Meet Ocean Racer Sarah Thompson

30 September 2015

Sarah Thompson grew up by the sea in Northern Ireland and now works as a solicitor in London. It was during a visit from her mum that she came across the GREAT Britain yacht in Trafalgar Square before the 2013-14 race. Sarah’s mum encouraged her to find out more and after watching the DVD and reading the Clipper Race brochure, she signed up. We spoke to Sarah at the Marina da Gloria after her journey across the Atlantic Ocean and fourth place finish on board Derry~Londonderry~Doire.

Age: 29
Occupation: Solicitor
Team: Derry~Londonderry~Doire
Completed: Leg 1, Atlantic Trade Winds Race from London to Rio de Janeiro, Clipper 2015-16 Race

Have you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve done things like marathons and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, so I’m always looking for a challenge, wanting to push the boundaries a bit, but never have I sailed this distance or done anything like this before. I’ve always wanted to cross an ocean, always wanted to sail into Rio so this was ideal. When mum and I saw the GREAT Britain boat in Trafalgar Square I was going to be a Londoner and walk on past, but my mum, being a lovely Northern Irish mum, stopped. Two years later here I am in Rio de Janeiro having raced across the Atlantic Ocean.

How does this compare to your other challenges?
This is a whole other level because climbing Kilimanjaro takes five days. If it’s bad, then it’s only five days. Also, if you don’t like it, you can go home. Here, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic, you’re 2000 nautical miles from anywhere so you’ve got to pull your weight and crack on with it. It’s just another level. But it’s also another level in terms of reward, because the more you put in, the more you get out of it. The best adventures are when there is a bit of a soggy moment or an awful moment because afterwards when you can laugh about it the funnier it becomes.

In all challenges there are going to be hard times but is that part of the attraction?
Yes, coming through the Doldrums Corridor we had been expecting flat calm, sunshine, our Skipper had said we could get the dinghy out and use it as paddling pool to cool down in, instead we got wet, wind, rain, just bouncy all the way through. It got to the stage you thought “oh, dry underwear, that would be nice, but we won’t have that for another two weeks.” So it’s those kind of moments where you think this is a bit grim. But at the same time you stop, you think “yeah, it’s a bit miserable but it’s part of the experience, part of the personal challenge. It’s about raising to the occasion and then you push through. To be here having done that, it just makes it all the better to be standing in Rio in this amazing sunshine.

What will you take away from your experience of the Clipper Race?
I’m from a fishing village in Northern Ireland called Portavogie. The sea is in my blood but we don’t have yachts people in the family, this is the first time we’ve had some sailing going on. I think I’ll take away from this the realisation that anything is possible. Don’t say “Someday”, don’t say “I wish”, just do it! Sign up, crack on, fill out the application form, have no regrets. I hope I’ll also go back into my day job rejuvenated, with renewed confidence and again, just the determination to push the doors – if there is an opportunity there, have a look. I would say for anybody looking for their next challenge that this is a good one.

And we hear that you might be back with us again?
I may be back. I think time is the critical factor. My bosses have been great because they let me save my holiday for the last two years to be able to do this in one big chunk so I’m not sure how much buy in I’ll get for the rest of this race, but who knows. I’m a lawyer in London and due back at the desk next Tuesday. So that will be an interesting contrast. But again, having faced a knockdown in the middle of the night and call of all hands on deck; having cooked for 21 people on a gas ring at a 45 degree angle, that will hopefully just make everything seem that little bit more mellow when I get back to the office.

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