our boat off the docks before the other boat.

“Do they even know we’re racing them off the dock?” I stupidly asked Jim.

“WHENEVER THERE ARE TWO BOATS, IT’S A RACE!” Jim shouted. “Do we have everyone on deck?”

I quickly did a head count. “Wait, we only have 8! Where’s Gil?”

“She went to the pharmacy to get a bandage,” someone shouted.

“SHE’S LATE!” Jim shouted. “Slip those lines!”

“What?! We can’t just leave Gil behind!” I exclaimed (again, stupidly).

“We’ll come back for her,” Jim said. “But we’re leaving this dock NOW. I WASN’T KIDDING WHEN I SAID THIS IS A GODDAMN RACING BOAT!”

Lesson #4: Safety really is no joke. An injured crew member affects the whole race.

I learned this the hard way on my second day of training when I slipped on the companionway steps, holding a sandwich in one hand and a soda in the other. I disappeared down the hatch like I’d been yanked, hitting my head on the steps on the way down and landing in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Luckily, the pool of blood that had formed under my head was nothing more than an eager-to-bleed small cut. Nothing a little super glue at the Minor Injuries Unit in Gosport couldn’t fix.

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Me, holding a bag of frozen peas to my bleeding head

But because of me, everyone’s training was cut short that day, as the crew quickly downed the sails, got the Coast Guard on the radio, sped the boat back to port and got me checked into a clinic. Not to mention that two additional crew members were taken out of commission to look after me and make sure my condition didn’t change. In short, it was a major bummer for the whole boat.

So, what did I learn from this? I need one hand for me, and one hand for the boat AT ALL TIMES. Oh, and I am officially a hazard to my own health (remember that time not long ago when I ended up in the ER in Cabarete?). I should really look into wearing a helmet, like, all the time.

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The helmet was for climbing the mast, but maybe I should consider keeping it on all the time?

As of now, Ryan and I are on our way back to the Dominican Republic to get Hideaway hauled for hurricane season and to prepare for our Level 2 and 3 training in England in a few weeks’ time. We have a lot of work to do until then. Not to mention we need to get our cats back to New York, where my parents will look after them while we’re gallivanting around the world on sailboats, planes, trains, buses, motorcycles, RVs and what-have-you.

Most importantly, though, this week has stoked a fire under me that has me racing through the many jobs on our long to-do list. Because come September 1st, I want nothing more than to be totally mentally and physically prepared to cast off from St. Katharine’s Docks.

All I can say is, “Let’s DO this!”

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My training boat for Level 1, the Edinburgh boat from the ’11-’12 race

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The smug winners, my crew, enjoying beers on the skipper at the Anchor Inn, Isle of Wight

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For more photos of our first week of Clipper Race Training, check out this photo album on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page. All photos in the Album (not the photos above) are courtesy of Jason Parlour at www.jasonparlour.com. Jason is doing the full Round the World Race.

Q & A: Clipper Round the World Race

As the sun comes up, unveiling charcoal circles under my eyes from lack of sleep, I wrack my brain trying to remember what it is I need to pack. Thermal underwear, shorts, iPad, sunscreen, wool socks, sharp knife, swimsuit, ski hat, headlamp…God, what are the customs officials going to make of this collection…?

In just a few hours, Ryan and I are boarding a plane in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, bound for England, where we’re going to do our first week of Clipper Round the World training in 68-foot racing yachts on the Solent and the English Channel.

I’ve had absolutely no sleep, but my spirits are high from a mix of anticipated adrenalin and the outpouring of support from Turf to Surf readers and friends regarding the challenge we’re about to take on. Not to mention the helpful tips and advice we’ve received from those who are experienced racers or just experienced at doing the insane.

You, my readers, have written some great emails asking me about the Clipper Race, the boats, our training and the two legs we’re competing in. So before I am swallowed up for a week to freeze my butt off at sea with a boat full of strangers, I thought it would be fun to take this delirious opportunity to answer some of your questions.

Q1: Are you insane?!

Actually, no one’s asked that. Well, maybe my parents. But, really, they should be used to this kind of thing by now, so I’m not answering.

Q2: How long will it take to complete one leg of the race?

A lot longer than it’ll take for me to empty the bottle of whiskey I’ll be smuggling on board.

JUST KIDDING, Clipper Officials! I know the rules, I swear. NO ALCOHOL allowed on board (wink).

Seriously, each leg will take about 23 days. The 1st Leg is from England to Brazil, but is divided into 2 races. The first race will be from London to Brest, France (about 3 days), and the second race will be from Brest to Rio de Janeiro (about 20 days).

Leg 3 will be one hell of a long, continuous race from Cape Town, South Africa across the Indian and Southern Ocean to a port in Australia, which has yet to be announced. The passage should take about 25 days and these boats are predicted to reach speeds of over 30 knots. There are even rumors that these boats can do 11 knots in 10 knots of wind. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, but I think that means we’ll be going as fast as the wind. Or faster.

Q3: Why did you and Ryan decide to race on different boats?

To save our marriage.

Again, KIDDING.

Sort of. I say that because I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve taken a back seat to Ryan these last six years of sailing Hideaway around New York and then to the Caribbean. While Ryan has dedicated his energies to learning everything he could about sailing, I’ve defaulted to Ryan on most things boat-related. Which, of course, means I’ve learned a lot less. And that’s my own damned fault. So, for me, this race is an opportunity to make up for my years of inadequacy, learn everything I can about sailing and racing and develop my skills as an individual; and, most importantly, to develop my skills without Ryan around to fall back on for help.

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Rumor has it I’ll be climbing the mast during my training (Photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc)

Q4: How and where do 22 crew sleep on a Clipper boat?

Funny you should ask, because I’m kind of curious about this myself. From what I know, my Skipper, Eric Holden, is a fan of “hot-bunking” as a racing tactic. Basically, because proper weight distribution is so important to successful racing, we will all be required to sleep where our weight is most advantageous to the boat. Which means we will never have a fixed berth.

So when I’m not sleeping in my dandy new Gauss waterproof sleeping bag, I’ll be keeping my belongings (including my sleeping bag) in a dry sack clipped to a bunk, so it’s ready to move to a new bunk at any time.

With 22 crew on board, half of us will be on deck at any given time, while the other half of us will be sleeping where we can best aid our boat’s performance.

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Individual berth on the Clipper Round the World Race (Photo credit: Greg Kyle)

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Sleeping berths inside the Clipper boat (Photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc)

You might ask why on earth I would need a waterproof sleeping bag. Am I likely to get wet while I’m sleeping?

Well, a LOT of things will be getting wet inside the boat with soaked crew moving about inside and dripping sails being stored between our berths. And since I’ll be cold and wet while sailing a lot of the time, the last thing I want is to be cold and wet while sleeping, too. Also, we will be experiencing everything from the hot weather of the tropics as we cross the equator, to the frigid cold of the Southern Ocean below the Cape of Good Hope. And for that, we need a sleeping bag that will keep us comfortable in all conditions.

After a lot of research, we are thrilled with our decision to buy the Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag, from an online company called Fierce Turtle. The Dreamseeker is, without a doubt, the kit that’s most crucial to our comfort on the race, other than our foul-weather gear. And the great thing is we can use our bag on future outdoor adventures, not just on a racing boat crossing the Southern Ocean.

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Tasha at Clipper Race Headquarters with her Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag

And here’s some good news! Having built a relationship with the company Fierce Turtle while doing our research, they offered to give away a FREE Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag (valued at $250) to one lucky Turf to Surf Facebook Fan!

Sorry guys, the contest is over. But congratulations to s/v Bora Da for winning this amazing sleeping bag!

(Featured photo credit: Clipper Round the World Ventures, Plc)

Photo Essay: Paddleboarding in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

In a slow, lilting, surfer’s voice, our paddleboarding guide John identifies each plant we see, sometimes tearing off a leaf and shoving it in his mouth. We’ve only known him for 5 minutes, but we scramble after John through a winding natural maze in his backyard leading down to a lagoon, pausing now and then to hear what he says about a certain tree or flower, the names of which we don’t recognize. Though Ryan and I are both nodding our heads as John talks.

Plucking a leafy green stem from a nearby plant, John urges me to eat it. “This stuff is the best thing for you,” he says. “Put it in your salad and you’ll live forever. Want some almonds?” And before I can say no, a smiling Dominican woman appears, takes out a knife and splits open a beige pod on a tree stump. She hands me two almond halves in their shells and I marvel at how little meat comes from such a fat, stubborn casing.

I’m not sure if it was the email exchange with John, in which he sold me on the paddleboarding tour including “a lunch of coconuts, almonds, sugar cane, and a 10-herb Noni tea, fresh from the garden,” but when Ryan and I turned up to the “Method Lodge” at 9 am, I truly expected our guide to be a local Dominican who’d been exploring this area since he was a toddler.

Instead, John turned out to be a nature-loving American who spent 15 years in Hawaii teaching surfing and kiteboarding until government bureaucracy drove his business elsewhere. And with the Dominican Republic being open to enterprise, and Cabarete being the Caribbean home of kiteboarding, John came to Kite Beach, built a new school, and started inviting people into his backyard to look at the plants, eat from the trees and tour his beloved lagoon by stand-up paddleboard.

As a result, this was not just your average paddleboarding trip led by some employee of a tour company. As you can see in this photo essay, our host John invited us into his home, fed us from his garden, introduced us to his family (and adorable dog) and taught us things about the wildlife and ecosystem of this Dominican lagoon, which only someone who lives, breathes and loves this place could teach us. Really, it wasn’t so much a tour as it was an experience.

Would you like to experience the Method Lodge tour? Email John Holzhall at methodlodge@gmail.com. He loves visitors and teaching his guests about Cabarete’s natural surroundings.

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Upon arrival, we met the Method Lodge’s future guard dog.

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The lagoon tour starts in John’s backyard.

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John follows in the rear, giving us pointers on our paddleboarding technique.

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Though this is easy on flat waters, I wonder what paddleboarding is like on the ocean.

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John shows us how to do “Hawaiian paddleboarding” on our knees.

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Ryan takes a breather to enjoy the view.

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…Which is encouraged by our guide

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After 2 hours, we push our way through the reeds to head back.

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Our lunch of sugar cane, coconut, almond and 10-herb tea from John’s garden, just as promised.

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Except I feed most of my goodies to this adorable dog.

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We stay for another hour, listening to John’s stories about Hawaii

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“Can I take him home with me? Please?”

For more photos of Cabarete and the Dominican Republic, visit Turf to Surf’s Facebook Photo Albums.