We have loved reading round the worlder Neil Reynolds' diary "Twelve Months in a Leaky Boat" and so had to share his recent interview during the Den Helder stopover.
This coming Saturday, the 12-strong Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet returns to St Katharine Docks in London from where it left on September 1st last year. Our sailing correspondent travelled to Den Helder in Holland this week to interview one of the round the world crew members, Neil Reynolds.
Interviewer: So Neil, having achieved your RTW sailing dream, it's time to report to your fan base on how it went and what’s next. We’ll start with a couple of simple questions to ease into it before probing deeper into your psyche if that’s okay with you? Firstly you outlined on your (public) blog that you’d dropped out of the cut and thrust of hospital pharmacy to undertake this challenge with the aim of developing your upper body strength and improving your social skills. How do you feel you’ve done against your goals and having parried in the cut and thrust of offshore ocean racing do you now regret using that description in relation to your day job?
Neil: I think I’ve achieved the above goals. My upper body strength is far greater than it’s ever been. I have lumps forming where most people have muscles and believe I could confidentially challenge my 12-year old niece to an arm wrestle and win. My social skills have also improved immensely. I’ve developed a thick skin and no longer burst into tears when criticised or humiliated, and can bluntly do the same to others without any feelings of remorse or empathy. To be honest the description of hospital pharmacy was used tongue in cheek, but yes the two are quite different. Ocean racing is essentially large periods of relaxation and boredom interspersed with moments of sheer panic and terror. Hospital pharmacy is a long day of sheer panic and terror interspersed with moments of relaxation and boredom. But the main difference is at the end of the hospital shift you can go home, have a beer and get away from your work colleagues.
Interviewer: You obviously anticipated some challenges during the race. What have you found far easier than you thought it would be and of course vice versa, what has been the biggest challenge you didn’t anticipate?
Neil: Seriously, the biggest challenge has been living, working and sailing for weeks on end in an environment that is uncomfortable at best with a diverse group of individuals dealing with occasional stressful situations. I’ve definitely enjoyed the moments of teamwork, camaraderie and will always remember the times when the going has got tough and I’ve been on the foredeck doing difficult perhaps dangerous jobs side by side with blokes I can trust. However, I have also learnt self-sufficiency and that when the tough times come, one has to care for oneself through the physical, mental and emotional challenges. I’ve certainly found strategies to cope with living with people 24/7; selective hearing and rudeness works wonders.
Interviewer: The difficulty of living, working and sailing with people were not particularly unexpected challenges. Were there any unexpected challenges you didn’t anticipate or things that you thought would be hard that weren’t?
Neil: Hmmm, unexpected challenges. I was surprised how much work we had to do in Gosport and London to get the boat ready to sail. The hulls were late in coming from China and the boat only went in the water several days before we had to set sail for London. However, I got very familiar with gaffer tape, Sikaflex and cable ties pretty quickly. The short stopovers due to late arrivals were definitely an unexpected challenge which resulted in very little sight seeing in the stopover ports we visited, which was a shame. I was surprised and of course pleased that I did not suffer seasickness during the trip and sleeping was particularly easy, even underneath a primary winch being used constantly with the spinnaker up. I found I slept very well on the boat and could fall asleep fairly easily, once while talking to Big Chris (sorry Boss).
Interviewer: On a score of 1 to 10 with 10/10 being 100% effort ALL of the time how would you score yourself for the RTW race? And of course why?
Neil: I’d have to rate myself as 8 out of 10. The main reason is because a faraway close friend rated her effort as only 73% and I wanted to do better, haha. But more seriously I think 80% is pretty accurate. I’ve given a fair amount to the cause, helping out the boat in the water in Gosport under trying circumstances, worked hard to catch up with the general commissioning and other jobs required to get the boat how we wanted her, and working hard as crew. I worked up to watch leader on several races and like to think that I’ve become a more integral part of the core crew as the race has developed. However, to survive the whole race I realised that one had to keep something back for oneself and saw one crew member in particular give too much for the cause and burn out.
Interviewer: A little bird has told us (well okay it may have been a stool pigeon though we believe it's not polite to mention any wildlife associated with the heads) that you have successfully avoided the majority of the less savoury jobs during the stopovers. What’s your top tip for looking busy when the bilges need cleaning?
Neil: Certainly in the early days I did my time in the bilges and was the first one to discover the blocked heads just before race start out of Singapore. While it was tempting to walk away and deny all knowledge, I rolled up my sleeves, put on the non-latex rubber gloves and dived into the unpleasantness. However, as my responsibilities on deck as watch leader increased and my ability to ‘look busy’ improved, the bilges and I sort of grew apart. As Mr Thomas said to me on Leg 7, you don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.
Interviewer: Apart from shirking, what top three skills have you learnt/developed during this circumnavigation and how are you planning to apply them in life after Clipper? It’s been suggested that you make a mean cup of tea as mother...
Neil: Ha, I think what you heard was that I am rather mean when I’m mother and the crew have to prise cups of tea out of me. It’s true that I haven’t embraced this role on board but I have become an awesome tin opener. The three things I’ve learnt is how to look busy, how to delegate drying the bilges and the benefits of owning a dog. I’m sure I can apply all of these leanings to my role as pharmacy team leader at Auckland hospital.
Interviewer: Much is said of the romance of the high seas, can you share any of your personal experiences with us to confirm whether this is true or just a rumour spread by lonely sailors?
Neil: Stuck on the high seas in a 70-foot yacht for weeks on end with 20 smelly foul-mouthed Australians is the least romantic place on earth. The rumours are completely untrue.
Interviewer: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (Clipper Race founder and all round sailing legend) hopes that the Clipper Race is the best thing that participating crew have done in their lives...so far...and that it inspires them to live LARGE and pursue their dreams. Has this experience been personally life changing and what’s next for you?
Neil: Personally I think the ‘life changing’ aspect of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is rather overstated and encouraged by Clipper. Sure, I’ve learnt a lot about sailing, been to places few people have been, seen some great sights and experienced the odd terror or two. The man himself gave a good speech today about how much we have achieved and I feel proud to have done so. But at the end of the race, I’ll go back to work, perhaps look a bit busier than I used to, and continue with life as before. Of course, no one will come over for dinner for fear of the thousand photos and long boring stories I now have. But that’s not so different from before.
Interviewer: Well Neil, we thank you for your entertaining, insightful and witty blogs during the past year and I hope to hear similar tall tales of your next adventures. Any last words for the folks back home?
Neil: Pain is temporary, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever, go hard or go home (thanks Nedo).
[Neil would like to thank Eastern Hills for her insightful questions]
Writing from 52’57 N 04’45E
To read all of Neil's blogs visit: http://gingafoxroundtheworld.com/