Memorial Day: Remembering my dad, Christian Louis Hacker

As “Taps” is being played by a woman in an Army uniform holding a trumpet, another man in uniform stands at attention by my father’s coffin. In this moment, I’m mostly focused on my mother, who I can feel trembling slightly beneath the grip of my fingers around her shoulder, which is why it takes me a moment to notice that the woman holding the trumpet is not actually playing the trumpet.

The tears welling up against the dam of my eyelids have blurred my vision, so I wipe them away to focus more carefully on what I’m seeing. No, the trumpet is definitely not touching her mouth. So where is that music coming from?

Confusion now occupies the space in my brain that had previously been focused on my grief, my mother and absorbing the details of the funeral service and all I can focus on are the two 20-something cadets at my father’s graveside, who I now notice are wearing uniform pants that don’t match their jackets. Their pants are black and their jackets are blue — aren’t they meant to match? And where is that music coming from?

I shift my position to get a better look at the space behind the trees, or to see if there are speakers hidden behind the coffin. Ryan notices the weird expression on my face and the way I’m moving my head around frantically to look over every inch of the trumpet player and squeezes my arm to stop me from fidgeting.

“She’s not really playing that thing,” I whisper.

“Sshh,” he says, squeezing my hand as if to communicate “I know the fake trumpet is weird, but now is not the time. Let it go.”

But I can’t let it go. I am fully distracted now. My cousin Jed, who plays the bugle, had offered to play “Taps” at my dad’s funeral, saying it would be an honor. And I said it wasn’t necessary because the funeral home sent the Army my dad’s discharge papers and they notified us they would send someone to play the trumpet and provide a military burial.

Yet here is a woman in a mismatched uniform holding a toy trumpet an inch away from her lips as the speaker, which I can now see is hidden inside the plastic horn, plays a song that was selected with the press of a button. I am wondering what other songs the toy trumpet plays, and how funny it would be if she hit the wrong button and the trumpet started belting out “La Cucaracha” in the middle of the funeral. I smile and almost snort with laughter. Ryan pinches my arm again.

When the song finishes, the female cadet sets her fake plastic trumpet on the ground and steps towards the American flag draped over my father’s coffin and proceeds to carefully fold the flag with the help of her non-trumpet-playing colleague. When the folding is complete, the man holding the flag scans the crowd as though lost. And I realize he has no idea who the widow is that he is meant to present the flag to.

The cadet scans the crowd like a panicked child looking for his mother and, holding the neatly folded flag triangle, marches off in a random direction towards a woman who is most definitely not my mother.

A few polite onlookers cough and clear their throats while discreetly pointing towards the spot where my mother and I are standing. But the cadet continues marching forward, changing direction towards any woman holding a tissue. Eventually someone behind us whispers loudly, “Psst! Over here!” until the cadet turns his head and finally focuses his gaze on my mother. When he reaches my mother, he bows and presents the flag to her.

And this is what I woke up thinking about this morning.

This Memorial Day holiday really snuck up on me this year and it was only yesterday that I remembered its significance. It startled me, like a polite friend clearing his throat to get my attention after a few minutes of watching me stare aimlessly off into space.

It is a sudden and unexpected reminder of the people I’ve lost over the last year and a half: my grandmother, my grandfather and, most recently, my father. And it’s also a nudge to remind me that I’ve been stuck in some sort of grieving limbo for the last month since my dad died, and maybe it’s time to start moving forward again. It’s time to start thinking about and planning the future again.

I thought after my dad’s funeral, after I had some closure on my grief, I could resume normal activity and return to working on the long list of things that needed doing, a list that continues to grow the closer we get to buying a new boat and embarking on an epic adventure sailing around the world.

But when we returned to Hideaway in St. Martin a few days after my dad’s funeral and started prepping the boat to sell her and take her on one last sailing journey to St. Barths, I found myself frequently drifting off, mid-task. Our days seemed to be full of normal, mundane jobs, like washing the boat, scrubbing the hull, dinghying to shore with our water jugs and shlepping 25 gallons at a time back to Hideaway to fill up her water tanks, an overly time-consuming job in St. Martin, where our anchorage is a 25-minute dinghy ride from any of the nearest docks.

As I sat on deck, siphoning water from the jugs to our tank, I found myself staring into space. Ryan would catch me and ask what was wrong. And I would start rambling about how my dad is gone and here we are just going about life as normal, buying groceries, filling the water tanks, cleaning up cat puke, doing the laundry.

“I just keep thinking, so this is it? This is what happens? An important person in your life completely disappears from Earth and we just keep on doing what we did before? We make lunch, we vacuum the boat, we wash dishes and life just goes on without my dad? The universe doesn’t stop to acknowledge it, even for a second? We’re here one minute, and the next minute we’re not, and the world just keeps on doing all the insignificant things that make up our daily lives while a person is just wiped from existence like their life never happened?”

As I said these things out loud, my voice trembled and tears rolled down my cheeks, and I knew there was nothing Ryan could say to change this fact and there was nothing I could do to make the universe stop doing what it does.

“Life goes on,” said Ryan. “It has to. That is both the beauty and the cruelty of it.”

“But it’s not fair,” I said, my face growing hot. “It’s not fair that it has to be that way.”

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and I picked up another water jug while trying to hold on to thoughts of my dad and not let my mind be distracted from him, as I watched the water trickle through the siphon and into the tank. In that moment, my daily routines felt like that fake trumpet player at the funeral, a distraction from what was really important. I felt like I should be holding on to memories of my father during every waking moment and not be distracted by the little tasks that mean life continues on without him.

But I also know that I need the distractions, the list of tasks I have to accomplish, and the little things that make me laugh. Because these are the things that allow life to continue moving forward despite the grief and sadness.

 me and dad ronda spain 2005Me and Dad in Ronda, Spain (2005)

But today, on Memorial Day, I have an excuse to put all distractions aside and remember my dad, mourn his absence and think about his impact on my life. Today I reflect on the lessons my dad taught me, which I carefully wrote and falteringly spoke at his funeral service:

Eulogy for Dad, April 18, 2015

If you came here today expecting a garage sale full of car parts, having read my dad’s obituary, I apologize. That’s my fault. My mom’s not yet forgiven me for all the phone calls asking about the upcoming garage-sale-slash-funeral.

If you’re here, you know already what a kind and generous person my dad was. You know that because you probably have tools in your house my dad gave you, or maybe a plastic pink flamingo he thought would make you laugh, or a dozen other things bought from Lot Less or Home Depot because my dad was thinking of you while he was wandering up and down the aisles in his spare time.

My dad wasn’t just generous with things, though. He was incredibly generous with his time, his encouragement and his wisdom.

Like most children, I grew up only knowing my father as a dad, as the guy who taught me everything he knew – how to swim, how to ski, how to play piano, how to ice-skate, how to find a bargain, how to change a tire and how to take apart a carburetor when it was flooded with gas. Which was something I had to do often with the ’73 Triumph Spitfire my dad fixed up for me to drive.

But as I got older and took on passions of my own, straying farther and farther from my parents’ interests, my dad (though he didn’t always understand my passions) never wavered in his support and encouragement of me, or his insistence that I could achieve anything I wanted to in life.

Sure, he used to say with exasperation, “You send your kid to college, and she comes back a Democrat,” as he was often confused by my politics and my hobbies, wondering why I supported Obama and hated Bush, why I liked soccer when he loved tennis, why I didn’t want to play the banjo like he did, and why I traveled to far-flung places like Russia and the Middle East. He wondered what drove me to do and want the things I did, but even when he couldn’t understand my passions, he supported me in whatever crazy path I was chasing at the time, and he made me feel that I was safe, loved and 100% supported. Which was the very thing that allowed me to go out into the world alone and explore. Because I was never really alone. My mom and dad were here at home, stretching out a safety net for me to fall back on if things didn’t work out.

It was after college, when I left home and flew to Russia to teach English with the Peace Corps, that I really got to know my dad as the individual most of you have been lucky to know for so long. I got to know him better because our main mode of communication for over a decade, as I traveled the world, was email. And it was through his emails that he told me stories from his life, stories I’d never heard before, and he imparted his wisdom and perspective on the situations I found myself in, drawing from his own experiences.

These last few days, I’ve spent a lot of time rifling through old photos of my dad and reading all our old email correspondences during those years I was living in the Russian Far East, when I felt frustrated by the cultural conflicts and when I was questioning what my purpose in life was, as any 22-year-old does. And I’m in awe of how much time he spent writing pages upon pages of stories and philosophical ramblings to me about life. And the best emails usually had a time stamp of 1 or 2 in the morning, probably after he’d snuck a few beers in the basement while sitting at his computer, after my mom had gone to bed.

Which, funnily enough, is exactly how I wrote this eulogy last night.

Just to give you an example of the kinds of things he wrote to me at 2 am, I found an old email my dad sent in early 2001 that started with these two lines:

“Ponder this: A person’s value system is the sum total of their actions. A person’s words, thoughts, decisions, promises have no value until they act upon them.

Ponder this: You can’t help if a bird happens to land on your head, but you don’t have to let it linger while it builds a nest.”

Yeah, I have no idea about that last one either.

But the first one about a person being the sum total of their actions reminds me of a story my mom told me about Dad, which was typical of the kind of person he was.

It happened on a night when they’d driven to the Albany-Rensselaer train station to pick up one of their tenants, who was arriving to the States for the first time from the Middle East. The guy had written to my dad, after he’d reserved his apartment, asking how he could get from the train station in Albany to the building on Morris Street. And Dad immediately wrote back to the guy and said he’d be happy to pick him up and bring him to the apartment himself, no matter how late.

They arrived to the apartments with their new tenant around 10 pm and as they pulled up to the building, my dad overheard two girls speaking in a foreign accent on the street, arguing with a taxi driver about going somewhere that was going to cost them over $100, which they said they couldn’t afford. My dad heard them say they were going to go sleep in the train station for the night, so he motioned to my mother for help.

As my dad took his new tenant inside the building, he said to my mother, “I think those two girls over there are in trouble. Go over and see where it is they’re trying to get to.” And he did that because he felt that, for two young girls, being approached by a strange man on the street late at night might be frightening. But if he sent my mother over to talk to them, they might feel more comfortable accepting help.

So my mother went over to the girls, and it turns out they were visiting the States from Germany and they had arrived to New York City for some kind of art convention. And since they had a few days off, they decided to go to an event that was happening in a town somewhere in New York. And not having been to the States before, they thought, “How big could New York be?” So they boarded a train to Albany and figured they could get anywhere they needed to go by taxi. Except they were trying to get to Binghamton, New York.

Now, as you know, Binghamton is about 2 hours away from Albany. But my dad didn’t even flinch. He decided he couldn’t just leave these two girls stranded in Albany for the night, so he said he’d drive them to where they needed to go, no matter how far.

So my dad and my mom hopped in their van with the two grateful German girls and drove all the way to Binghamton at 10:30 at night and then drove home again, getting back home around 3 in the morning, undoubtedly swapping stories and chatting about Germany as they drove.

That was the kind of guy my dad was.

So when I think back to those pieces of wisdom my dad wrote when he said, “A person’s value system is the sum total of their actions,” and I look at the example he set for me in life, I see his actions and the impact his actions had on me and the lives of so many around him.

If he was housing people in his apartments, he made them the kinds of homes he would want to live in, not just the kinds of homes he could rent. He did not speak empty words or promises – if he said he would help you, it’s because he was already mentally searching for the part or tool you needed to fix your problem or he was offering to come and fix the problem himself. He lived to do things for others, to help others and the sum total of his actions is so large that I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to it.

I often wrote to my dad while I was in the Peace Corps in Russia, questioning whether I was actually making a difference by teaching English poorly with no training or experience to speak of, while questioning what it is I was meant to do with my life and how I was supposed to figure that out.

And my dad wrote this back to me:

We all ponder the question of ‘do I make a difference’ and what is my ‘worth’. Sometimes I think that hindsight gives a clearer insight into that question. We would all like to think that we have some great purpose. But perhaps the greatest mark we make is to help our ‘brother’ when he stumbles, and never put a stumbling block in the way of another.”

And that is the mark my father has left on me. Through his presence and his actions, and from meeting the many people whose lives he’s touched with a smile, a story or some assistance, I have seen the effect one person can have when they strive in whatever they do in life to help those around them and to not stand in the way of another.

He was my pillar to lean on when I needed support and he was my pedestal to stand on when I struggled to believe in myself. My father is the sum total of a lifetime of incredible actions, and that is why his loss is felt so greatly.

young lou hacker 8th army honor guardDad, an original hipster before his time

What happens when you write a funny obituary

“I’ve been getting calls all morning about a garage sale. Tasha, what did you write in the paper?” My mother says in a high-pitched voice, which I recognize immediately from my childhood as the tone that says I’m in trouble. I’ve just returned from fetching the Albany Times Union from the gas station, knowing my father’s obituary would be published today. So I know exactly why she’s mad at me.

I struggled for two days after I got home to my parents’ house to write the words I felt would do more than just announce to an audience of strangers that my father was dead, but would tell the story of who my dad was when he was alive. I struggled to write the words that would draw a reader in to the funny, quirky, generous person my dad was; the person you would recognize immediately if you knew my dad, or the person you wish you’d known after having read his obituary. I struggled because I wanted to write something that would do my dad’s life justice and also make him laugh, if he were to read it.

For the few days after I flew to New York from St. Maarten, hoping this was just another passing emergency caused by low blood counts and chemotherapy, I watched my mother swing from sobbing every time she picked up a card from my father, a bottle of his medication, or the flowers he’d given her recently for their 43rd wedding anniversary, to short-burst fits of anger that she’d been left with so much junk to clean up.

“What the hell does he expect me to do with all this?” she exclaimed one morning, as we stood on the staircase leading down to the basement, my father’s den of hoarding, staring at the maze of boxes overflowing with postcards, sets of tools wrapped in Christmas paper, gifts he forgot to give, antique relics bought on Ebay, dusty boxes of model cars and used furniture collected from garage sales. And that was before opening the door to the garage, which housed even bigger piles of tools, car parts and, somewhere, hidden under a stack of boxes, a 1959 Triumph TR3 that’s not seen the light of day since I was 13.

My mother stood there, shaking her head, looking at the mess my father left behind and I could see that grief had momentarily turned her sadness into anger.

So I went and sat in my old childhood bedroom with my laptop and thought about all the messy, tangible things my father left behind, as well as the less-tangible gifts of generosity he spent a lifetime bestowing on everyone around him; those he loved and felt responsible for. And it made me think about how much he loved to be able to say to someone, “I think I have something you can use,” before disappearing to rummage through his basement for the very thing that might just make another person’s day.

And, with those thoughts in mind, I sat down and wrote this:

“Christian Louis Hacker, 67, better known as Lou Hacker, of Valatie died April 9, 2015 at the Samuel Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany, leaving behind a hell of a lot of stuff his wife and daughter have no idea what to do with. So, if you’re looking for car parts for a Toyota, BMW, Triumph, Dodge or Ford between the years of about 1953-2013, or maybe half a dozen circular saws, still in their boxes with the Home Depot receipts attached, you should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch.

But this is not an ad for a used parts store, this is an obituary for a great man, generous landlord, committed husband and adoring father who was born July 13, 1947 in Hudson, NY, the son of the late Walter D. and Elsie M. (Barner) Hacker Sr.. Lou graduated from Ichabod Crane High School, attended SUNY Geneseo, admittedly passing Chemistry only because he baked his professor a cake, and served in the US Army, Eighth Army Honor Guard, from July 26, 1970 to September 20, 1971 in South Korea, where he met and fell in love with his wife, Yong Soon.

Lou’s gregarious nature, mechanical genius and general resourcefulness helped him succeed in his jobs as a car mechanic, real estate agent, MOTOR manual sales rep and business manager, all of which helped him in his last and final career as a successful property owner and landlord. He often brushed off his success, saying, “I’m just a glorified janitor, really.” But his tenants and family knew he loved his job, turning derelict buildings into beautifully renovated apartments. But he mostly loved his job for the people he met from all over the world, who he housed in his apartments. He checked in on his tenants often, offering up gifts of used bicycles, kitchen tables, TVs and couches to those who struggled to furnish their homes or single moms who looked like their kids could use a new toy or bike.

Famous for saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” as well as his habitual presence at local garage sales and flea markets, there wasn’t a part, tool, piece of furniture or sports equipment he wouldn’t dig up for a neighbor, family member or tenant in need. So though Lou’s family is a little angry about the heaps of “junk” he’s left behind for them to deal with, the stacks of lawnmowers, the wrench sets in Christmas wrapping, the carcass of a 1972 BMW rotting in the backyard, it helps to remember the place of generosity for which these piles of stuff have accumulated.

Because Lou wasn’t so much stocking up for what he might need for himself, but for what others might need. Those needs filled his heart, mind and an entire basement. And in those moments when someone would ask for a tool, part, or any kind of help, his face would light up and that junk would suddenly be transformed into treasure.

He is sorely missed and survived by his wife,Yong Soon (Kim) Hacker, better known as Mina Hacker; his daughter Tasha Hacker of Valatie; sister Lynda (Hacker) Araoz of Valatie; 3 nephews, Gregory Hacker, Martin Araoz and Rodrigo Araoz. He was predeceased by his brother, Walter Hacker Jr.

Car parts sales and funeral services will be held at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 18 at the Raymond E. Bond Funeral Home Inc., 1015 Kinderhook St., Valatie, with Carlos Araoz officiating. Burial will follow in the Kinderhook Cemetery. Calling hours will be Friday, April 17 from 6-8pm at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Fisher House, 113 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12208 or the Spirit and Truth Fellowship International, 180 Robert Curry Dr., Martinsville, IN 46151.

The family would like to thank the talented and caring doctors and nurses of the VA Hospital in Albany, all of whom worked hard to care for Lou and prolong his life.”

The original obituary can be found here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timesunion-albany/obituary.aspx?pid=174627454

I wrote and rewrote this obituary half a dozen different ways until, finally, I arrived at a version I was happy with.

But I worried that just because I was happy with the tribute didn’t mean others would appreciate the written sentiments. I worried my family wouldn’t get the humor, or that people would think I was being irreverent by cracking jokes about my dead father.

So I gave it to a few friends and family to proof-read before it went to print.

“I like it. But it’s going to confuse old people,” said a friend. “I mean, people are going to show up looking to go shopping, trust me. As long as you’re okay with that… What do you want to achieve with it?”

“I want people to actually read it, not just skim the paper and forget about him,” I said. “I want people to know who my dad really was.”

“Oh, they’ll read it. Then they’ll turn up looking for the garage sale.”

The morning the obituary gets printed in the Albany Times Union and the Register Star, Columbia County New York’s local paper, my mother’s phone starts ringing off the hook and I wince as I overhear her tell someone, “I can’t deal with this right now. My daughter shouldn’t have written all that.” It was a Times Union reporter calling to ask if he could do a story on my father’s junk, since the obituary had made such an impression on him.

And then I get a text message saying, “The Times Union just shared your dad’s obituary on their Facebook page.”

I get on Facebook and watch as the comments pour in about what a great guy my dad must have been, and how these complete strangers wish they’d known him when he was alive.

And I start to feel a little better about my choice of words. I take comfort in the fact that more people than just my immediate family will know, even for a brief moment, what a loss it is to the world that my father is gone.

On the day of my father’s funeral, the director of Bond’s Funeral Home pulls me aside with a big grin on his face and says, “I just had to tell you this. A guy showed up here at 9:30 this morning asking about the big sale. I had to tell the guy he got it all wrong, that there’s no garage sale, but what a laugh we had after he left.”

And I laugh through my tears because I know my dad would have laughed, too.

Yong Soon Lou and Tasha Hacker family portraitDigging through old family photos, I found this adorable picture of me with my mom and dad

Sailing to St. Martin: Things Said In 24 Hours

Things said on board Hideaway in the last 24 hours:

“You only have 3 things to worry about: Keeping the course as close to 125 degrees as possible, keeping the mainsail filled and not falling overboard. Got it? I’m off to bed.”

“Just something to keep in mind, I’m not entirely sure that meat you’re eating is any good.”

“Is that cat puke or spilled food?”

“Our next boat should totally have flashing blue disco lights on the mast.”

“Where are all these broken bits of plastic coming from?”

“Do we even know where our emergency tiller is?”

“Yay! Our alternator is working again! Oh, wait. No, it’s not.”

“The grib files say 10 knots from the northeast, so why are we getting 28 knots from the east?”

“What would make a better weapon? The corkscrew or a can of bug spray?”

“That cloud looks kind of like a girl with pigtails taking a shit.”

“We spent $250 on groceries and the only meal we have on board is mac-n-cheese?”

“People who say you get fit just being on a boat are full of shit. All I do is sit and stare. It’s like the equivalent of sitting on a couch for 24 hours with breaks for eating and napping. No fitness trainer has ever recommended that to me as a regime.”

“Keep the music down so I can hear you scream if you fall overboard.”

*************************

sailing to st. martin hideaway turf to surfHideaway anchored in the lagoon on the French side of St. Martin

When we finally pull up to St. Martin after one false start and a brief encounter with a waterspout, we are relieved to have finally made it.

Though we love cruising around the Virgin Islands, we’d gotten a little stuck in St. Thomas, a cruise ship haven full of American tourists, where Hideaway lived for over 10 weeks as we flew back and forth to New York to deal with the sale of our businesses, and as we nursed our cat Celia back to life from liver failure with the help of the amazing vets at Canines, Cats and Critters.

So now that we’re free of work obligations and our furry crew are in good health, it is finally time to do what we so desperately keep trying to do: go cruising in the Caribbean!

Plans are slowly forming, we’re checking the weather on our Pocket Grib app every few hours and conversation is dominated by what toys we’d like to have on our next boat. We are back in the game and furiously knocking on wood, trying to keep the anti-cruising curses at bay.

sailing banyan st. thomasPassage planning with Caribbean experts, Alex & Dave, on s/v Banyan in St. Thomas

Whirling Dervishes?

“Hey, look! A whirling dervish!” Ryan exclaims with delight and confusion, like he’s just spotted a floating Dairy Queen selling soft-serve off the coast of Virgin Gorda.

Despite the smile on his face, there’s something about the way Ryan is pointing to starboard with his neck strained to get a better view of the sky that quickly alerts me to shut down the stove in the galley and leap up the companionway.

There are three things I know before I even reach the cockpit:

1) Despite being an English teacher, Ryan almost never uses comprehensible vocabulary for things unfamiliar to him.

2) “Whirling” is not a word that should be used to describe anything on the open ocean. At least not with a smile.

3) The Caribbean is not where one commonly finds Turkish men in white skirts spinning in meditative circles.

“Holy shit, it’s a waterspout!” I scream in panic, tripping over the companionway in my haste to jump up into the cockpit.

“Um, is that bad? Like, take the sails down bad?” asks Ryan.

“Yes, it’s bad! Very VERY bad! Jesus, remember the waterspout that knocked down GB in the Clipper Race?!”

I’m watching a spinning funnel of unpredictable air and water, like a skinny, black, aquatic tornado, headed directly for Hideaway with an angry, spitting vengeance.

“You get the jib and I’ll do the main!” Ryan yells, grabbing a winch handle.

We up the throttle on the engine and break a sweat cranking the winch handles with both hands as fast as we can, furling in both sails in a matter of seconds. We are in a race not to be knocked down but we can’t help but pause and stare with alarm at the looming black cloud overhead, as we watch the water at the base of the spout being kicked up violently. The only thing we know for sure is the waterspout is moving towards us much faster than we can possibly motor away from it at full throttle.

The wind is dead on our nose, so my only hope is that the wind carries the black cloud hovering over us astern as fast as possible, taking the waterspout with it so we can avoid the thrill of being bitch-slapped by a funnel.

As we stare nervously off to starboard with our engine screaming at 2100 RPMs, the waterspout suddenly veers away from us and towards Virgin Gorda.

turf to surf - caribbean waterspout virgin soundA view of the diminishing waterspout, which is thankfully getting further away

Our shoulders relax and we breathe a sigh of relief as Hideaway motors forward towards St. Martin, our destination, under a clear sky in 12 knots of wind. Though as the black cloud is drifting further and further away, I swivel my neck 360 degrees every few minutes to make sure no other surprises are creeping up behind us.

This is our second attempt at leaving the Virgin Islands to join our friends, s/v Senara and s/v Pelita, in St. Martin. Yesterday, we left our mooring ball in Maho Bay, St. John at 7 am because the forecast showed light winds from the northeast, which would give us a calm motor-sail to St. Martin, roughly 185 nm away.

turf to surf sailing blog maho bay st. johnA bird’s eye view of our gorgeous anchorage in Maho Bay, St. John

But as we motored past Virgin Gorda and nudged our nose out into the waves building up on our bow, Celia, our black and white cat, took on the look of a tortured soul and proceeded to vomit every 20 minutes. The wind was blowing 28 knots from the east, directly on the nose, with swells of 6-8 feet knocking us around and causing Celia to empty the contents of her stomach while Charlie, our deaf cat, slept peacefully in the V-berth, snoring away even as she bounced off the mattress in the crashing waves.

We watched the anemometer closely as we carried on optimistically, hoping the forecast of 5-10 knots from the northeast and 0-3 foot seas would materialize as promised.

When Ryan screamed from the helm, I was below deck, trying to soothe our seasick cat. “Quick, get up here! I need help!” Ryan was shouting. I bounded up into the cockpit to find Ryan desperately holding onto our dinghy as half of it bounced up and down in the waves behind the boat. Hideaway was heeling so severely that it had loosened the lines securing Mighty Mouse and knocked it off its hooks. I ran to the stern and grabbed a handle so Ryan and I could both yank the dinghy upwards and back onto its hooks, just missing an opportunity to learn how to fish a loose dinghy out of the sea from a moving sailboat.

“What do you think? Should we keep going or turn around?” Ryan asked.

We looked at the waves sloshing the boat around, then at Celia’s miserable expression, the string of drool dangling from her mouth, and we agreed it was time to turn the boat around and try to make it back to Virgin Gorda before sundown.

Sometime during the night, the howling wind died down and the boat stopped swinging violently on its Saba Rock mooring. And by the time we woke up, the seas were as flat and calm as they were predicted to be the day before.

Optimistic as ever, we left Saba Rock just before sun up and nudged our nose out past Virgin Gorda once again, hopeful for a calm crossing with no surprises this time.

As we downed our morning coffee, Ryan and I looked intently at Mighty Mouse, still hanging on its hooks on the stern and decided to haul the dinghy up and strap it down on the foredeck. After all, we’d be fools not to learn from the previous day’s mishap.

turf to surf - ryan dinghy on deckWith Mighty Mouse on the foredeck, we had one less thing to worry about

With the dinghy secured on deck, we drank our coffee in peace, listening to the din of the engine as the sun crept up over the horizon, confident we’d made the right decision in turning around the night before. We encountered a problem, we examined our options and we’d made a decision we were happy with. This was what sailing was all about — letting go of control and adapting to the changing conditions at sea.

But just as we started feeling smug and comfortable, like we’d seen it all and could handle anything, Mother Nature rubbed her hands together and stirred up another challenge.

Today it’s “whirling dervishes.” Tomorrow, who knows?

post-line-divide

Footage of Great Britain’s encounter with a waterspout during the 13-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which Ryan and I both participated in:

On Re-entry: The Return of Turf to Surf

I’m standing frozen in place in the condiments aisle of my hometown grocery store, twirling my hair mindlessly as I scan the mile-long shelf of peanut butter choices.

Skippy. Jiffy. Peter Pan. Crunchy. Semi-crunchy. Chunky. Creamy. Honey-roasted. All natural. Organic. 50% reduced fat. Low sodium. Low calorie. Low sugar. Low cholesterol. Dairy free.

What the…? I just want peanut butter; I don’t care what kind. But the sheer volume of options has overwhelmed the part of my brain that makes quick decisions, rendering it useless. So I stand here, twirling my hair between my fingers, wondering if I should cut back on fat, sugar, sodium or calories. Or maybe I should try the honey-roasted kind?

What’s worse, I’m not even thinking about peanut butter anymore as I grapple with the existential question of why any productive member of society would want to decide between 50 different brands and varieties for every single thing they consume every single day of their lives. “How does anyone get anything done in this country?” I think to myself. Which does little to help me choose a damned jar of peanut butter.

It’s 2002 and I’ve just returned to the U.S. after 2 years of teaching English in the Russian Far East, followed by 9 months of solo backpacking in a crooked line from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg with detours through Scandinavia and Central Asia.

For two years, my grocery choices consisted of whatever was left in the market when I got there. There was either bread, or no bread. Cheese, or no cheese. There were no kinds of things. There was simply “yes” or “no”. And it was always a “no” to peanut butter. That American delicacy didn’t exist in my little Russian town, hence why I’m standing in the peanut butter aisle, drooling on my shoes.

Returning to New York after almost 3 years abroad, I expect things to take some getting used to again, like driving, my parents calling me every day, George Bush being President, job hunting, Fox News. But I don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the little things like food shopping. I expect to be ecstatic to have the kind of variety and choice I grew up with. I expect to be comforted by how normal and familiar everything feels again. I expect my brain to understand where I am and process things the way it did before I boarded a 20-hour Aeroflot flight with my Peace Corps assignment, an overstuffed backpack and a Russian-English dictionary in hand.

And yet here I am, standing frozen in place in the peanut butter aisle in my hometown, feeling like a denizen of a strange country, wondering why nothing feels familiar and what gluttonous gods these people pray to that they get unlimited access to all the crisp, fresh mountains of colorful produce they want any time of the day or night.

When I finally get to the checkout counter, I spill my collection of random, disjointed cravings onto the conveyer belt: a jar of crunchy peanut butter, a wheel of frozen shrimp cocktail, a bag of Swedish fish, an avocado, and a loaf of fresh Italian bread.

“Tasha Hacker? Is that you?”

I turn around to face the eager smile of a guy I went to high school with in line behind me. I’d kept my head low as I walked aimlessly around the store looking like an escaped mental patient, just hoping to get in and out without running into someone I know. But that is an impossible task in a small town with only one grocery store.

“I heard you might be in town. Didn’t you just get back from — where were you — Russia?”

I nod.

“How was it?”

“It was great!” I say, which is an empty response to a vast question, I know. But the social boundaries of small talk prevent me from replying with any depth or sincerity. So I find myself saying “It was great!” to everything in an effort to not make people uncomfortable. Because the real answer would require several shots of vodka in a dimly lit bar as the conversation meanders towards a scattered, anecdotal examination of the post-Cold War Soviet human experience; a conversation I’m well aware is not the kind you have at the grocery store check-out on a Tuesday afternoon.

“What are you, making shrimp cocktail peanut butter sandwiches or something?” the guy asks, looking over my grocery items.

I laugh, suddenly embarrassed that my choices are lying exposed on the counter for anyone to judge. “I can’t…I don’t…there’s just too much,” I mumble. “I couldn’t decide what I wanted.”

***********************************

Apparently there is a term for this jarring experience of returning to a place, to a life you knew so well but no longer feels familiar because you’ve been away for so long that you’ve changed, your perspective has changed, and therefore the way you interact wih this place has changed. The term — often used by organizations like the Army and the Peace Corps — is re-entry.

I’m reminded of this jarring feeling now, as I return to Hideaway, after having spent the better part of a year in New York City, scrapping and fighting and trying to claw my way out, despite the short leash I was tethered to. It seemed like I would only get so far before New York would give a little tug and, before I knew it, I was at its heels, doing as I was supposed to, doing as my business demanded, dropping any dreams of adventuring, sailing and writing. Those were just hobbies, after all. Our businesses, on the other hand, were our babies. And like true children, these businesses were born of (and demanded) love and sacrifice.

international house new york language school ryan tashaThe language school we proudly built in New York City

When we returned to New York in March 2014, Ryan and I told ourselves it was temporary — a brief stopover — until we got our businesses back on track and in a position for us to leave again. But a few months blurred into a few more, and then a few more, until nearly a year had gone by and memories of sailing and ocean racing and weighing anchor and hopping from island to island faded into the past like a holiday remembered only in nostalgic snapshots.

It wasn’t a life I even had time to dream about anymore as I charged through meeting schedules, held conference calls while in line at Starbucks, sacrificed lunches for gym workouts and guzzled wine at midnight in a desperate attempt to unwind the day as quickly as it had wound me up.

But every now and then, I’d get a warm turquoise flash of my former life, a fleeting glimpse of a perfect day, like when we jumped off the boat in Little Inagua, into water as clear and blue as topaz, with shallow reefs all around, our own private aquarium teeming with rainbow-colored fish. We swam through the coral with our fins and snorkels and speared parrotfish for dinner, which we gutted and cleaned on the foredeck of Hideaway as nurse sharks circled, lapping up the discarded entrails like dogs under a dining table.

sharks in the water sailing blogThe sharks in Little Inagua were more like puppies than predators

But as quickly as the memory materialized, it would fade away, leaving me sitting in my office, having drifted off to the ’80s music playing over the speakerphone as I waited, on hold. It was like this recurring dream I had as a kid where I’m running from a monster and my heart is pounding in my ears, I’m so scared. And suddenly I realize I’m only dreaming, so I stop running and tell myself if I can just wake up, then I can stop running from the monsters. So I stand there inside my dream with my eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched, waiting for the monster to pounce on my neck and jolt me out of this mad, stressful nightmare and bring me back to my real life.

But there’s always that sliver of doubt — which one is the dream and which one is reality? Is it my New York City business life that’s the dream? Or my Caribbean cruising life? If I stand still long enough with my eyes squeezed shut, will the New York monster disappear and will I wake up in the Virgin Islands?

Then, one day; one glorious, confusing day in March, it happens. I wake up and re-enter my old life. My life on a boat, my life as a writer, my life looking for the next big adventure. And this time I don’t have to sacrifice anything to make room for my responsibilities as a business owner. Because we don’t own our businesses anymore. After months of negotiations and endless financial paperwork, we did what we thought was impossible: we sold the teacher training and English language schools we spent 8 years grinding our blood, sweat and tears into the foundations of.

Just like that, we are released from the grip of New York City and free to return to the Caribbean.

hideaway on anchor maho bay st. john usvi turf to surfs/v Hideaway looks right at home here in Maho Bay, St. John, USVI

It’s like we’ve scrubbed the barnacles off our bottom and cut away the reeds entangled in our rudder. For the first time in 8 years, we are free to move as fast as we can go in any directly we like.

And yet, for some reason, I’m still standing in that peanut butter aisle, twirling my hair, staring at an overwhelming number of options with a mixture of awe and confusion.

I find myself struggling to answer simple (and frequently asked) questions like, “What are you going to do next?” To which I end up mumbling a string of disconnected ideas about sailing to the Galapagos, rowing across the Atlantic, buying a new boat, traveling around Greece, visiting my parents, running across the Grand Canyon, writing magazine articles…  I’m sorry, what was your question again?

Plans and goals are, to a certain degree, what got us here, to this enviable place of having infinite options and no plans. And now that we’ve achieved exactly what we set out to do a few months ago — sell our businesses and return to our boat — the truth is, I have no idea what to do now.

Already, I am just grabbing random items and throwing them in my shopping cart without thinking through what it is I really want, what would be most fulfilling, and slowing down to take calm, purposeful steps towards that end. I feel a little out of practice when it comes to standing still and just being in the present. So in my discomfort and panic, I catch myself flooding my schedule with plans and challenges that will quite possibly distract me from ever standing still.

But here I am now, having re-entered my life as a cruiser, trying to sit still on a mooring in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, while gazing out on an open sea to be sailed and a blank page to be written upon.

I know I can’t just pace up and down the peanut butter aisle forever, wearing out the floor with indecision. But I also know there will be plenty of decisions to make and plans to map out soon enough as we get ready to sell Hideaway and buy the next boat. Planning and working and filling our days with projects — that’s easy; that’s what we do best.

For now, the real challenge is to stand still and appreciate where my feet are planted in the present and acknowledge how far I’ve come to get here.

So, to the next person who asks, “What are you going to do next?” I will reply sincerely with, “I don’t know.” And I will try really hard to smile, rather than twitch, when I say it.

tasha hacker hideaway turf to surf cruising us virgin islandsIt doesn’t matter which direction we go in — we’ll get somewhere eventually

Something’s missing on Hideaway

hideaway marina tropical luperon dominican republic

“Did you look behind the settee?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“What about under the V-Berth?”

“Yep.”

“In the bilge by the back water tank?”

“I wouldn’t have put it there,” Ryan says flatly.

“But did you look? Because at this point it could be anywhere.”

“I looked. It’s not there.”

“Wait! What about in the space above the fuel tank? Have you removed the panel covering the fuel tank?”

“You know, funny you should ask. As I was tearing apart the back room yesterday, I stared at that panel and thought, if I were going to hide drugs on this boat, I would totally hide them there – no one would think to look there.”

“So, did you look?”

“No. Because that’s crazy. I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of removing everything in this room to get to that wall panel, unscrew the whole thing and take it off just to hide the chart plotter.”

“How do you know? Go back and remove that wall panel! If anything, you might find some drugs…”

“Trust me. It’s not in there. But I’ll look when I get back to the boat tomorrow. Let’s just think this through. Where did we leave from when we flew out of the Dominican Republic last year…?”

***************************

There are some things so important to your everyday life on a boat that you’d assume you would never forget where you put, say, your $2,000 Garmin chart plotter for safe-keeping when you packed up the boat for the season.

But it seems Ryan and I have found ourselves in the impossible situation of trying to solve a $2,000 puzzle by piecing together our memories from 16 months ago. It’s like playing a game where someone throws out one-word clues and we have to form a picture of what they’re thinking and guess the answer. Except the person giving the clues has Alzheimer’s. And the novelty of playing the game wore off after two hours, though we’ve been playing this game for about two weeks now.

If only I had the wherewithal 16 months ago to write a blog post entitled, Where I Hid My Chart Plotter and Other Mundane Secrets of Turf to Surf. But I didn’t. And so I’m stuck playing the WORST GAME EVER – a game which no one knows the rules for or the answers to — but I keep playing because the prize is not having to spend $2,000 to replace a chart plotter that is most definitely somewhere.

So let’s take a moment here and review what we know or, rather, what we can remember from 16 months ago…

What’s that, you say? You don’t want to play this game? Well, too bad…we’re all playing this game here. It’s all the rage in Marina Tropical in Luperon. Ryan and I are playing it, the other cruisers are playing it, even my parents are totally into it – I get a text message from my dad every few hours saying things like:

“The front of your guitar case.”

“The trunk of your car.”

“You gave it to the marina for safe keeping?”

“In your fridge.”

“The litter box.”

“Could it have been in that package you mailed us from Bali?”

Before long, I predict you’ll be playing it, too. So, listen, if you get any inspired ideas, you should definitely message me on Facebook or tweet your ideas at @turftosurf because, well, I’ll take any help I can get at this stage.

But back to what I remember…

April 2013 – Hideaway sails into Luperon, we plan to stay a few weeks, have some fun, provision, then sail on to Puerto Rico. We prep the boat, fill the water and fuel tanks and make plans to head for the Mona Passage as soon as the weather permits.

In the meantime, we go to Cabarete, take up kiteboarding, fall in love with the D.R. and promptly change our plans. We decide to get off the boat, rent a house in Cabarete and hang out a while longer, scrapping all plans to sail onward and replacing them with sun, surf and dry land.

May 2013 – Since Hideaway is going to stay in Luperon until we finish the Clipper Race and our travels through Southeast Asia, we pack her up, take down the sails, pull her out of the water and take all our valuables off the boat for safe-keeping, including the Garmin chart plotter. We take the cats and all our important possessions with us to Cabarete and ease into a lifestyle of working online by day while taking breaks to do water sports, Cross-Fit and hang out on the beach.

Here is where our memories diverge…

I remember Ryan and I deciding that the Garmin chart plotter was the only major steal-able and valuable item on the boat and, since it’s fairly small, we would do well to bring it to the States with us and keep it locked up in our house in upstate New York while we’re off racing halfway around the world in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Especially since we’d need to come back to the U.S. before returning to our boat in the D.R. anyhow.

Ryan remembers that we took the chart plotter with us to Cabarete, but he thinks we brought it back to the boat when we packed up Hideaway because, in his mind, it only makes sense to keep the chart plotter with the boat, even if it is a valuable item. He remembers thinking about where to hide the chart plotter on the boat so that it wouldn’t be easily found or stolen. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember where he thought about hiding it.

***************************

I am standing in the boiler room of our log cabin in upstate New York with boxes, bags and suitcases open and strewn along the floor while talking through what I’m looking at over the phone with Ryan, who is in the Dominican Republic. I’m supposed to be in New York City doing work, but I’ve taken a detour to look for the mysteriously missing chart plotter.

“Did you look in all the suitcases?” Ryan asks.

“Every single last one. Why do we have so many suitcases?”

“The toolbox?”

“Yep. I went through every drawer and opened all the boxes.”

“On the shelves?”

“Yes. I’m telling you, it is not here. It’s not in the safe…why didn’t we just put the damned thing in the safe, anyway? It’s not in the storage closet – I took out every box and bag in there. And now I’ve gone through every single shelf and container in this boiler room and it is absolutely not in this house. Unless we buried it in the yard.”

“I don’t think you looked hard enough.”

“You don’t think I…YOU LITTLE…”

The sound of Ryan’s sniggering reverberates through the phone until he breaks into hysterical laughter.

“This isn’t funny! What the hell did we do with it if it’s not in the house, it’s not on the boat and it’s not at my parents’?! WHY WOULD WE HIDE SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT?!”

“I think it’s in the house,” Ryan says.

“IT’S NOT IN THE HOUSE! It has to be on the boat. Go back and open up that damned panel on the fuel tank. I won’t be able to sleep until we look.”

***************************

It seems truly unbelievable that we have hidden our chart plotter so well that even we can’t find it. And it also seems crazy that neither Ryan nor I have a clear memory of what we did with something so crucial to our sailing life.

But then again, when I think back to July 2013 — 16 months and an eternity of experiences ago — I know my head wasn’t focused much on the boat we were leaving. My head was a swirl of anxiety and worries about the boats we were about to get on for the Clipper Race.

I’d watched enough YouTube clips of the ’11-’12 race across the Southern Ocean to know that I was probably in over my head, and that I had no experiences to date that would give me any insight into how brutal, cold and exhausting ocean racing would be. I was stepping into the unknown and stepping towards my fears, and so every thought in my brain was saturated with worries about whether or not I’d prepared myself well enough mentally and physically for what I was about to do.

Whatever memory I had of what I did with that damned chart plotter back in July of 2013 I’m sure was quickly swallowed by thoughts of how many thermals I should pack, how to keep my boots dry and what if this turned out to be the experience that breaks me.

Where will we put our Garmin chart plotter? That was probably not even a speck on the mole of the swollen ass of anxieties I was trying to soothe in the days running up to our departure for the UK, where we would take on the last weeks of Clipper Race training and sail out of London for the race across the Atlantic.

And now, here we are, 24 hours away from finally sailing out of the Dominican Republic — as we intended to do 18 months ago, before I fell head-over-heels in love with Cabarete — and we’re heading into one of the hairiest passages one can find in the Caribbean. Without a chart plotter.

I wish I could be clever and come up with a way to turn this into a metaphor for life with something like, “A blind man moves forward with confidence, not because he isn’t afraid, but because he has no choice…”, but the truth is I’m completely distracted from metaphor by the unsolvable riddle formed by my failed memory: It’s not in the fishing tackle bag, the bilge, the hanging locker, the V-berth, the nav station, the tool storage, under the cushions, inside the BBQ… Augh! Where the hell is it?!

 ryan searching hideaway for missing chart plotterF@%&!!!

post-line-divide

In other news…

Just in case you missed it, Turf to Surf recently featured in an interview on the Sail Loot Podcast, in which Tasha chats at length with Teddy J about working while traveling, starting a business, sailing, the Clipper Race and her life before and after cruising on a Catalina 34. Fix yourself a nice cup of tea, whiskey on the rocks, or whatever it is you fancy, and settle in here for the full, unabridged story: http://www.sailloot.com/sail-loot-podcast-004-tasha-hacker-teaching-english-for-some-sailing-money/

And if you just can’t wait for the next blog post to find out where Tasha & Ryan are and what shenanigans they’re up to now,  you can follow along in real time on the Turf to Surf Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram.

Liebster Award for Sailing Blogs: The Kick in the Ass I Needed

This weekend I went to the Annapolis Boat Show, which is a dangerous thing to do when you’re temporarily estranged from your boat.

Boat shows have a way of both inspiring and frustrating me. I am inspired by the sailors I meet and the adventures they’ve had, and yet I’m also frustrated that I don’t have a spare $2.5 million lying around to drop on a Gunboat. I mean, seriously? The toys I would buy…

turf to surf annapolis boat show 2014I might have gotten a little attached to the Hylas 63 at the Boat Show, as well.

But back to my estranged sailboat and, as it happens, my estranged sailing blog.

Just as the Annapolis Boat Show has given me the kick in the ass I needed to start online shopping for our next boat (sshhh, don’t tell Hideaway), I have also had a nudge from 4 amazing sailing bloggers, who have unwittingly encouraged me to get back to doing what I love – writing about sailing. And this Liebster Award nomination — like a blogging chain letter of sorts — is the nudge.

So, I’m extending a big thank-you to Genevieve of It’s a Necessity, Jessica of MJ Sailing, Dave and Alex of Sailing Banyan and Mark of the Cygnus III Blog for their amazing sailing and blogging feats and for reminding me that, yes, I still have a sailing blog.

And even though it might not be talking to me anymore since I went over to the dark side and moved onto a motorboat (look, it’s a temporary thing, alright?), I will be dragging my new web site and all its stories with me to the Dominican Republic next month where I will finally be reunited with s/v Hideaway and those enticing Caribbean waters.

The Big Kahuna Turf to SurfThe Big Kahuna might not be a sailboat, but look how much liveaboard space she has!

But before that happens, it seems I have some things to answer for. So I’m doing a little mash-up of a selection from Genevieve, Dave & Alex, Jessica and Mark’s questions, in no particular order.

Just think of this as Turf to Surf’s 15 Q&A Greatest Hits — we’ll tie bandanas around our heads, roll up our shirt sleeves, light cigarettes and get rockin’.

1) Describe yourself in 5 words. No more, no less. 

Loud. Competitive. Giggly. Hungry. Passionate.

2) What do you blog about?

I blog about sailing and travel and all the stupid ways I manage to hurt myself. Because stupidity always makes for a good story.

3) How much wine is too much?

I apparently answered this out loud when I said, “You can never have too much wine.” Which resulted in a dirty look from Ryan.

So I’m editing my response to say too much wine is exactly the amount that makes me rugby tackle strangers, argue politics with my parents, climb very tall trees or perform other stunts that I generally don’t do successfully when sober.

Some of these things may or may not have happened recently.

(Stop looking at me like that, Ryan.)

4) What is the worst travel spot you have been to?

There was this time in Russia — all my worst stories start that way – when I was backpacking through Siberia with this English guy who wanted to do some pretty remote hiking and needed a Russian speaker (me) to get to these places.

I don’t remember the name of the little village we were in, but we went there on a mission to get a boat across to the other side of Lake Baikal. Except when we arrived to this town — which took us several days to get to — we discovered the boat had left that morning. And it only goes once a week.

So we walked over to this little “baza” in the woods run by a semi-drunk owner who reluctantly agreed to rent us a room, albeit an unheated one. We didn’t really want to stay a whole week in this frigid town, which looked like the village where Lenin was exiled, but then again we had to figure out how we were going to get out of there, considering we had hitched a one-way ride and couldn’t count on a boat anymore.

We were only there for a few hours when two sketchy looking men turned up – a Russian and a Chechnyan – and seemed to appear wherever we happened to be. If we went for a walk, they were there. If we went to buy beer from the kiosk next door, they were behind us in line. If we cooked dinner in the kitchen, they showed up and started cooking next to us. Eventually, they introduced themselves, asked our names, made polite chat and, before long, insisted we sit down and drink vodka with them.

I didn’t have a good feeling about these guys, so I kept giving them excuses about being tired, ill, suffering from liver failure. But they wouldn’t give up. They insisted, as Russians do, that we had to drink together. So we cracked open the vodka and started tossing back the shots and telling stories. The boys matched each other shot for shot, but I dumped every other shot out on the floor under the table. The last thing I wanted was to wake up in the woods with a kidney missing, or worse.

The weird thing was, the more we drank, the more sober these two guys seemed to get, and the more personal their questions got.

Where are you from? How did you get here? What is an American doing in the middle of Siberia? Does your family know you’re here? Can I see your passport? What kind of work do you do? Do you work for the government? No, really, you work for the U.S. government, right?

Despite all the vodka we were throwing out on the floor, my travel companion and I were taking quite a clobbering, so our defenses were low. And before long, we found ourselves talking about where we were going next. And when the conversation turned to plans to get out of this town, the Russian and Chechnyan insisted that they personally drive us to wherever we wanted to go. And they wouldn’t take no for an answer, in a rather creepy and sober way. I kept trying to convince them we had another ride lined up, but they wouldn’t have it.

Yet when we woke up early the next morning, the two guys were gone. The owner of the “baza” said they had left in the middle of the night, shortly after we went to bed.

Let’s just say any place that leaves you feeling like you might have just dodged a bullet from the KGB definitely floats to the top of my list of worst travel spots ever.

5) What are you afraid of?

Other than the KGB?

I am always afraid of time running out on me, that there’s not enough time in this life to do all the incredible things I want to do, like sail around the world, row across the Atlantic, write a book, run 100 miles, live in Cambodia, build a house in Bali, go heli-skiing, cycle across the U.S., get really good at surfing, plus all the other adventures that have yet to enter my mind.

6) If you could have one wish granted, what would you ask for?

9 lives. If I weren’t so afraid of dying, I could take on some seriously crazy shit.

(Ryan is giving me that look again.)

7) What made you decide to live this lifestyle?

I have always loved traveling. It’s the thing that drew me to English language teaching – I could get a job almost anywhere in the world and support myself as I moved from country to country, seeing new places, learning languages, meeting interesting people and experiencing extraordinary cultures.

When Ryan first told me he wanted to sail around the world (back before we ever owned a boat), I thought he was nuts and that that was the craziest thing I’d ever heard of.

But when we bought Hideaway and learned to sail, I was completely smitten with the thrill of turning up to new ports by boat. It seemed like an amazing way to see the world, so it didn’t take long to get me on board (see what I did there?).

8) What is the best thing about your lifestyle?

Total, absolute freedom. We can go where we want (visas permitting), when we want (weather permitting) and we take our home with us.

When we’re sailing, we’re completely self-sufficient and yet at the same time, we’re always surrounded by communities of knowledgeable, adventurous, generous sailors. It’s an amazing lifestyle.

9) What is the worst thing about your lifestyle?

Boat work. So much boat work. And maybe my fashion sense. It deteriorates in equal proportion to the distance I sail from New York City.

Every time I step off the boat wearing the same pajama pants and salt-soaked T-shirt I’ve been wearing for a week straight, accessorized by my matted hair and comfy fur-covered Birkenstocks, Ryan gives me a look like, “Really? This is what you think is publicly acceptable these days?”

10) What do you carry on your boat that is completely useless?

Tomato paste. I have no idea what to do with it, what to make with it or what to lubricate with it. We bought a ridiculous amount of it in Florida for the trip South and I still have no idea what it’s for.

11) What is the stupidest thing you have done aboard your boat?

I once got into a very heated argument with Ryan (over something he was most definitely wrong about) and, in a huff, I tried to get into the dinghy and row myself to shore where I was hell-bent on finding alternative sleeping arrangements.

After rowing furiously for several minutes, I realized I wasn’t going anywhere…because Ryan had gone and tied the painter to a cleat when I wasn’t looking. So our mooring field in Long Island got to witness me spitting obscenities while rowing in place like a madwoman.

It wasn’t my finest moment.

12) Is there anything you really miss living aboard a boat?

Downhill skiing and roller derby. I would bring my slalom skis and roller-skates on board, but I’m not sure where I’d get to use them.

13) When was the first time you ever set foot on a sailboat?

It was my second date with Ryan in Doha, Qatar. We were both teaching English there and I think he was hoping to impress me by taking me out in a little Hobie catamaran he’d rented.

It was rather impressive, actually – particularly when Ryan flipped us over and had no idea how to right the catamaran again. We just stood there, neck-deep in water, mast pointing downward, balanced on the bottom of the boat with our mobile phones completely wet and fried, laughing our heads off.

14) What did your family say when you told them you were going to up and leave everything in order to travel?

My mom said, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

My dad said, “Here’s a can of mace. Just make sure the nozzle is pointing away from you when you spray it,” which shows how well the man knows me.

In reality, I didn’t feel like I was leaving anything behind because I didn’t have anything to leave at the age of 22. I’d just graduated from college and was joining the Peace Corps to teach English in the Russian Far East. My future seemed completely wide open and I just wanted to move towards it as fast as possible.

I’m sure my parents thought, “It’s only 2 years. Then she’ll come home and get a real job.”

(Sorry about that, mom and dad.)

15) Do you think you’ve found the place you’d like to retire to?

I don’t believe in a “forever place,” the same way I don’t believe in a “forever boat.” There is a perfect place for every time, age and purpose, just like there is the perfect boat for every kind of sailor and sea adventure. The place I would love to go to right now isn’t going to be the same place I want to be in 20 years’ time.

I loved living in London, Nakhodka, Doha, Barcelona, Seville, New York, Cabarete and Ubud – each of these places had something to offer me at different times and phases of my life. Some of those places I’d go back to in a heartbeat and some of them I wouldn’t, because I’ve moved on and I want different things now.

I have the same feeling about boats as I do about places. We’re still sailing on our first boat, our Catalina 34. She’s been good to us as a training boat and for cruising through the Bahamas and the Caribbean. But when we wanted to go racing, we left her for 18 months and got on 70-foot racing yachts for the Clipper Race.

Next, we’ll be looking for the boat we want to do our circumnavigation with and we’re toying with the idea of buying a catamaran. I know, I know, you monohull lovers are recoiling in horror as you read this, but we like the idea of sailing around the world in something with enough space that the next time I get mad at Ryan, I can just go sleep in my own hull, rather than try to row to shore.

When we finish our circumnavigation on whatever kind of boat we decide to buy, I have no doubt we’ll want a completely different boat (a monohull racer/cruiser would be awesome) for whatever it is we want to do next. Or maybe we won’t want a boat at all – I have no idea. What’s in the future remains in the future.

The only thing I know for sure is that there is no place or boat on this earth that can hold my interest forever. So the idea of “retiring” somewhere for the rest of my life terrifies me.

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Sharing the love by passing on the…

Again, a big thank-you to my fellow bloggers for the nomination; it’s been a lot of fun reading the Liebster Q&As on almost all my favorite sailing blogs these past few months.

However, there are a few blogs that seem to have gotten left out of the chain. And they are some of the most kickass sailors out there writing and making videos about their adventures. Which is why I’d like to nominate the following folks for the Liebster Award…

Liz Clark & The Voyage of Swell – Captain Lizzy is a truly incredible sailor, surfer and all-around human being whose blog I’ve been following for a few years. Her impressive feats sailing solo around the world looking for the best surfing spots have me in constant awe of her strength and tenacity.

Sailing, Simplicity & The Pursuit of Happiness – You probably already know Teresa Carey and her story, as she is an incredibly inspiring solo voyager. She amazed and confused the sailing community by responding to her partner Ben’s desire to solo circumnavigate the globe by buying her own boat to take on her own solo journey. At his side. On a separate boat. She is also the reason why every time I get fed up with living on a tiny, floating vessel with Ryan, I demand that he get his own boat. Or that I get my own boat.

S/V Delos – If you haven’t seen the awesome and inspiring sailing videos these guys make yet, then get yourself a nice cup of tea, glass of wine, or whatever you need to settle in for a few hours, and just start watching. I’m not certain, but it’s very possible the young folks on board s/v Delos are having the most fun EVER on a circumnavigation. Mind you, this is primarily a video blog, so hey, Delos crew — if you guys feel like answering questions on video, that would be fine by me.

More Hands on Deck – These young guys are also inspiring and entertaining video bloggers who have put a TON of sweat equity into their old boat, s/v Destiny, which they’ve revived with very little money and a lot of hard work and resourcefulness. And they’re having a lot of fun doing what they do, which is getting ready to sail around the world however they can.

Summertime Rolls – Rebecca and Brian generously invited us out to sail on their catamaran with them in Nantucket this summer and I couldn’t be more grateful for their hospitality and friendship. They’re fellow New Yorkers and they’re headed South this year to the Caribbean where we’re hoping they’ll raft up to us and share a few Painkillers.

10 questions for you intrepid sailing bloggers:

  1. Where are you now and where are you headed?
  2. What’s the feature you love most about your boat?
  3. What things are broken on your boat right now that urgently need fixing/replacing?
  4. What’s the most scared you’ve ever been on a journey and what happened?
  5. What do you wish you were more skilled in and why?
  6. What adventures other than sailing across oceans would you consider taking on?
  7. Who taught you to sail and was it love at first experience?
  8. What is the most important thing your sailing experiences have taught you about life?
  9. If you were left alone in your favorite anchorage for a week, what would you do with your time?
  10. What’s next on your list of things to achieve? (Sailing or non-sailing related)

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And if you haven’t already checked out the blogs of the lovely folks who threw these questions at me, you need to open a few new browser tabs and go check them out pronto. Here’s a little bit about them:

It’s a Necessity – This blog chronicles a gorgeous family of four who I was lucky to be able to spend time with in the Dominican Republic. They sail on a boat called s/v Necesse, and they’ve been charming the world with their adorable children and their giving nature. They just spent a year in the D.R. working for a non-profit organization called Live Different and we’re hoping we’ll get to hang out with them again when we get down to the D.R. next month.

MJ Sailing – Matt and Jessica have just made it across the Atlantic and I’m looking forward to following their adventures, as they have just closed the deal on an aluminum boat, which they’ll be picking up in Florida some time this year. They’ve had some pretty awesome adventures since we last saw them in St. Augustine, Florida in 2012.

Sailing Banyan – Dave and Alex are a wealth of fun, energy and expertise. We’ve shared many anchorages and rum punches with these two in the Bahamas and are looking forward to tracking them down in the Caribbean this winter so we can carry on getting into trouble with them.

Cygnus III – Mark is, hands-down, the funniest story-teller in the sailing world. So if you don’t check out his blog, you’re missing out on a good chuckle. His dry wit allows you to laugh at his blunders as he sails around the world with his family in tow.

annapolis boat show 2014 turf to surfThe Boat Show is always a good reminder that we have friends out there at sea.

Crazy Calm: Day 5 of the Clipper Race from Derry to Den Helder

It feels like a homecoming of sorts, getting back on Henri Lloyd after seven months away from the boat. When I said good-bye to my crew in Albany, Australia, I had no plans to do any more legs of the Clipper Race, so I moved on with my life and revisited Clipper solely as a spectator and Henri Lloyd supporter.

Now that I’m here, sailing around Scotland in the final two races of the ’13-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, having made a cheeky escape from work for a few weeks, I find it hard to suppress a smile, even when faced with exhausting sail changes and the weary round-the-worlders whose facial expressions seem to say “Been there, done that.”

As far as I’m concerned, the toughest day at sea is still better than the easiest day in the office, so even a hurricane couldn’t wipe this grin off my face.

At the time I signed up to do the Clipper Race, I had no idea I was going to love it so much; in fact, I wasn’t sure I would like it all, considering this was Ryan’s crazy idea and certainly not something I would have thought up on my own. But I also knew when I stepped off the boat in Albany that it was going to be hard to watch my crew carry on racing around the world without me…which was contrary to the other feeling I had, which was an intense desire to get off the boat and go places where I could run and cycle and explore land away from water for a while.

But here I am, back on the water, feeling like I’ve been reunited with an ex-lover. And like rekindling an old flame, coming back has been a little awkward and disjointed, but soon the sailing felt as exhilarating and familiar as it did when I was in the thick of it on the Southern Ocean seven months ago.

clipper race derry to den helder leg 8

I’ve missed these boats.

The close competition in this race out of Derry has also helped spark the passion I remember so well. As soon as we clawed our way through the Pentland Firth narrows and emerged with the tide against us at 4 knots, Great Britain and Garmin were so close to us off our port bow we could ask what they were having for breakfast without really having to shout. Then, shortly after we rounded the headland of an unpronounceable Scottish point, the weather started to get schitzophrenic, calling for multiple sail changes while the rest of the fleet pushed on hard, matching our boat speed and keeping the pressure firmly upon us in this short race to the Netherlands.

The last 24 hours have seen more sail changes than the weary crew of Henri Lloyd care to count, as we fight to keep our first-place position while Switzerland and Derry~Londonderry~Doire battle hard for the win just 2 miles behind us, with the rest of the fleet not far behind.

henri lloyd clipper race leg 8 derry den helder

The hard-working crew on Henri Lloyd.

But for now, I am just happy soaking up these moments on board and all of the thrill and discomfort that comes from ocean racing. And I am reflecting on all of this at the ridiculous hour of 5 am, as our spinnaker pulls us smoothly along a blue, shimmering, moonlit surface, giving the crew of Henri Lloyd a momentary pause from frantic sail changes and allowing the sweat from our hard work to cool on our foreheads.

Strangely, I feel alone as I look around at the drooping eyelids and lolling heads of my crew, who are propped up silently on the rails, waiting to be released from their watch to retire to their bunks.

I’ve seen these weary looks before on the Southern Ocean and it amazes me how quiet the crew can become with hardly a word exchanged for hours and, sometimes, days in rough seas. What are we all doing out here on the ocean, sitting in silence?

I’m staring wide-eyed at the blue glow of the sea, thinking about how lonesome the sport of sailing can be, even when you share a boat with 20 other people. Partners, lovers, friends and children are left behind as we fight our way across vast expanses of water in search of things we can’t describe, places in our minds we have yet to discover and goals that are, to many, too intangible to be understood.

Back in Derry, a Clipper crew from another boat said to me, “How on earth do you survive on a boat full of introverts? You have the personality of a firecracker that’s been set off in a crowded room. What do they do with you?!”

I laughed and shrugged my shoulders. It’s true – I am no introvert. Not even close. But I look around at my silent mates on deck, some quiet with discomfort, some withdrawn with introspection, some just sleeping, and I am still smiling. I’m exhilarated by the hard work and high level of performance on Henri Lloyd and, in this moment, I’m wide awake and alone with my thoughts as the wind pulls us towards the finish line, the waves spitting blue and white froth out along the hull.

on board Henri Lloyd Clipper Race Leg 8

I love it when the boat heels so much the rails are in the water.

Sure, racing this yacht requires 20 people to work together. But I’m certain the place we all go to in our minds when we’re sailing is different for each of us. At times, the racing can feel as lone an experience as climbing a mountain in solitude.

Perhaps what I appreciate is the experience of getting to know myself as I’m tested by the elements and my interactions with the characters on board Henri Lloyd. There’s something about the harsh environmental extremes and the moments where you have to work as a team to harness the power of nature to achieve a common goal. This may be a realm in which true introverts thrive, but just as I try to bring a little of the extrovert out of each quiet soul I meet, it seems the boat has introduced me to a calm part of myself I don’t often get close to.

So, for now, this extrovert is going to be still and allow the ocean to quiet her mind. Just being here, racing through the North Sea, feels like a privilege.

clipper race night sailing derry to den helder

The view at night has a calming effect.

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Vote for this blog post to get me drunk!

Clipper is running a contest where the writer of the most popular crew diary entry will receive a limited edition bottle of the commemorative Clipper Race branded Old Pulteney single malt whisky, signed by Sir Robin Knox- Johnston.

Wanna get me tipsy on whisky? Vote for my Crew Diary from the Clipper 2013-14 Race by emailing info@clipper-ventures.com with the subject line ‘CREW DIARY.’  Please include the link to this original post (http://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/470), first published in the Clipper Crew Diaries, and a few words on why you chose it.

The deadline for entries is Friday, August 1st, 2pm UTC/GMT +1. The winner of the commemorative single malt Old Pulteney whisky will be announced on Monday, August 4th.

Cheers! I’ll be toasting to you if I win!

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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 then got back on her boat to compete in the last two races of Leg 8, going from Derry to Den Helder and then Den Helder to the race finish in London. 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 from Derry to Den Helder: The first 48 hours

Day 1 – Reintegration

*cough* *hack* *sneeze* *sniffle*

The cacophony of sputtering, sniffling, hacking and honking erupt from various locations above and below deck on Henri Lloyd as we pull away from the coast of Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland to prepare for the race start.

Before I left New York on a flight to Derry, my schedule was overflowing with work projects while the days I had to complete them in quickly dwindled. As such, I was probably run-down already by the time I boarded Henri Lloyd to take part in the final two races of the Clipper Round the World Race.

Almost immediately after I stepped on board Henri Lloyd in Derry-Londonderry, I felt a scratchy tickle in the back of my throat. A few dry coughs exploded from my chest, making me think perhaps I hadn’t prepared my immune system well enough to be dropped suddenly onto a 70-foot-long confined space with 20 cold-ridden sailors.

My crew insinuate that my acquisition of the boat cold that’s been circling around the bunks for a month now is part of my “hazing.” I haven’t been on board since November 2013, so I’m essentially a rookie crew member again, and therefore I deserve a little bit of a beating.

Since I got off the boat in Albany, Western Australia, Henri Lloyd has sailed from Albany to Sydney, Sydney to Hobart, Hobart to Brisbane, Brisbane to Singapore, Singapore to Qingdao (with an emergency stop in Hong Kong to fix the rigging), Qingdao to San Francisco, San Francisco to Jamaica, Jamaica to New York and New York to Derry-Londonderry.

And here I am just jumping back on for the glory leg and the last two races of the round-the-world race, thinking the boat is already well on its way to winning, so what’s there to worry about?

As I hack up half a lung in my bunk, trying desperately to get some sleep on this five-day race to Den Helder, I think to myself that perhaps I deserve this plague I’ve been given. After all, it was naïve of me to think it would be easy to hop back on the boat and just pitch myself into the swing of things again.

Festive Race Start

The whole city must have come out to see us off!

The whole city must have come out to see us off!

The race start out of Derry is one of the most exciting I’ve seen, starting with the Parade of Sails along a completely packed waterfront. Every inch of the boardwalk is covered with waving fans, families and kids. The Maritime Festival in Derry was organized around the Clipper Race coming in this year, so the end of the festival is being celebrated as we parade the boats in view of the boardwalk for the thousands of spectators to cheer us on.

There are circus acrobats, food stalls, ice cream trucks, cotton candy and hordes of enthusiastic Irish families.

When we get out to the harbor where the race start is, the Red Arrows give the Clipper crew and spectators a 45-minute show of aerial stunts that have the fleet transfixed, staring at the sky as we float around and prepare for the race start at 1600 hours, jostling and tacking and digging our Yankee headsails out from under the piles of spinnakers in the forepeak to get ready for the start.

red arrows derry-londonderry clipper race web
The Red Arrows give a spectacular and distracting show. (Photo Credit: Ollie Phillips)

With the mainsail, staysail and the Yankee 1 hoisted, we now hover and sail in circles, positioning ourselves to get across the line smoothly and quickly. 750 miles is a short race in which to make a difference, unlike the long races of thousands of miles that have come before this one. The smallest advantage can make a huge impact in our position, so we want to do well from the start.

When I ask Eric what he’s thinking about this race, he says, “I want this wrapped up and in the bag by Den Helder, so we can relax and just enjoy the last race into London.” And in order for that to happen we need to make sure that GB doesn’t beat us by more than two places. By the look on Eric’s face, as he focuses on the start line, he is determined to leave GB in our wake.

great britain clipper race derry-londonderry

We need to make sure these guys stay behind us.

Eric does a great job positioning us as we shoot straight for the start line alongside GB while the rest of the fleet are still on the wrong tack, headed straight for land as they hold out to tack at the last minute towards the start. It is a little hairy heading for the line, as we’re aiming straight for Switzerland, looking like we might t-bone them. But we peel away at the last second to skim the water just off Switzerland’s stern with 20 meters to spare.

I’m not sure who shot through the start in first but it was either us or GB, which brings back the old feeling of competitiveness with GB that I remember so well from previous races. And I know they would love nothing more than to beat us into Den Helder and have a chance at grabbing the round-the-world title in the final race from Den Helder to London.

24 hours on now, the fleet’s positions are being shuffled around as we all experience light and fluky winds. We’re all aiming to come around the headland to head north in the best position possible, and it looks like Henri Lloyd and Garmin are in the best positions to come out of our tack favorably. Time and a little distance will tell, as we are still in 4thplace, according to the last position reports, with GB in 8th. But in such a short race, and so early on, these positions really don’t mean much.

clipper race start selfie henri lloyd

A little race start selfie for good luck.

Day 2 – The Hard Work Begins

The last 24 hours have been a blur of excitement, frustration, boredom, freezing, sweating, confusion and leaderboard shuffling.

In just a day, it’s gone from temperatures cold enough to need my mid-layer salopettes to warm enough for the crew to be on deck in their swimsuits. Even I’ve stripped down to nothing but my outer salopettes with just a bra and underwear underneath. I never thought I’d be barefoot on deck, needing sunblock as I sail around Scotland, but here I am. I can just imagine Ryan’s family complaining about Britain’s unbearable “heat wave.”

We’ve been moving along at a nice, steady pace through the night, clocking 7-8 knots of speed in lights winds of 8-9 knots. And though we were in 3rd place, with Switzerland and Old Pulteney just ahead of us, as soon as we round the Hebrides of Scotland, near the Isle of Uist, we pull into first place.

There is a short celebration over gaining the lead just before the winds suddenly die and we started scrambling with sail changes as Garmin comes up on our rear so close we are joking with the crew that we’d like some bacon and eggs passed over to us. But before long, we have to drop all conversation to get to work. We drop our Yankee 1 and hoist our windseeker and staysail, then we drop our staysail and keep our fingers crossed that our windseeker stays full.

clipper race henri lloyd no wind

Life on deck gets a little dull when there’s no wind.

Over the next few hours, as the winds creep back up to 10 knots, then die down to 4-5 knots, the crew of Henri Lloyd are busy doing constant sail changes – down with the windseeker, up with the Yankee 1, down with the Yankee 1, up with the A2 kite, up with the A1 kite and down with the A2 kite. All of which calls for constant wooling of spinnakers and flaking and stowing of sails.

For a while, we seem to be making good headway towards the next headland, except then the wind dies off again to a painful 0-2 knots, leaving our A1 kite hanging limp and sadly flagging against the rails.

Today is Canada Day, apparently, which I only know because the boat is now covered in Canadian flags, maple leaf tattoos, chocolate cake and red and white balloons. Some of the crew sing “Oh, Canada” as the rest of us Americans and Brits look on with amusement. Eric is gifted a red maple leaf tie, and has been wearing it over his race gear the entire day, also to the crew’s amusement. During my years of traveling abroad, I used to joke that I’d never met a Canadian who didn’t have a red maple leaf plastered to his person or backpack. And it looks like this boat is no exception.

canada day on board henri lloyd

The Canadians on board certainly know how to celebrate.

But perhaps that damned maple leaf is good luck after all. No sooner do we finish listening to “Oh, Canada,” than the wind picks up and we start moving again. Going 5 knots may not sound that exciting, but when you’ve just spent 3 hours going 1.5 knots, any wind is cause for celebration.

And if that means singing “Oh, Canada,” another 100 times to keep the wind blowing, well, then that’s the sacrifice we’ll have to make. I’ll do anything to win this race. Even if it means plastering a maple leaf to my face.

Go Canada!

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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 then got back on her boat to compete in the last two races of Leg 8, going from Derry to Den Helder and then Den Helder to the race finish in London. 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 8: A legend-Derry stopover

Kevin, my Henri Lloyd teammate passes me the rugby ball and I take off running. Running is generally where I do well, whereas catching…well, let’s just say I’m better with my legs than I am with my hands. So when the ball lands in my palms without bouncing into the arms of an opponent, I do what any self-respecting player would do and I take off down the field, sprinting as fast as my legs will carry me.

There is screaming and yelling and whistles blowing somewhere behind me, and I am pumping my arms like I’m aiming to win the 50-meter dash, staring straight ahead and telling myself over and over again, “Don’t forget to put the ball on the ground, don’t forget to put the ball on the ground…”

As I cross the goal line, the screaming grows louder, which I take as wild enthusiasm for my incredible achievement. Placing the ball firmly on the ground, I raise my arms victoriously and spin around to face the raucous praise that seems to be erupting from halfway up the field. At which point I think to myself, “What’s everyone doing all the way back there?”

“Where are you GOING?!” Someone in a black shirt screams as I now notice that OneDLL, our blue-jerseyed opposition, are high-fiving each other and smiling while my teammates are all standing with their hands on their hips, shaking their heads.

The spectators at The City of Derry Rugby Football Club are all pointing and laughing and snapping photos with their iPhones, shaking their heads incredulously as I sink to the ground and smack myself in the forehead repeatedly while saying to the referee, who is now doubled over, barely able to breathe, he’s laughing so hard, “My rugby-playing husband is going to be SO embarrassed when I tell him about this.”

“Dear, just tell him you scored, and leave it at that,” the ref says, chuckling and patting me on the back.

sir robin knox johnston clipper race derry rugby club

Yep, that’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, showing off his rugby skills.

I’m in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, getting ready to rejoin Henri Lloyd for the last two races in the Clipper Round the World Race and this week has been chock full of events organized by the city around the Clipper Race arrival, like the Maritime Festival on the waterfront, a live concert by The Beach Boys (yes, they are still alive!), walking tours of historic Derry and, today, a Clipper Team rugby tournament organized by the enthusiastic players of The City of Derry Rugby Football Club.

Derry is the 9th port I’ve visited while the ’13-’14 Clipper Race has been in town, with London, Brest, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Albany, Sydney, Singapore and New York before this stopover. And Derry has by far been the port that has given the Clipper Race the warmest, most enthusiastic welcome that I’ve seen.

12 different pubs and numerous businesses in Derry have each adopted their own Clipper boats and provided them with discounts, support and overwhelming affection. And the Derry Rugby Club members were just as generous and hospitable with dozens of men coming out to play with each of the Clipper teams, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for all the participants, handing out free pints of beer and cider and breaking out into spontaneous song every now and then, as the Irish seem to have been raised to do.

Before the rugby tournament, the last few days have been full of keen questions about the race from taxi drivers and barmen who all want to know what it’s like to spend weeks on end at sea with 20 crew on board. “It sounds like hell, but good on ye!” Is the general response.

But it’s the rugby tournament, not the Clipper Race, that transforms me into a legend of sorts in Derry-Londonderry.

In the pubs around town, rugby players appear at every corner to pat me on the back and chuckle, “You! You were brilliant!” As they call over their mates, shouting, “Listen to what this girl did…!”

One guy drags the female president of the Derry Rugby Club over to me in the pub and giggles as he says, “I just HAVE to get a picture of you together. Do you mind?!” The rugby club president, slightly confused by all the laughter, looks me up and down and says, “You must have been quite impressive!”

I just shake my head and mumble, “You have no idea…”

A handful of rugby players hop off their barstools and pull out their iPhones to snap pictures of me and the president. And as I walk away, keeping my head low, I hear an Irish lilt in the background, saying, “So she picks up the ball and she runs like the clappers, like she’s being chased by the police! And the whole pitch is screaming at her ‘STOP! WRONG WAY!’ and she just keeps running! It was BRILLIANT!”

It’s not the kind of stunt my husband was hoping I’d become famous for, particularly since he’s played rugby his whole life, but at least I can say I’ve given something back to Derry – I’ve provided comedic entertainment to a town that’s welcomed me with open arms.

And there’s no doubt, as I sit here wide awake and prickling with anxiety the night before the second race of Leg 8 races out of Derry, I am using this opportunity to laugh at my sporting stupidity and distract myself from my nerves.

Henri Lloyd is currently in first place with a cool 13.9 points over Great Britain in second place, and the last thing I want is to jinx my team. So, I have to wonder if that rugby game was my way of purging any last idiotic mistakes from my system before venturing out onto the ocean again, or if it’s an omen of more bad decisions to come.

I guess I’ll find out in about 5 days’ time, when Henri Lloyd pulls into Den Helder, the Netherlands. In the meantime, I’ll make sure to stay away from anything involving navigation. If my rugby talents are anything to go by, I’ll end up sailing the boat in the wrong direction.

team henri lloyd derry rugby club

Team Henri Lloyd on the rugby pitch after a valiant effort to regain our dignity

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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 then got back on her boat to compete in the last two races of Leg 8, going from Derry to Den Helder and then Den Helder to the race finish in London. 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