One day while shooting the breeze with an old friend in the thoroughfare I mentioned that I had found a new hobby and had been sailing on a Tuesday with East Anglian Sailing Trust. His eyes lit up, “You should go and introduce yourself to Smithy at the Sailing School next door and ask him for a place on the Fastnet”. I had met Paul doing the Framingham 10k six years ago (it took me three hours) and he knew that I liked a challenge. “What’s the Fastnet?” I asked; I did some research and thought about it often. Finally, I took the afternoon off work and went to Levington to meet the legendary Peter Smith, whose appearance was strangely reassuring and I felt that I could trust this man.
“I had a bit of an accident 16 years ago and my balance isn’t great” I explained and “I’m not very good at walking”. Peter looked at me and laughed, “Luckily”, he said, “You won’t have to walk much”. ‘Fair point’, I thought, and collected my joining instructions. Over five months at the start of the year the crew met each other and completed the necessary Sea Survival Training/Qualifications which are required by the Royal Ocean Racing Club. We also enjoyed three training weekends, two qualifying races, several great meals out, and then the delivery trip taking our boat 40 Love to Southampton for the start of the Fastnet Race on Sunday the 5th of August 2017. By this time we were working well together as a team and each of us had an understanding of how to function and ‘make the boat go faster in the right direction’. This was the technical instruction given by our Skippers, Peter the Smith and Ed the Ginger to help us win. Towards the end of our training we met our tenth team mate Alex the German who was fantastic - a great source of entertainment and luxury cigars; and most importantly, valuable sailing skills which were required given the magnitude of the race. There were several good sailors on the boat and I felt like I was part of a very competent crew. Since the first Training Weekend on the 8th of April I became known as ‘Wobbly-Leg’ due to my inability to control my lower right appendage. I appreciated this honesty and after completing the Fastnet I was reminded that we all have disabilities to contend with so you just have to suck it up and get on with the job in hand.
With the confidence I have gained from sailing up the Orwell with E.A.S.T I felt like I was able to contribute to the challenge of completing the race just by being part of the Team and sharing the hardship. Like most things in life, the Fastnet was primarily an endurance challenge: being able to tolerate the rough with the smooth, flying along in choppy seas or barely moving in the calm. I am not very good on my feet but I discovered that I provide good ballast on the rail sitting down so this is what I concentrated on doing.
After five days we reached Plymouth and as we were approaching the finish line the wind dropped down to a mouse’s breath. I was honoured to be told to take the helm for the last stretch and sail us home. I realised then that for the last week nine other people had been looking out for me and making sure that I was safe and happy. For the last seventeen years I have been determined to be independent and have shunned the help and charity of friends and family. However, on a boat it is different and you have to forget any pride or egotistical nonsense and let others do the things that they can do better than you. For everyone’s benefit and ‘more speed in the right direction’ you realise when to back down and let the better person in.
To finish the adventure on a high, Peter almost drove into a firework display after we crossed the finish line which was a sensational end to amazing experience. During this time I have made some new friends and five weeks later I was back on 40 Love, racing with them in the Solent - training for the Rolex Fastnet 2019.