On Friday 2nd December last year FOBL’s chairperson, Fiona Mitchell kitted out in her bright yellow waterproof boat crew gear, regaled us with a highly entertaining account of her ‘Challenge of a lifetime’. This challenge was in response to an advertisement posted on the local Balmain ferry service. It offered the opportunity to join a crew on a 70 foot long ocean racing yacht and sail in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. This is a prestigious race in which only 11 boats take part. Fiona was successful in completing the mandatory 4 week sail training induction program in the U.K. and was offered a place on board the Punta del Est. This boat was sponsored by a small town in Uruguay and was crewed by a bunch of amateur sailors along with a professional skipper and his assistant. Spanish speakers were the majority.
The race was comprised of 8 legs with Fiona electing to undertake two of these voyages. Her first leg, in February 2020 was sailing from Airlie Beach, Queensland, crossing the equator to the Philippines. The second leg which had been delayed by restrictions in travel due to the Covid 19 pandemic resumed the race in June 2022. This leg entailed sailing from Bermuda to New York, then sailing across the North Atlantic to Derry (Londonderry), Northern Ireland and finally around the top of Scotland and up the Thames River to London. In all, approximately 10,000 nautical miles of being on the ocean wave. This was accompanied by the deprivations that come with living in close confinement on board a yacht with a mixed crew of nationalities for days on end.
Fiona described to us the highs and lows of her yacht race experience; the surprisingly good food on board, frighteningly huge seas, times of becalm in the tropics, misery of the North Sea, bouts of being seasick, grim toilet conditions, demanding turns of taking the watch and helm, sometimes on her own and the rigorous 24 hour routine of eat, sleep, sail and repeat.
Fiona concluded that ‘The satisfaction from pushing oneself to do something physically and mentally challenging made the exercise all worthwhile’. For her the highlight of the voyages were the wonderful welcomes they received when they sailed into New York and London with the boats’ skippers and crews hailed as modern day heroic seafarers.