The telephone rang early one evening back in 2018. ‘Ricky, are you coming down to Derry to see the Clipper ships returning?’ was the question from my old friend and a Derry man from birth, Kieran Doherty.
My initial thought was that he was referring to the older style classic Clipper Trading ships of the Tall ships ilk. Apparently not. He advised further that these were the round the world racing yachts that had been berthing every two years at the Foyle Marina as part of the Foyle Maritime Festival.
My response was rapid and decisive, as Kieran was known to enjoy a few random beers and would definitely ensure I enjoyed a few days away from Belfast. Little did I know that this would result in a venture so enormous, outside of my comfort zone on every level and culminate in me writing this blog from one of the vessels that I actually witnessed coming to berth almost four years ago. To be more specific, I am approaching New York city after leaving Hamilton, Bermuda almost 6 days ago as a crew member on board Unicef.
I must admit that my decision to apply to be a crew member was somewhat impulsive in February of this year, but having previously asked for an information pack in 2019, I eventually succumbed to the relentless social media updates and invites to consider this very adventure, with the option of four weeks back to back training in Gosport in April – May 2022 in the hope of joining the re-commenced 2019-2020 race that had been stranded in the Philippines due to the global pandemic.
My sailing knowledge was zero, but I was hoping to at least learn the rudimentaries and pass the necessary training required.
It has been a few hectic months of planning the finances, creating time to train, travel and participate in the actual race across the Atlantic. Most importantly, knowing that I had the support of my immediate family and friends to engage in the race of a lifetime.
The journey so far has been remarkable and humbling in equal measure, with considerable similarities to my early years. Learning to crawl in a man-size baby-grow (foul weather clothing) under the main connecting point for the mainsail at the rear of the vessel. Learning a whole new language of sailing terms. Learning to walk with a wide gait across the yacht as it progresses across the ocean. Having to revert to fairly basic toilet techniques and eating and sleeping at random hours throughout the day and night as would a toddler.
Most importantly, knowing that I am surrounded by a caring and supportive team that have at their very core, my safety and well being.
This Clipper Race venture, as I progress towards the next race from USA all the way back to the very beginning in Derry City, is bringing me home, but in the knowledge that I have formed many enduring relationships with people from many nationalities who I now consider to be family.
I know that my own family, my good friends Kieran, Tony, Charles, Tim and others will guarantee my new family from CV31 Unicef, a warm Irish welcome and probably a few drinks to rejoice in the adventure that began with that one simple phone call many years ago.
I am hoping that the next few weeks will bring me safe and fast as per the advice of the founder of this race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.