The last few weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life. I had hoped to stay in contact with you all during my Atlantic crossing, but our communications have suffered and I've been unable to. Our bad luck seemed to be never ending and a lack of email access has been a minor inconvenience in comparison.
From rough, unpredictable weather, to no weather at all. I've had the chance to experience almost everything that this ocean has to offer. My crew mates have been one of the highlights of the whole journey, but this has also been a real test in patience. It's strange to look back and see how we have actually balanced each other out.
Working in shifts has been hard work also - never able to just sleep until you wake up naturally, squeezing in a couple of hours here and there before someone comes and tells you to get your life jacket on. The benefit of this all, though, is being on deck at different times of the day. Sunrises and sunsets have been breathtaking. The night sky is captivating, with many shooting stars, satellites crossing over and clear constellations.
We've also been lucky with the company of marine life. Dolphins follow the boat for distances, dipping under the bow and launching themselves out of the water, so playful and inquisitive. Whales, although naturally elusive, have also been seen a few times. We also spotted the occasional sea turtle bobbing along on the surface enjoying some of the sun's warming rays.
After the first few days of the race I was beginning to struggle. The lack of sleep, little time to rest and lack of space was wearing me down. Add to that the constant motion, sometimes at such an angle that an unsteady stagger becomes a full on climb. Basic things seem like huge chores. Brushing your teeth, sitting down to eat and getting dressed all take so much effort that it's discouraging.
The fits and starts of Mother Nature have been a test of patience as much as endurance. Sore hands from handling wet rope never had a chance to heal. Tired muscles from the first few days of the race never stop aching. The mental exhaustion of staying focused at all times also takes it's toll. I've had days when a couple of hours sleep feels like three cups of coffee. Then on other days I hit a wall, and literally can't keep my eyes open. Even when I'm stood up.
It's like nothing I've experienced before. Whether I would recommend taking part in The Clipper Race or not is hard to say. People that need this challenge in their lives will know it's for them. As the race has progressed it's become less and less about the race for me. Seeing one of the other boats in the fleet in the distance is a good reminder, but it seldom happens. The rest of the time for me, it has been a journey into myself.
My ability to work as a team has been tested. Tolerance for those around me, for the disconnection from my life. A forced introspection, constantly asking questions about your limits, both mentally and physically. We laugh and make jokes, and giving each other nicknames and forming teams around certain jobs has also helped bond us.
Myself and my watch leader, Andrew, are usually the guys that work the foredeck - the wettest, most unstable part of the boat, lugging heavy sails around and wrestling them back on board during a sail change, climbing out onto the bowsprit right at the front of the boat and getting hit by tons of sea water. Clipped on, holding on, sometimes entirely airborne when we drop off a big wave and the deck disappears from beneath your feet.
That's the position for adrenaline junkies. The other being a mast climber. Only three of us have been up there during this leg. Myself and Dhruv are the most able, and usually get the job. We also had our other watch leader head up there to recover a lost halyard and when we got him back down to the deck he had broken both bones in his forearm and needed several stitches for a seven inch tear under his arm.
The sway of the boat as it rides through waves is greatly exaggerated when you are a hundred feet off the deck. It's worth it, though, to be able to look back down and see the whole boat below you, and the curvature of the earth as it falls away all around you. It's also the furthest away from people I've been in a month! It also gave me great perspective of the enormity of our planet.
So often we board planes, knowing that we are traveling great distances but never really connecting with the reality of it. Of course we see the map plotter on the tv screens in the back of the seat in front, but it's impossible to appreciate the absolute vastness of it all. In a few days I'll be back in London, having covered the distance I just travelled over the last month, in just a few hours.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all though, is my appreciation for my life and the people I have around me. I have missed my loved ones more than ever before, and although it's only been a month (a meager amount of time in reality), I've never felt so far away from them. Plus, with the loss of a fellow sailor a week into the race, it puts into perspective how fragile life is.
I have grown from this experience, in many more ways than I had expected. I have crossed the equator by sail, becoming a Shellback. I've gained a good understanding of what it takes to sail a boat across an ocean and learned to find my space when there is none. I feel stronger both physically and mentally, and feel very satisfied with my efforts in this endeavor. The greatest lessons in life never come easily, and the Atlantic has pushed me more than any opponent ever could.