When the Clipper Race fleet sailed along the River Thames and past her pub in Canvey Island, Ann Adams couldn’t bring herself to watch because she knew the lure of the adventure would be too much and she would be tempted to sign up.

However, on the day of the Clipper 2015-16 Race start, she couldn’t resist going to Southend where she met Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. Here Ann explains how that brief chat with our race founder four months ago has resulted in her joining IchorCoal this week to race in the Asian-Pacific Challenge Leg.

Name: Ann Adams
Age: 71
Profession: Retired Pub Landlady
Team: IchorCoal
Signed up for: Leg 5, the Asian Pacific Challenge

I’ve lived in Benfleet, Essex all of my life. My husband is a landlubber and we have ten grandchildren. I only started sailing in 2000 through a charity event but it didn’t take much for me to get hooked and I ended up joining Benfleet Yacht Club, where Sir Robin is actually an honorary member.

Our pub, the Wind Jammer overlooks the Thames and on 30 August when the Clipper Race fleet sailed past, everyone said that they were surprised I wasn’t going out to watch but I said I couldn’t because I’d only be tempted to sail away on one of them, but that’s exactly what happened!

The following day was horrible with the rain was pouring down, but at the last minute I asked my husband to run me down to Southend. He didn’t know what was going on because I never go to Southend and I explained to him I was just going to have a look at the Clipper Race boats and he said “In that weather? You must be mad!”

Initially we couldn’t see anything because of the rain, but as the fleet started to appear through the mist my heart started thumping and then all these other boats were weaving in and out around them, and I really wished I was on board.

When the race started, we watched them disappear into the mist again and Sir Robin was quite near to me on his own. I thought about whether or not I should go up to him. I did, shook hands and said to him “I’m 70 years old. What are the chances of me taking part in this race on one of your beautiful boats?” He said to me “Do you know how old I am? I don’t expect any one to give up while I’m still going. All you need is energy, enthusiasm, character and a letter from your doctor.” So I spent a week looking up the website. When I finally told my family, my daughter said she thought it was absolutely ridiculous but I think that’s because she is losing a babysitter. My two sons thought it was great, they’ve travelled a lot themselves.

I did my first two levels of training back to back and then the same for Levels 3 and 4. I spent that first fortnight crying my eyes out every night without anyone knowing. I thought why am I doing it, I’ve got a luxury life. Friends back home were saying to me at my age I should be on a cruise ship rather than a racing yacht.

I had nightmares about the running backstays, I just couldn’t get my head around them. Then I started crying at the yacht club and one of my friends said, “I can teach you everything about running backstays, I lived on a Thames barge for years.”

My Level 4 training week was really good. We had a mixed bunch of people, some of whom had done the race before so they were able to talk from a layman’s point of view. The fact that they have come back for more just made me think how could I give up when there are people like that, and I never give up on anything.

I chose the Asian Pacific Challenge leg because I wanted to experience all weather systems. I’m not just a fair weather sailor. I don’t care what boat I’m on, just as long as I’m on a boat. If ever anyone is looking for crew, people would say “Oh Ann will go with you.” I’ve earnt my place in the club.

I’ve always wanted to go to Australia but my husband has never been that keen. We mostly go to Europe although I have been to China and India on my own. When he heard I was going to do this leg he said “Do you realise what the temperature is going to be in China?”

I’ve got a 12 foot Swallows and Amazons boat called “Ann’s Off”, named by my auntie because I’m always going away somewhere. If ever get fidgety I buy a berth on a yacht, that’s how I ended up doing the Round the Island Race. I’ve also sailed on the Tall Ships, but it all started from my time at the North Thameside Ladies Auxillary, when we got a letter through from the Society of Licensed Victuallers which had acquired a big racing yacht. They were fundraising for charity and for about £600 you could spend three nights on board. I decided to do it and the Auxillary sponsored me. I picked it up on the River Thames, there was only about five or six people who had paid to be on it. Everyone was so ill but I cooked a chilli for everyone and just before I was due to finish the Skippers asked me to stay on because they were concerned that the new crew getting on might be sick too.

That was the beginning really, and now at the age of 71 years old, I’m sailing from Australia to Asia. I’ve shocked myself really. I’m amazed at my own stamina. I think the adrenaline gives you strength and we are all in the same boat, as the saying goes.

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