7 sailing blogs to follow in 2014

It’s amazing what a little dry land, a comfortable mattress and unlimited hot showers will do to restore one’s love and nostalgia for the sea.

It was just a month ago that I crawled off the deck of Henri Lloyd and onto the docks of Albany, Australia, with an acute disdain for my crusty foul-weather gear and an intense thirst for beer.

Yet, no sooner did I dry out than I began missing life at sea again. Which compelled me to get back in touch with some of the amazing cruising couples we met as we sailed south from New York to the Caribbean last year.

And when I started reading their blogs again, I was amazed at the incredibly different paths they all took after we left them to go our own way. Which just illustrates the infinite number of options open to cruisers and sailors alike when they ask themselves the question “What’s next?”

So I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the great sailors with sailing blogs we met in 2013 and give you an overview of where they are now and where they’re headed in 2014. Though, keep in mind the plans of cruisers (and any travelers, really) are written in sand at low tide.

1. Gretchen and Chris, s/v Alchemy and now s/v Gossamer

chris gretchen s:v gossamer sailing blogs 2014

Chris and Gretchen on their new boat, Gossamer

It was the combination of a marathon, a desperate cry for help on Facebook and an email from Brittany at Windtraveler that brought us together with Gretchen and Chris in Oriental, North Carolina one chilly, serendipitous weekend. Their willingness to help out two strangers in a bind and give us a lift to the airport (not to mention a loaf of homemade bread), totally blew us away. And they have a fluffy white cat. And we have a fluffy white cat. Um, fate?

What they’ve been up to

Gretchen and Chris cruised Alchemy up the east coast U.S. to Maine and then stopped in Massachusetts on their way back down to buy a bigger boat – a 1978 Camper & Nicholson 44 — which means they’re trading the title of “cruisers” for “full-time mechanics” for the time being. So, if you’re looking to buy a boat, you should check out Alchemy, for sale at Crusader Yacht Sales in Annapolis, MD.

2014 Plans

This winter and thereafter, Gretchen and Chris will be doing a refit on s/v Gossamer to get her ready for her trip south to the Bahamas sometime in the distant future (we all know how refits go). For now, they’re based in Annapolis, MD while their new boat rests at the city docks downtown. If you’re interested in the psychology behind the cruising life, Gretchen writes a lot about the mental side of sailing here: www.witzgall.org/blogs/gretchen

2. Jessica and Matt, s/v Serendipity

MJ Sailing Sailing Blogs 2014

Matt and Jessica (aka Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Klein)

A young couple in their early thirties, Jessica and Matt often look like they’ve stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad and could give Alex & Taru a run for their money at modeling (I mean, look at these guys! No photo-shopping necessary). After meeting them for the first time in North Carolina, we kept close to them for most of our journey down the ICW, until their unfortunate accident in St. Augustine, Florida, which put a stop to their cruising for a bit.

What they’ve been up to

After several months spent in St. Augustine doing repairs on Serendipity, Jessica and Matt went back out to sea with a vengeance and cruised to the Bahamas, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and hunkered down in Rio Dulce, Guatemala for hurricane season. After the weather cleared, they made the jump to Belize and on to Cozumel, Mexico.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re on Isla Mujeres, Mexico and are planning to make their way to Florida before heading to the Bahamas, the BVI’s and the Lesser Antilles and maybe even the Mediterranean. They’d like to cruise around Europe for a while and get off the boat to do some backpacking on land, but you’ll have to follow their blog to see where they actually end up: www.mjsailing.com

3. Stephanie and Brian, s/v Rode Trip

Stephanie Brian Rode Trip Sailing Blogs 2014

Stephanie and Brian, the most hard-core young sailors I know.

We met Stephanie and Brian about the same time we met Jessica and Matt, and our friendships were solidified one drunken Thanksgiving in St. Marys when we boat-hopped from vessel to vessel, drinking up everyone’s booze stores and collecting more cruisers until we finally stuffed everyone into Hideaway to party it up into the wee hours of the morning. Expert sailors and spearfishermen, Steph and Brian are responsible for teaching us how to find and catch fish, which we’re forever grateful for.

What they’ve been up to

After we went our separate ways from the Bahamas – us to the Dominican Republic and them to the Jamaica — they joined back up with Jessica and Matt and sailed with them to Cuba and the Cayman Islands, then went off again on their own path to Bermuda and back to Maine for hurricane season. Right now they’re in the Bahamas again, spearfishing, swimming with pigs and visiting some of the spots they missed the first time around.

2014 plans

This year, Steph and Brian hope to transit the Panama Canal and, as they say, who knows? You’ll have to follow their blog to find out: www.rodetrip.net

4. Brittany and Scott, s/v Asante

Windtraveler Sailing Blogs 2014

Windtraveler family of 3, soon to be 5!

Not only has Windtraveler played a big part in inspiring us to go cruising, but when we finally got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and started preparing Hideaway for her first big crossing, they also welcomed us into their community of cruisers. Brittany and Scott (and little Isla) had made a home in Fort Lauderdale as they refitted their boat Asante for their trip south and, having stayed there for a while, connected with some amazing couples on boats who we were fortunate enough to meet and stay in touch with.

What they’ve been up to

After we met them, Asante headed south through the Bahamas and on to Grenada before heading north to St. Maarten, finally putting their boat to rest in the BVI’s to prepare for a new adventure: the arrival of twins. Which, when those little babies arrive, will officially make Windtraveler the largest family EVER on a boat, with three kids. THREE!

2014 plans

For now, the Windtravelers have become landlubbers in Chicago as they await the birth of their girls in February. As Brittany says, “Nothing like having a ‘bonus baby’ to throw a major ‘jibe’ in one’s cruising plans!” Their plans are to cruise on Lake Michigan regularly with their girls, and from there they’re going to do a Lake Michigan “test” cruise with the kids before flying south to Asante sometime in 2015. Follow this expanding family afloat as they continue their adventures with three kids in tow: www.windtraveler.net

5. Melody and Chris, s/v Vacilando

melody-chris-vacilando sailing blogs 2014

Melody and Chris, the artist and the musician.

Mel and Chris are an amazingly creative couple who we met through Brittany and Scott at a BBQ in Fort Lauderdale. And we’ve been following their travels up and down the ICW ever since. Melody is tied to waters where they can get a good internet connection because her income depends on it, and Chris is currently working on his music, which is amazing and very affordable on iTunes. Check out him out at www.chrisdicroce.net. He’s like a folksy Bruce Springsteen, but with a better voice. If you want to sign him onto your record label, though, you’ll have to take it up with his manager, Melody.

What they’ve been up to

Since we last saw them, Mel and Chris have been cruising up and down the ICW working on their boat, working on music and making money doing whatever work they can come by. They’re a great example of how you can still take the leap and live the traveling life even if you can’t afford to quit working. Ryan and I know how that is, so we have huge amounts of respect for working cruisers like Mel and Chris.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re in Fort Lauderdale because, well, Polar Vortex. And also because Chris found some solid work doing everything from high fashion to feature films. Their goal for this year is to try to score some music gigs in places like Ireland, where Chris’ music has done well in the past, and get to the Bahamas one day on their boat. You can follow their journey at www.mondovacilando.com

6. Alex and Dave, s/v Banyan

s_v Banyan Sailing Blogs 2014

Dave and Alex (aka Troublemakers)

Be warned: these two are a very bad influence. If it weren’t for Alex and Dave, we’d probably have headed back to Florida for hurricane season after a few months of cruising through the Bahamas. But after a few pep talks from these two (and a few rum punches), we decided hurricanes were no longer a problem and we were heading south to the Caribbean, like our friends on Banyan.

What they’ve been up to

Causing trouble all over the Caribbean – these guys have been moving! I can’t even list all the islands they’ve been to, as it would take up too much blog space. But as of now, they’re in Antigua after spending three weeks up to Christmas in Sainte Anne, Martinique.

2014 Plans

Right now these two are undoubtedly in a pub in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, convincing more unsuspecting cruisers to throw caution to the wind and go follow their dreams. Their plans are to explore the island until they get the itch to head north to the BVIs/USVIs and work their way back down the chain of islands to Grenada for June/July and hurricane season. But aside from their sailing plans, Alex’s last email to me was full of goals for 2014, like run more, write a cookbook and maybe even race in the Dark-n-Stormy regatta in Anegata. They’re as full of energy and ideas as ever. So, as I said, be warned – you can read their blog, but you might start making crazy plans too. Proceed with caution: www.sailblogs.com/member/banyan

7. Genevieve and Eben, s/v Necesse

it's a necessity sailing blogs 2014

Arias and Ellia, the stars of “It’s a Necessity”.

Normally, I wouldn’t forgo a picture of my friends just to show their kids, but are you kidding? Just look at these faces! And if you think they’re cute, you should see their gorgeous parents, Genevieve and Eben (sorry, guys, your pictures come second. What can I say? CUTE!). We met this wonderfully sweet and incredibly photogenic family in Cabarete, Dominican Republic one weekend during our long stay there and they’ve been up to nothing but good ever since.

What they’ve been up to

After we left the D.R., Necesse waited until the end of hurricane season before continuing on to Puerto Rico. But now they’re back in the D.R. in Sosua working with Live Different, a non-profit organization that builds homes for people in need in Puerto Plata. Even the kids are pitching in to help – go to their blog to see pictures of the project. GO! Trust me, it will warm your heart.

2014 Plans

Genevieve and Eben are considering their options for the moment, but it’s possible they may have a job offer to work for Live Different for several months, so if that works out, they’ll be in Sosua. Either way, you’ll have to check out their blog to find out more about the good work they’re doing: www.itsanecessity.net

Playa Grande

The lucky parents: Eben and Genevieve.

So there you have it!

If you’re looking for a sailing journey to follow in 2014, these guys are out there and we’ve met them. In person. And it was wonderful. Some of them even have cats.

We’ve also been contacted by scores of other cruisers who I haven’t met in person, but feel like I know through email and Facebook. Like Rebecca and Brian of the blog and boat Summertime Rolls, who have even hung out with some of our sailing friends back in New York. They’re from New York and are currently heading south. They also have cats. Not to be confused with the cat they sail on.

Got a sailing blog to share? (Or motorboat blog?) Comment below with a link so we can follow and share the love!

A conversation about driving across Australia

As Ryan sails from South Africa to Australia on board PSP Logistics, a predominantly Aussie boat, he takes the opportunity to glean some info from his Aussie crewmates about things to do and places to see in Australia. And the conversation goes like this:

Ryan: Tasha and I are talking about getting a camper van when we get to Oz and driving across the Nullarbor. I’ve always wanted to drive across Australia.

Aussie: What, from Albany?

Ryan: Or Perth. Wherever we can find a camper.

Aussie (Frowning and shaking his head): Don’t do that. Internal flights are cheap. Just fly to Adelaide or Sydney and then get a camper van.

(Other crew are nodding their heads in agreement. “Just fly to Sydney. Don’t waste your time,” they all say.)

Ryan: But I really want to drive across the Nullarbor. I want to see it.

Aussie: Why would you want to do that?! There’s nothing to see! It’s just desert. You can fly across it in a few hours.

a conversation about nothing in the southern ocean

What the Southern Ocean looks like…FOREVER  (Photo: British Antarctic Survey )

Ryan (Looking out at the unchanged Southern Ocean expanse): What are you on about?! There’s nothing to see here either! We could have flown from Cape Town to Albany in a few hours, but instead we’ve been on a bloody boat for three weeks!

Aussie (Looking out at the water and shrugging): Fair point. But it’s still a terrible idea.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia, with Tasha competing on Henri Lloyd and Ryan competing on PSP Logistics. After getting off the boats in Australia, they have continued their circumnavigation of the globe using other modes of transport.

Clipper Race to Australia: The final hours

24 hours to race finish

The final hours of any ocean race are a test of endurance, grit and tactics, as I learned in the Clipper Race from London to Rio.

And this race to Australia is no different. Except for the fact that, this time, we have a good shot at first place. And we want it. Bad.

But, by now, most of the boats have engaged their 24-hour stealth mode, so we have no idea if our competitors — OneDLL and Great Britain — are behind us, ahead of us, or how fast they’re going. All we can do is keep sailing as fast as we can and hope no one catches us.

“What the hell is that?!” Someone shouts and points at the faint glow of what appears to be a mast light just off our starboard bow. “Is that OneDLL?” Last we checked, Great Britain was 25 miles south, and OneDLL was 17 miles ahead before they disappeared off our radar. “Did we catch up with them?”

Our navigator disappears below deck to see if he can detect an AIS signal on the charts. But whoever it is has turned off their transmitter.

Meanwhile, I’ve been drinking coffee nonstop, preparing myself for the inevitable: no sleep till Albany. I have enough experience to know that there’s no way in hell I can rest when the finish line is this close.

But the next several hours will be a true test of the crew’s endurance, especially considering the statistics of the last 24 hours:

Spinnaker changes: 4
Injured crew: 2
All-hands-on-deck situations: 4
Time it takes to retrieve a spinnaker after halyard snaps: 45 minutes
Time it takes to wool and rehoist spinnaker: 16 minutes
Boats in the lead pack: 3 (Henri Lloyd, Great Britain, OneDLL)
Record miles covered in 24 hours: 311 (PSP Logistics)
Highest wind speed in the last 24 hours: 40 knots
Lowest wind speed in the last 24 hours: 4 knots

6 hours to race finish

I’ve been on the helm sailing downwind with the kite flying for four hours now, focused on keeping one particular star between the mast and the shroud in an effort to keep the boat moving smoothly at the perfect heel. Any jerking motion on the helm flattens the boat out instantly and slows it down, costing precious time until the boat is able to regain speed. So I’m staring at that star in the sky with my arms locked on the helm like my life depends on it.

Looking out across the cockpit, I can see the crew all concentrating on their jobs as hard as I’m staring at my star. Dawn is starting to break and through the binoculars, we can finally see the logo on the boat just off our starboard bow: it’s Great Britain, not OneDLL like we thought. And radar tells us they are now 1.7 miles ahead of us and OneDLL is nowhere to be found. Which means there is 1.7 miles standing between us and first place.

Two crew are standing at the grinder, poised and ready and as soon as the trimmer screams “GRIND!”, their arms spin in perfect unison. It’s like watching the inside of a clockwork mechanism: the boat sways, the spinnaker flutters, the trimmer screams, the grinders spin, the boat sways, the spinnaker flutters, the trimmer screams, the grinders spin. And, like clockwork, the crew silently rotate positions every thirty minutes.

The Skipper comes up on deck and announces that we’ve covered 15 miles in the last hour. “If we keep hitting these numbers, we’ll break PSP’s record,” he says.

But we all know we don’t have another 24 hours to break that record. We have 6 hours at best and this race will be over. And with Great Britain looming sometimes larger, sometimes smaller on our bow, we can practically taste the victory. “Just focus,” I tell myself.

My eyes are growing bloodshot from lack of sleep and too much caffeine and the muscles in my shoulders are starting to heat up with a prickly ache, but I dig into my past and try to think of the most painful moments of the hardest marathons I’ve ever run. I think of the mile-long hill I ran up at the finish of the Adirondack Mountain marathon and all the swearing I did under my breath as I fought through the pain in my hamstrings. “You’ve done harder things than this for four hours,” I tell myself, as I grip the helm. “Just keep going.”

As the sun comes up on the horizon, Eric watches the crew operating in perfect unison and breaks the intense silence. “No matter what happens in the end, I want you to take a moment and remember this,” Eric says, as we look at him, surprised. “You guys should be really proud. You’re witnessing something really special here. Something to remember.”

Whether we’re all too tired, too stunned or too focused to respond, no one says a word. We all just slowly nod our heads.

“GRIND!’ Someone shouts, as the arms spin again. “HOLD!”

Eric continues. “I know it’s coming up to the end of your watch, but there’s only a few hours left in this race and you’ve got something really good going here. If you want to stay up and continue racing, that’s up to you. If you want to go down and sleep in your off-watch, you’re welcome to do that, too.”

No one says a word. No one has to. We’ve already made eye contact with each other and nodded our signs of approval. The message communicated silently across the deck is, “I’m not sleeping until this is over. Let’s get ‘em.”

The final hour

In the end, we draw a little closer to Great Britain, and they pull ahead again, and we draw closer again, and they pull away again. And we do this war dance all the way to the finish, until Henri Lloyd crosses the finish line 27 minutes behind Great Britain, in second place. 5,000 miles across the Southern Ocean and the race is won or lost in a matter of 27 minutes.

When it’s that close, 27 minutes can haunt you forever. What if we didn’t snap the halyard on our spinnaker? What if we wooled those spinnakers a little faster? What if those sail changes were a little smoother?

Anything could have made the difference of 27 minutes over the course of 5,000 miles. But, in the end, I’m not thinking about that. Instead, I’m thinking of something I said on Leg 1, in the Race to Rio. “As long as we cross the finish line having honestly fought to the last minute with everything we have, I will be happy. I just don’t want any regrets.”

As we pull into Albany, Australia, all of us on Henri Lloyd are rubbing our bloodshot eyes and giving each other hugs. And as I think back to the last three weeks, and everything we put into this race, I have no regrets. We laid it all on the line and pushed every last ounce of speed out of our boat.

We may have come in second place across the line, but we can proudly say that Henri Lloyd is in first place on the round-the-world leaderboard. And, though I may be biased, I know we belong there.

No regrets. That’s how we finished the race to Albany. And I couldn’t be more proud of my team.

clipper race to australia henri lloyd 2nd place

Team Henri Lloyd: 2nd Place in Leg 3, 1st Place Overall

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Trail of tears: Clipper Race Leg 3

As we approach the halfway point of the Clipper Race from South Africa to Australia, the wear and tear starts to show on Henri Lloyd’s crew of marathon ocean racers. We fight the effects of physical and mental exhaustion as we battle it out with Great Britain and OneDLL to stay on top of the leaderboard. But the effects are, well, tearful.

Day 9: Tears of pain…and laughter

Statistically speaking, more crew are injured below deck in the Clipper Race than on deck, sailing.

It’s things like getting pitched out of your bunk while sleeping, falling through an open hatch or slipping when the boat is heavily heeled that will break ribs, crack heads and cause general bodily harm.

But I’m not thinking of this as I stand in a precarious position, trying to hang up my foul-weather gear in my wet locker on the high side of the boat, which is now at a 45-degree angle. I am on my tip-toes, grunting from muscle exhaustion as I strain to reach my coat hook while leaning against the severe heel of the boat.

When we’re pushing the boat hard — like now, as we race for the scoring gate* to pick up points – the simplest tasks (like hanging up a coat or getting into bed) become monumentally difficult. And it only takes one small distraction, a wrong step or a hard lurch from the boat to throw my world upside down.

And being tired and distracted, I’m completely unprepared when the boat is hit by a colossal wave. The floor goes vertical, dropping out from under my feet and in an instant I’m flying from one side of the boat to the other. I try to grab the galley counter as I fall, but it’s like trying to clutch a tree branch as I drop from a second-floor window.

I land with a thud on my knees in the wet locker on the opposite side of the boat, and the pain shoots up from my kneecaps in streaks, rendering me stunned and whimpering on the floor.

As Kevin, the boat medic, rushes to my aid and hoists me onto the settee to check me over, I think of the injuries on board Mission Performance and Derry-Londonderry-Doire, which had forced them to turn back to port for medical evacuations at the start of this race. One crew was thrown into a cleat so hard that it punctured his calf muscle, just missing the bone. And another crew suffered a possible broken shoulder or clavicle – they’re not sure which – when she was thrown across the cockpit in a full-on knock-down.

derry-londonderry knock-down clipper race leg 3

Photo taken from CCTV footage of Derry’s knock-down (Credit: Kristi Wilson & Clipper Ventures, Plc)

I rub my knees and search for signs of injury as I think of the unlucky crew whose races have come to an abrupt end. And I sigh with relief when it seems my knees are in one piece, just badly bruised.

Just then, I hear Brian, the Irish videographer/media crew on board shout, “Fecking hell!” as he climbs down the companionway. His face is obscured by his fully inflated yellow life jacket as he exclaims, “I was lightin’ me cigarette and this monster of a wave came over. I’m absolutely SOAKED! Hey… what happened to you?”

I am in stitches as soon as I see Brian’s face enveloped in a ballooned life jacket. I’m clutching my knees in pain, but I’m now also giggling uncontrollably at the image of Brian trying to light his cigarette as a wave smacks him in the face and inflates his life jacket with a pop.

“I think Tasha’s feeling better,” says the medic as I giggle some more and wipe the tears from my eyes.

*Scoring Gate Results: 1st–Qingdao, 2nd–Henri Lloyd (whoop!), 3rd–OneDLL

Day 11: Tears of boredom

As we fight to keep the boat under control in 45- to 60-knot winds for days on end, I find myself saying a little prayer to the wind gods. And it sounds like this:

Hey there, Wind Gods. How’s it going up there? Having fun? Yeah, so I was thinking maybe you could bring it down a notch? Maybe a few hours or half a day of, say, 30-knot winds? I mean, we’re pretty tired, so we’d love it if we could – I don’t know — make a cup of tea without getting third-degree burns, or even get some actual sleep? Not the kind of sleep where I’m awake and hanging onto a cubby-hole so I don’t fall out of bed. I mean real, uninterrupted sleep. Just an hour, maybe?

Except then, not long after begging for the wind to die down, I’m made to regret it. Because as swiftly and furiously as the wind arrived, it dies.

As the wind speeds fall, we watch our boat speed drop from 25 knots to 15 and then to 10. And when it gets so bad that we’re struggling to hold 5 knots of speed, I feel like I might cry. Of boredom.

Because it turns out the only thing worse than hurricane-force winds, is no wind.

bored to tears clipper race leg 3

That’s the look of someone bored to tears of trimming

Day 14: Tears of exhaustion

Did I say no wind is the worst thing ever?

Scratch that. Fickle wind. THAT’S the worst thing ever. In the last 24 hours, we’ve changed sails from the Code 1 (lightweight kite) to the Code 2 (midweight kite) to the Code 3 (heavyweight kite) to the Yankee 1 (largest headsail) to the Yankee 3 (smallest headsail). And now we’ve got the storm jib up.

clipper race leg 3 trail of tears

Rough weather calls for a headsail drop and raising the storm jib

And, let me tell you, these sails don’t move themselves. The Yankee 1 weighs 250 kilos (550 lbs), so it takes an army of crew to drag its dead weight up on deck, schlep the thing to the bow and wrestle it, with all its cumbersome folds and hanks, onto the forestay and then hoist it. Not to mention the work involved in getting the thing down again in high winds, with its sheets smacking you in the face and the foot yanking itself out of your grasp.

Repeat that process enough times in 24 hours when the crew is physically exhausted and has had very little sleep, and you start to see the many ways in which people crack up and fall apart.

tears of exhaustion clipper race leg 3

Exhausted crew enduring a team meeting in rough weather

Some crew stop smiling, while others get short-tempered and hostile. Some stop getting out of bed for their watches, while others take longer and longer to get their gear on and report up on deck.

During one particularly cold night watch, when none of us have slept because of the rough weather, I see a few of the crew rocking back and forth in place the way the mentally ill sometimes do to soothe themselves.

I feel especially sorry for one crew member who seems to well up with tears at the slightest provocation or the mere question, “Are you okay?” And, eventually, after a few more days of no sleep, I can see she is crying as she is sweating up sails, grinding or trimming. But any time I offer to take a job off her, it seems to bring on more tears.

Isak Dinesen may have said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” But I’d like to raise that one and say that the cure for sweating and crying on the sea… is sleep.

I know this because when the wind finally dies down to a steady and pleasant 20 knots, the crew starts to catch up on some much-needed rest and they start to look a little perkier and a little less like prisoners. The skipper does a good thing and insists a few of the most exhausted crew take a watch off to sleep and, hopefully, rediscover their sanity.

Within a day, the results are noticed. The crew of Henri Lloyd is restored to their smiling, cheerful selves, ready to take on sail changes once again without tears, tantrums or talking to themselves. In essence, Henri Lloyd is transformed from something resembling an insane asylum to something more like a solid, sane racing yacht.

And all it took was a lot of compassion and a little bit of sleep.

trail of tears clipper race leg 3 selfie

After a bit of rest, we can take smiley selfies again

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Happy holidays: A message from Tasha & Ryan

“Not too late, but never too early,” my father often says of me and my time-keeping skills. Not to mention my gift giving, considering his Christmas present arrived on December 25th (Thank Jesus for Amazon Prime).

Which is actually giving me too much credit (as parents do). Because, in reality, I’m always late. For everything. Just ask anyone who’s known me for twenty minutes. They’ll tell you they would have known me for half an hour if I’d just turned up on time.

And this holiday greeting is, sadly, no exception.

But I like to think of this less as a “flaw” and more of a “side effect of eternal optimism.” I mean, don’t you wish everyone trusted the world the way I unquestionably believe I’ll be on time because this time I can shower, get dressed and do my make-up in under ten minutes?

Surely, we can never have too much optimism. Especially during the holidays, when New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner and we’re all promising to exercise more, eat less Chinese takeaway and stop updating our Facebook when drunk in 2014.

Take, for example, this video: I optimistically thought we would be spending Christmas in Australia with our friends Travis and Emily, which is why I started recording this holiday message on their sunny back porch in Brisbane.

But it turned out even that was going too far. That’s right. Recording a Christmas message on December 23rd with the presumption we would still be in the same country on December 25th was too optimistic.

Which is why this is our Holiday Greeting:

Holiday Message from Tasha & Ryan from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

But look on the bright side: You’re not getting this on Valentine’s Day. So, though I may be late, just remember I’m not that late. Which, frankly, makes me an inspiration.

Come June, when you’ve not lost the ten pounds you promised to shed for bikini season and, instead, you’ve put on five, you can think to yourself, “I didn’t put on that much weight.” Followed by “Tasha wasn’t that late with her Christmas message.”

And when you’ve drunkenly posted on Facebook that you played hookie from work, and then remembered in the morning that you and your boss are Facebook friends, you can think, “It’s not that bad. At least I didn’t call her an asshole.”

So there. You see? I did it for you guys. Because everyone can use a little optimism and a bank of good excuses…or what I prefer to call “a positive outlook.” Call it a gift. You’re welcome.

Oh and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

— Tasha

P.S. – Ryan is in the background saying he would totally have had this out on time if this were his blog. But I’ve just reminded him how selfish that would have been of him. Christmas is about being the pillar of imperfection that your friends can look to to feel better about themselves. That is true selflessness. And the meaning of Christmas.

Lest we forget: Remembering my grandfather

On November 11th, as we flinched like a battle weary crew from a wave crashing overhead, the skipper came up on deck and informed us all it was Remembrance Day. He bowed his head and asked for a moment of silence to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers of World War I and anyone who fought for our freedom.

So we all put our heads down, and took a moment to be still in thought. And when it was over, Graham, one of our crew, quietly recited the words to the poem Lest We Forget:

They shall grow not old

As we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them

Nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun.

And in the morning

We will remember them.

And with the line “we will remember them,” I completely and surprisingly lost control.

I tried holding back the tears, being that a sailboat racing through hurricane-force winds on the Southern Ocean was the last place I needed to be having a break-down, but I couldn’t stop the stream now trickling down my trembling chin. So I hid my face behind the enormous collar of my foul-weather jacket and mumbled things like, “Gosh, all this saltwater…really gets in your eyes, doesn’t it?”

Just four days before I reported to the Henri Lloyd Clipper boat in Cape Town to get ready for the race to Australia, I got an email from my parents saying my grandfather, Walter Hacker, had passed away after being admitted to hospice for multiple organ failures. He was 92, the same age as my grandmother, who passed away earlier this year.

When I finally got hold of my father to ask how he was coping, he wrote to me saying, “I feel like I am in the Doldrums. I have no wind in my sails and I am just bobbing in the water. We keep doing what needs to be done, but my heart isn’t really into anything.”

The metaphor was an unusual one for my father, since he’s not a sailor, but it struck a chord in me. My family hadn’t just lost a member; we’d lost our safe harbor, the reason we always returned to Knickerbocker Lake, where my father and I both grew up. But with both my grandparents gone, we were now adrift, looking for that feeling of home that we always had when my grandparents were alive.

remembering my grandfather knickerbocker lake

My family, gathered together for a BBQ at Knickerbocker Lake

My grandmother, who died in April, was always the matriarchal organizer of the Hacker family — the magnet that drew us to The Lake for BBQ’s, coffee cake or yard work – while my grandfather was the time killer, storyteller and people lover.

My grandfather was the one I’d lose in the grocery store and find half an hour later chatting to the check-out girl, asking her about her studies at university and telling her about how his son studied engineering. I’d have to drag my grandfather away and shuffle him out the door as he’d call back, “It was nice to meet you! Good luck with your exams!”

My grandfather loved telling stories and I loved listening to them. My favorite tales were his World War II stories, and I knew most of them by heart. Like the story about the time my grandfather was driving his Army tank through the snow in Germany and he spotted another U.S. tank stuck in a ditch on the side of the road. When my grandfather got out to help, he was surprised to recognize one of the soldiers – it was his brother, who he hadn’t heard from since they’d been drafted and yanked in different directions by the war. And there they were, hugging each other in a ditch somewhere in Europe during a war.

Walter Hacker 1947 remembering my grandfather

My grandfather and grandmother (far left) in Texas with two Army friends and their wives (1947)

But most of my memories of my grandfather involved cars: riding on my Grandpa’s lap while he drove his John Deere mower; Grandpa’s head stuck under the hood of his truck, tinkering, his clothes covered in grease; or him listening to the rattle in my transmission and getting his tool box out to fix it. Anything that had an engine, my grandfather could take apart, fix, rebuild and get working again.

The last time I saw my grandfather, in fact, he smiled and asked me first how Ryan was doing, and then asked how my car was running. Because those were his loves – people and cars.

In the weeks running up to my departure from Cape Town on the Clipper Race, I was so busy working on Henri Lloyd, preparing the boat and myself for a grueling passage across the Southern Ocean, that I hardly thought about my grandfather. And I felt guilty that I hadn’t had much of an emotional reaction to the news of his death. But somehow the news of my grandfather being gone just didn’t feel real, being half way around the world in South Africa.

Yet, two weeks later, when Graham said those words on the Southern Ocean, “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,” my grandfather’s face immediately came to mind, and I was flooded with the most minute, mundane snippets of my life with him – painting old rowboats with him at the lake, riding with him in his pick-up truck, or watching him change a spark plug. The smallest moments in time spent by his side.

But those memories faded as quickly as they appeared on that Remembrance Day, leaving me with a lump in my throat and a flood of tears mixing with the saltwater spray on my face.

And I wondered what the hell I was doing out here on the ocean, so far from my family, chasing waves to places most people don’t ever attempt to sail to, unless they have a screw loose. My family had taught me how important it is to cherish the network of love and support a family provides. Yet I never said good-bye to my grandfather, or spent nearly enough time with him, because I’d been so busy jetting and sailing to far-flung places. Now all I could think about was my grandfather lying in hospice those last few days, longing for familiar, loving faces. And I wasn’t there.

I looked out onto the raging ocean I was battling with a team of 20 strangers who’ve been to hell and back with me, and I felt an intense swell of love for this alien sea, the places I’ve seen and the extraordinary people I’ve met. But, as I took the helm, I scanned the horizon as if looking for somewhere to place my grief and my guilt.

Just then, two albatross swooped out of the sky, circling the bow of the boat. They dove and coasted just inches from the ocean’s surface, soaring upwards and swirling around each other gracefully. Then, as quickly as they arrived, the birds flew away again, leaving me gazing upwards with a tearful smile on my face.

And as they grew smaller in the distance, I quietly said my good-byes and promised to remember.

remembering my grandfather 2005 walter hacker

Me with my grandfather in 2005, right after Ryan and I got married

Knickerbocker Lake remembering my grandfather

Knickerbocker Lake, as it is in so many of my childhood memories

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Clipper Race Leg 3: Sailing the Southern Ocean

I must have drunk a boat-load of South African wine when I committed to writing a blog post a week while racing a yacht 4,800 miles across the Southern Ocean to Australia. But it’s easy to make commitments like that when you’re on dry, forgiving land.

Now, one week into the race, I’m throwing that plan out the window. Because it’s bananas out here.

Fighting a relentless stream of 100-foot waves and 50-knot winds for days on end has its way of wringing out the last dregs of my energy, leaving me incapable of staying awake long enough to write two sentences, let alone a whole blog post.

Though that doesn’t stop me from trying. Which means the crew on board Henri Lloyd continue to find me curled up in the corner of the salon fast asleep, hugging my laptop to my chest like a teddy bear.

You see, after four hours of changing sails and helming in squalls blowing gusts of up to 70 knots, all I can do when I come off watch is peel off my crusty, salt-soaked layers and fold my damp, frozen self into a tilted bunk to pass out for a few hours before crawling back up on deck again to take part in the madness once again.

sailing the southern ocean clipper race

Sometimes it’s too much for crew just to get undressed for bed

And it occurs to me, sailing the Southern Ocean is nothing like sailing the Atlantic.

The differences between the two races have struck me hard, like an icy wave slapping me in the face, reminding me that I must be a special kind of crazy to be out here in the middle of this terrifying body of water.

But, then again, what’s crazier? To be racing across the Southern Ocean…or to be loving it?

Let me count the ways in which the Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Ocean races differ and you tell me…

1. The Pace (In it to win it)

“There are two possibilities I can see playing out in this race,” Eric says at the Henri Lloyd team meeting in Cape Town a few days before race start. “We can push to the front straight away and force the other boats to chase us. Or we can be patient and let the other boats push ahead while we bide our time and wait for an opportunity to move ahead, like we did in the race to Rio.”

When the cannon fires, calling the race start, it soon becomes clear that we are going for the first option. We leap through the start line in first place, luffing up OneDLL as they try to overtake us with their spinnaker flying.

And we hold nothing back when it comes to changing sails for every fickle wind shift the first 48 hours out of Cape Town until, before long, we are screaming along at speeds of 25 to 30 knots in 48 knots of wind, holding on tight and ducking waves that drench us in the cockpit, splay us across the foredeck and knock us sideways on the helm.

As Table Mountain fades out of view like a distant memory of warm, solid ground, I take a moment to stretch my arms up over my head and give my muscles a good, hard tug. Because it’s going to be a long, grueling marathon ahead.

sailing the southern ocean henri lloyd

Henri Lloyd aims to be the front runner (Photo credit: Clipper Race Ventures, Plc)

2. The Weather (Relentless SOB)

Unlike our Atlantic crossing, where we had a reprieve from high winds during the day, allowing us to rest up for the hairy conditions at night, the wind and seas here on the Indian and Southern Ocean can only be described as relentless. Whether it’s day or night, every time I pop my head up through the hatch before watch changeover to check the weather, I’m immediately drenched by waves breaking over the cockpit, dumping ice-cold water down my neck.

But when hail and snow start pelting me in the eyes at the helm, that’s when I think, “Are you f&%$ing KIDDING me?!”

Like a cruel joke, when I’m cold and wet at the helm, memories surface of sailing across the Equator in shorts and a T-shirt and standing at the helm in a bucket of water to keep my feet cool.

sailing the atlantic ocean heat turf to surf

How could I ever have complained about the heat of the Doldrums?

Now, on Leg 3, I am gripping the helm with wet, heavy gloves that are freezing around my already stiff fingers.

I’ve sailed in wet conditions before and I’ve sailed in cold conditions. But this, here, is a new and fresh hell, sailing in wet and freezing conditions.

My mind wanders back to the two frigid years I spent living in the Russian Far East as a Peace Corps volunteer and I realize this moment right now on the Southern Ocean tops those Siberian winters as the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

3. The Clothing (Water-logged)

Let’s just say I’m calling “bullshit” on any outerwear company that has ever branded their products “waterproof.”

I understand Sperry, SealSkinz and Gill may not have had the opportunity to beta-test their products on the Southern Ocean under a non-stop deluge for weeks on end. And, sure, their products probably weren’t even designed for such extreme conditions.

But “waterproof” feels like a definite misnomer when my boots, gloves and socks have completely soaked through just four hours into this race, and with little chance of drying out again until Australia.

The only part of me that is remotely dry is what is covered by my Henri Lloyd foul-weather jacket and bibs. But, at best, the rest of my gear could be described as “water resistant so long as it isn’t raining, there aren’t waves crashing overhead and you don’t find yourself standing in a cockpit full of water for twenty-four hours straight.”

If anyone out there knows of an actual waterproof product invented by NASA or anyone else I would LOVE to read your suggestions. Because I would trade a kidney for dry hands and feet right now.

water sailing the southern ocean clipper race

There’s no way to stay dry in these seas

4. The Speed (Holy sh**!”)

When we broke the Clipper speed record with 30.7 knots just off Cape Finisterre on Leg 1, we wondered what the Southern Ocean would dish out on Leg 3.

And now that I’m here, staring down a 100-foot cliff of water, bracing myself at the helm as I hit 30 knots with the wake blasting over the side of the boat so heavily that I can’t even see the digital instruments through my ski goggles, I know it’s just a matter of time before we smash our own record. My shoulders are taut, my knees are bent and my back is dug into the helming frame as I tighten my core against the roaring pull of the boat, fighting to surf this wave as long and straight as my strength will allow.

Sure enough, within a few hours of my 30-knot surf, “Hurricane George” –whose dad taught him to helm as a kid in a hurricane — hits 33.9 knots surfing down a mammoth wave in 60 knots of wind, drenching everyone on board in a wake so enveloping that we have to replay the CCTV footage of it over and over again just to confirm it really did happen.

clipper race speed record 33.9 knots

All-time fastest boat speed in the Clipper Race

5. The Fun (it’s all relative)

“Tash, you should have done Leg 2 instead of Leg 3,” says a regretful-looking John, an experienced sailor who’s signed up for Legs 1-4.

“Why’s that?”

“Then you could’ve just said you sailed the Southern Ocean without having to actually sail the whole damned thing,” says John.

“But I don’t want to say I sailed the Southern Ocean,” I say. “I want to actually sail it. Are you not having a blast?”

John shakes his head. He looks slightly nauseous as saltwater streams off his hood and washes over the pained expression on his face.

But after two hours on the helm, I’ve forgotten how cold and wet I am. My neck is warm and sweaty from fighting the helm under control as I surf down waves in 50-knot winds. And my adrenalin is pumping as my body balances fear with excitement while my mind tries to comprehend the magnitude of this adventure.

Meanwhile, Hurricane George comes up on deck, ready to relieve me of my watch on the helm. But, instead of taking the wheel right away, he stands and watches for a minute. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” George says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

I smile and brace myself as the sound of an approaching wave roars behind me on the helm, signifying another big surf ahead. Rain pelts the ocean crests, creating a kind of pocked mountain surface unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And through the icy blue haze, even with frozen eyes, I can see a strange beauty in this alien environment.

I smile because I know what George says is true. To be driving a 70-foot racing yacht like it’s my own mammoth surfboard is, in fact, an extraordinary opportunity.

So, as the stern lifts once more and the bowsprit pierces another wave, splashing the surface as the boat points down into a canyon of water, I tighten my grip on the wheel and hang on for another wild ride.

“This is what I came here for,” I think to myself. And, though this experience may not be for everyone, sure as hell, the Southern Ocean does not disappoint.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Jobs on a racing yacht

If you were to ask me and Ryan to specify our jobs on board our 34-foot cruising boat, Hideaway, we’d probably give you a blank look. Because with only two crew members, there isn’t much specialization happening on our boat. We’re both skippers, helmsmen, trimmers, engineers, navigators, electricians, galley slaves, sail repairmen and whatever is needed in the moment.

But on a racing yacht like the Clipper 70, with 20+ crew, jobs are a little different. Though the crew may find themselves doing different jobs at different times on board Henri Lloyd, we tend to specialize according to our strengths. Which is why it’s important to embrace diversity in a team: because everyone has something unique to offer.

So, looking at the jobs below, where would you fit in?

Skipper – On Henri Lloyd, this is Eric Holden, the sole professional on board. He’s a skilled meteorologist and yacht racer who keeps his motley crew of amateurs in check. I like to call him “Storm Chaser,” since he has a penchant for sailing into 65-knot winds.

eric holden clipper race skipper

The boat boss of Henri Lloyd

Foredeck – These are strong, fearless, thrill-seeking folk who don’t mind being doused in cold waves as they hoist and drop sails on a bouncing, bucking bow. They might even be crazy enough to go up the mast in a raging storm.

jobs on board clipper race yacht foredeck

This job isn’t enjoyed by everyone, that’s for sure

Cockpit – These folks run the network of lines, sheets and halyards that keep the sails properly rigged and trimmed. They require loud voices to scream orders at the foredeck, and they’re mostly relieved they’re not on the bow getting drenched.

jobs on board a racing yacht cockpit

Maaike (aka Scary Splice), tending to the cockpit lines

Grinder – AKA “Coffee Grinder,” most likely because this job is best given to someone who’s drunk a crap-load of coffee and needs to burn off energy by spinning their arms furiously to winch in sheets or halyards quickly whenever the trimmer screams “GRIND!”

jobs on board racing yacht grinder

Maura (aka Trimma Donna) doing her time on the grinder

Trim – Requires focus and attention to detail, particularly when there’s a spinnaker flying. This person knows at all times the angle of the wind and knows when to yell at the grinder to sheet in or ease out in order to achieve the perfect sail shape or keep the spinnaker from collapsing.

jobs on board clipper race sail trim

Trim requires sitting in awkward positions to get a good view of the sail

Helm – Requires intense concentration and strong shoulder muscles, particularly in bad weather. Unlike other jobs, like foredeck or grinder, which require short bursts of energy and brute strength, helming requires endurance, focus and tireless attention to course over ground, wind angle, wave direction, boat heel and sail trim.

jobs on board a racing yacht helm

Racing down wind with a spinnaker up

Engineer – On our boat, this is “Genny James,” so named because he keeps the generator running, the engine in good shape and he keeps us alive by working magic with duct tape and Sikaflex when our watermaker breaks. You cannot survive a 5,000-mile ocean crossing with 20 crew on board without water, so having an engineer on board who loves tinkering and fixing things is cruicial.

Watch Leader – This person is an experienced sailor who knows the boat well and is good at managing people. He/she takes orders from the Skipper and manages the crew so that sail changes, reefs, tacks, gybes, etc., are executed smoothly.

Assistant Watch Leader – This person also manages and stands in when the Watch Leader is not on deck. They assist the Skipper and Watch Leader in running an efficient, happy, productive crew.

Mother – I know, it’s a totally sexist label, but I assure you, the men on the boat do their time in the galley, too. Whoever is on “mother duty,” takes 24 hours off from sailing to feed 20+ hungry crew for an entire day. And if you think this sounds like a pleasant “day off,” think again. Cooking in rough conditions often means you’re being tossed around below deck, near a hot stove, trying to keep boiling water from scalding your face and preventing your arduously cooked meals from flying across the galley and decorating the walls.

mother duties clipper round the world race

Jo and I struggling to cook in this cramped space on a heel

So, where do I fit in?

On Leg 1, I spent most of my time at the helm. And when I wasn’t at the helm, or if I’d drunk too much coffee (which was always), I was on the grinder burning off some energy. But, really, whatever kept me busy and hard at work, I was happy doing.

So, when Ryan and I turn up in Cape Town for Crew Changeover Day to board our boats for Leg 3, the treacherous Southern Ocean leg of the Clipper Race, I fully expect to go about business as usual and drop happily back into my comfy slot behind the helm, at the grinder, or doing whatever needs doing.

But then Eric, the Skipper of Henri Lloyd, pulls me aside and says something completely unexpected. He asks if I could be Assistant Watch Leader on this race from South Africa to Australia…

…And my brain explodes.

I stand there with my arms crossed and my gaze wandering off to the distance. I’m quiet for so long that Eric starts scanning my face for signs of comprehension… or, perhaps, drool.

I’m caught off guard and unable to speak because I’m not good at multi-tasking. As in, I can’t talk to people and talk to myself at the same time.

And the conversation going on inside my head sounds like this: Holy shit, this is great! I’m an ocean racer! Wait, no, this isn’t great. Or is it? I mean, I love sailing! But what if I can’t manage a team? That wouldn’t be great. That would be terrible. And what if someone gets hurt? What if I don’t know what I’m doing? No, maybe this isn’t great. Maybe I’m better at just being crew. But Eric must have his reasons for asking. He must think I can do it… Oh, but he’s looking at me funny. How long’s it been since I’ve said anything? SAY SOMETHING!

“Um…I appreciate the vote of confidence…” I say with a lack of confidence, my voice trailing off.

“You were a big motivator on Leg 1,” says Eric. “And we need that on this leg. It’s going to be tough.”

Right. A motivator. I can do motivation, right? That’s what I love. I love sports, I love people, I love teamwork. I love the energy that comes from fighting and sweating and knowing you laid it all on the line. Maybe I don’t have to know everything? I just need to know what my crew knows… Maybe? Sure. Why not? I can do this, right?

“Okay!” I say, after too long a pause.

“Great,” Eric says, now looking at me sideways.

“Excellent.” I say. “I’ll try not to let you down. I mean, I won’t let you down.”

Eric gives me another funny look, then turns and walks away. And it hits me. The thought of possibly letting my skipper or my team down is what is making me feel a bit sick to my stomach, like the nervous nausea that sweeps over me before the start of a marathon, when all the weight of victory or failure lies in the future, for that brief moment. Then the gun goes off, and the hard work begins.

Before, no one expected anything of me and I wasn’t responsible for anyone. I could do my job, and be as much or as little involved on deck as I wanted to be.

But now, there is more at stake. It’s no longer good enough to just hang on for dear life and merely survive out there while the Southern Ocean throws us around and tries to beat the boat to a pulp. Now, I am responsible for my team. I’m responsible for getting the best out of them, and for getting them through the tough times.

This isn’t just about me anymore. This is about my team. And, boy, does that scare the shit out of me.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Racing the Clipper Race to Cape Town

“No, NO! Go south!” Ryan grumbles, waking me up out of a deep sleep. I open my eyes to find him in bed next to me, glaring at his iPhone.

We’re buried under a pile of duvets in a cozy double room at the Amphitheatre Backpackers in Drakensberg, South Africa, fully awake. But it will be some time before we get out to enjoy the crisp air and mountain views.

The problem is we’re permanently glued to our iPhones. And I mean glued. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that we now bring a charger with us to the bar in case our phones die while we’re out socializing. I know. The irony isn’t lost on me. People don’t go to bars to hang out with their phones.

This habit has gotten so out of control that even people we’ve just met have picked up on the problem. They patiently ask, “How’s your boat doing?” when there’s a lull in conversation because they can see, from the way we’re staring intently at our phones, that we’ve drifted off again.

I could blame Yellow Brick, the devil of an iPhone app that allows us to track the progress of our boats in the Clipper Race, but I know the truth. The first step is admitting you have a problem. My name is Tasha and I get panicky when I’m not holding my iPhone.

“Why aren’t they going south? That’s where the wind is!” Ryan exclaims, frowning at his iPhone.

I turn away so Ryan can’t see the smirk on my face. Though Ryan earned bragging rights when his boat won the Clipper Race from France to Brazil, my boat, Henri Lloyd, is now in third place and gaining quickly on the lead boats in this race to Cape Town.

But it’s not nice to gloat, so I’m trying really hard not to mention the fact that PSP Logistics is in eighth place and flailing around in a wind hole.

[Ryan: That’s a lie. Tasha hasn’t stopped bragging about Henri Lloyd’s position for a week now. She’s even created her own victory dance. If that’s not gloating, I don’t know what is.

Tasha: Dancing is not gloating. It is a creative expression of superiority.]

Though we’ve been racing our boats to Cape Town by car for the last two weeks with the aim to be on the docks when our boats pull in, emotionally, we are not on the docks. We are on our boats, celebrating our teams’ successes and wincing at the pitfalls like they are our own. I cheer at my phone when Henri Lloyd wins the Ocean Sprint, picking up two points towards our round-the-world score, and Ryan curses as he watches PSP Logistics make the grave mistake of not heading far enough south.

But all the joy and frustration I feel following Henri Lloyd on Yellow Brick makes me realize that, really, I belong on my boat out there on the ocean. Leg 1 gave me a taste of what ocean racing was like and I want more. Sure, I’ve had a blast traveling around South Africa, but I don’t really want to be a spectator anymore – I want to be back racing with my crew.

When we boarded our boats in London back in September, I was incredibly nervous and insecure about whether I’d made the right choice, getting on a 70-foot racing yacht when really this was Ryan’s passion, not mine. I kissed Ryan good-bye on St. Katharine’s Docks half wondering if the next time I saw him I’d be broken and defeated and begging to cancel my place on Leg 3, the toughest leg in the whole round-the-world race.

Now, instead of feeling nervous about surfing down gargantuan waves at boat speeds of 30+ knots in hurricane-strength winds, I’m mostly curious. I want to see for myself how these 70-foot boats handle in the Southern Ocean, and I want to be at the helm when we’re screaming down those waves. I can’t think of anything more exhilarating.

And I’m sure Ryan isn’t the only one who is surprised – I myself never thought I would say this, but it has to be said. I can’t wait to race across the Southern Ocean.

What am I, crazy?

henri lloyd cape town clipper race leg 2

Henri Lloyd celebrates their 2nd place win in the race to Cape Town. (Photo: Clipper Race Ventures)

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan have just finished Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK, and they are racing in Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia starting November 4, 2013. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Photo Essay: Lesotho

Pulling up to the Monantsapas border between South Africa and the tiny country of Lesotho in a 4-wheel-drive van, there is a visible line where the tarmac ends and the muddy path winding up into the mountains begins.

A man with a wool blanket draped over his shoulders leads his horse on foot while texting on his mobile phone. He looks up from his phone and waves at us as we drive past, then goes back to texting.

“Is there phone reception out here?” I ask the driver, checking the bars on my phone. It says ‘No signal.’

“They just put up a tower here, but the reception isn’t great,” says the driver.

The van continues wobbling and winding up and around the rocky hillsides, bouncing from one muddy hole to another, punishing the vehicle’s rickety suspension in a way that would have been painful in our economy rental car. Which is one reason why Ryan and I signed up for this guided tour to Lesotho through our hostel, the Amphitheatre Backpackers in Drakensberg. We figured it’d be safer to visit Lesotho with a tour than to test the limitations of our rental car agreement.

As we pull up outside a primary school sponsored by the Amphitheatre Backpackers, children run up to the van laughing and tripping over each other as they race each other to the van, handing over their mobile phones to our driver. “What a curious way to greet someone,” I thought.

But as the driver unplugs his own phone from the cigarette lighter to plug in one of the children’s phones, I realize this visiting tourist car is an important and consistent resource. With tours going into these hills every other day, Amphitheatre Backpacker’s van provides a 12-volt charge to top up the mobile phones of a village that still lacks electricity.

I’m sure there are more developed, more densely populated areas of Lesotho — like the capital, Maseru — where residents charge their phones in plug sockets located inside their homes.

But I know nothing about these places.

What I know of Lesotho is this small farming village whose inhabitants live below the international poverty line, like 40% of Lesotho. And despite what they lack, the people we meet here smile broadly at us and welcome us warmly into their village to explore their heritage, play with their children and learn a little about the way they live.

monantsapas border control lesotho

Starting at 1,400 meters above sea level, Lesotho is the highest country in the world

travel in lesotho countryside

Which makes for some stunning views…

ryan lesotho travel hike tour

…and some incredible hiking

horseback rider travel in lesotho

The people live a simple, agricultural life

lesotho horse south africa

…Traveling mostly on foot or by horse

woman with baby lesotho photo essay

…And carrying their children in slings made from wool and fleece blankets

school girl lesotho

But it was the kids I most fell in love with here

travel in lesotho photographing kids

Though they were a little shy at first…

lesotho boy south africa

They smiled for my camera…

lesotho girl

And humored me…

showing photos to school kids lesotho

As long as I showed them their pictures

travel lesotho showing photos to locals

And showed them to the elders, who got the biggest kick out of the images

school boys lesotho south africa

But it was the schoolboys who really wanted to show off for the camera

boy with mud cow sculpture vertical lesotho

And in exchange for photographing them, they offered me gifts made of mud.

To find out more about the Amphitheatre Backpacker’s tour to Lesotho, visit their page here: http://www.amphibackpackers.co.za/html/lesotho.html