A year has passed, and 40,000 miles have gone beneath her bow. But as Edinburgh Inspiring Capital slid back alongside the pontoons she left last July, some things were the same: the hot sun, the cheering crowds and the sense of being a part of something truly extraordinary.
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race gives sailing novices the chance to circumnavigate the globe aboard one of a fleet of ten stripped-down 68ft ocean racing yachts. Some of the crew took part in one or two legs of the race, while others sailed the whole way round the world, putting aside their jobs, homes, families and friends for 12 months.
They have lived cheek-by-jowl with one another all year, sleeping for no more than four hours at a time while at sea, and facing some of the wildest conditions on the planet.
But in exchange they have found true camaraderie, tested themselves to the limit, and enjoyed an experience of the world’s oceans that few have shared.
There’s no denying that the boat sponsored by the city council, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, had a tough race.
It was placed last out of ten, and has raced under three different skippers. But the crew would not have swapped their experiences for the world – including those who faced even bigger challenges than their crewmates.
On board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital was a relay team of transplant patients and medics, taking part to highlight the importance of organ donation and encourage people to sign up as potential donors.
Documentary maker Holly Cocker, 27, who underwent a kidney transplant after years of dialysis, almost had to be airlifted off the boat by helicopter when she fell ill while sailing from San Francisco to Panama City.
Recalling the start of her race in San Francisco, she says: “There was a lot of trepidation. I was incredibly nervous and then when we went out and sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, it was the most amazing feeling, and it started to sink in that I was going on this adventure.
“I think the thing that most struck me straight away was the quietness at night, and the beauty of seeing the sun go up and down. You’ve never heard such silence.
“On one occasion we saw up to about 250 dolphins surrounding the boat, jumping up and down and frolicking, it was absolutely amazing. There were sea turtles with birds on their backs, and one bird stayed with us on board for four days.”
She gave her all to the three-week race to Panama, in sweltering temperatures both above and below deck. But the heat and exhaustion took their toll.
She says: “When you’re in the race you push and push and push and it was only when I finished the race my body went ‘I’ve had enough’. I suffered from extreme exhaustion and began to be quite worried about my health because my face was swelling up and I was extremely hot.”
With several days still to go until the boat reached Panama City, a helicopter was put on standby in Mexico, ready to airlift Holly from the boat. But she decided to stay on board and made it to port, where doctors advised her to halt her adventure and not sail on to New York as planned. Instead, she flew home and spent several weeks recuperating before flying back to New York to welcome her crewmates from the shore.
I had the privilege of sailing with Edinburgh Inspiring Capital on her first race from Southampton to Madeira, and ever since have been a part of the boat’s extended family, watching her progress live on the race viewer, keeping in touch with crew and their loved-ones in person and online.
Many of those who gathered in Southampton’s Ocean Village on Sunday for the Race Finish ceremony had visited all corners of the globe, welcoming the fleet in to ports as diverse as Rio, Qingdao and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
For Tom McGuire, 50, from Causewayside, this was one of the great surprises of the Clipper experience: “One of the biggest things that struck me was the fact that it was a big community of those who were sailing and those who weren’t sailing, and that was quite cool – I hadn’t really thought of that. We attracted a big crowd of supporters.”
Tom, a business adviser to students at Edinburgh University, sailed with me during the first race, and continued on from Madeira to Brazil.
We have both been off the boat for almost a year, and agreed it was strange to be back in Southampton to see her again.
He says: “I felt like it was yesterday we were standing there actually on the boat, and I wished I was on the boat again rather than watching,” he says.
“When the guys came off the boat and the non-sailing crew and the sailing crew met, there were giant hugs, and that was quite emotional – but all good things must come to an end. It was a fantastic adventure.”
Race organisers made sure the adventure came to a suitably impressive finale on Sunday.
After a parade of sail up Southampton Water, the yachts arrived one by one at the quayside to the sound of their boat anthems, with Proud by Heather Small playing for Edinburgh as her crew lined the deck in their team kilts. They disembarked for emotional reunions with their crewmates and then each of the teams took to the stage in turn to be welcomed by cheering crowds.
The experience must have been most surreal for the “round-the-worlders” like Lesley Roberts.
Lesley, 37 and from Glasgow, took a year’s sabbatical from her job as a leadership and development manager for Mars to complete the full circumnavigation.
After stepping down from the stage to be reunited with her family and friends, she said it would take time to really sink in that the challenge was over: “Arriving back a year later, there’s a feeling of achievement and a feeling of relief that it’s all over, and there’s also a feeling that maybe the world has stood still a bit while we’ve been off doing something a bit crazy, because a lot of people who were here when we left are here now.
“There’s also excitement about the future, because I don’t know what it holds. I don’t really know yet what I’ve learnt about myself and I probably won’t know for a few weeks, I think I’ll have realisations down the line.”
She says the biggest tests had been about determination and mental strength, rather than the physical challenges, but there had also been great rewards: “One high point has been nature and the things we’ve experienced that not many people get to experience – amazing whales on the way to Rio, sunsets and sunrises, peace and tranquillity.
“The other high point has been the sailing. Helming a 68ft ocean yacht has been phenomenal. Probably the biggest challenge personally was sailing across the Pacific. It was cold, wet, grey, constantly for weeks on end – that was when people were really challenged. And it’s been overwhelming the support that we’ve had from friends and family through the entire journey.”
Holly, now recovered and also in Southampton for the final celebrations, said she too found it hard to believe it was over: “It’s really moving to be here. You think back to a year ago when I just didn’t know what to expect and I’ve met some incredible people, I’m taking away an incredible experience. It also feels really sad, because it’s almost like the end of an era. It feels like the end of a journey in more ways than one.”
Transplants transform lives
all smiles: Justine Laymond on board and below, nurse Teresa Tymkewycz and Tom McGuire at the crew reception
THE Transplant Ambassadors joined Edinburgh Inspiring Capital thanks to a donation from an anonymous benefactor.
The team of transplantees and medics took part to highlight the way that transplants can totally transform lives, taking people from hospital beds to one of the greatest challenges on earth.
Their participation has included many great achievements: Justine Laymond from Essex became the first double-lung transplantee to sail across the Atlantic; kidney recipient Nick Barclay spent the whole year sailing right around the world.
Teressa Tymkewycz, 48, from Dalkeith – known as TT – is a specialist nurse now working in London with transplant patients, who sailed from Rio to Cape Town.
She said: “It’s a demanding challenge for the best of us, but for those who have undergone life-saving surgery like a transplant operation, it’s truly inspiring that they can do exactly the same as the rest of us.”
Kidney transplantee Holly Cocker, who sailed from San Francisco to Panama, added: “Without my transplant, I wouldn’t be able to even consider getting on a boat, let alone sailing 4000 miles so it’s thanks to my donor that I can do this. I would very much recommend everyone to sign the organ donor register.”
To join the register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23.