The Clipper Race Supporters Club: Meet Tracey Charles

24 March 2016

We usually focus on getting to know the Clipper Race crew better but after getting more than half way through the circumnavigation, we have now got to know quite a lot of the friends and family as they follow their loved ones around the world.

So, as crew take on the longest leg of the race, we thought it a good time to introduce some familiar faces of the supporters.

If you have been in any of the stopover ports, chances are you have met John and Tracey, from Sydney, Australia. Tracey has been to every stopover port so far and today, on their 22nd wedding anniversary, they talk us their shared experience on the Clipper Race.

So Tracey, how is your own round the world journey going? Where has it taken you so far?
It has been rather fantastic! Since Race Start I have followed John and the Clipper Race to pretty much everywhere, and a bit more. I’ve been to London, Rio and Cape Town. Then I went to Perth to see some friends and drove down to Albany. Then we were home in Sydney before I flew to Hobart with a bunch of friends for New Year’s Eve, went up to Airlie Beach, then back to Sydney, and over to Cambodia for a week, exploring the Angkor Wat temples before Da Nang.

After Vietnam I went back to Sydney for a week to wash and pack winter clothes, and then over to China, and now waiting to go to Seattle, and planning to do the rest of the stops, including Panama.

You have developed some close friendships with other friends and family members over the months. How important has that been to the experience?
I’ve made some brilliant friends following the race, which I didn’t expect in the outset. My closest friends out of the supporter group are the round the worlders’ partners, so Marie Corcoran (Henry Dale on Unicef’s wife), and Gay Dowling (Tony Milsom on Derry~Londonderry~Doire's other half). Getting to know them has been an immensely enjoyable part of the experience for me.

I met Marie online. Our husbands introduced us. Henry and John met at the Coxswains’ course. I was on the computer and Henry was asking for some information from John so I flipped an email back quickly from Sydney to the UK and he said ‘gosh that was quick.’

I said I was on the computer doing some travel arrangements for the Clipper Race as I was planning to follow John around the world. He said he would put his wife in touch with me, as she was planning to travel too and that was it. We’ve lived together pretty much for about three months, and have even shared a bed together (I haven’t told John that yet) in Cambodia.

It has been so great to share the experience with someone else, who is going through the same emotions and understands fully what the race is all about. I hope we’ll be friends for a very long time after the race.

(left to right, Marie Corcoran, Tracey Charles, John Charles and Henry Dale)

We had an honorary supporter’s group member join us too for the trip to Cambodia, in Mr Andrew Ogg, and he fitted in quite well really. He managed the massages and the girly talk, and he got to eat lots of bad food that he’s not normally allowed to eat at home. (sorry Sharon) plus lots of drink. He quite enjoyed it I think!

Does it get harder or easier to say goodbye to John as the race goes on?
It is easier now than at the start, I guess you just get on with it a bit better as you know the Skipper is safe, and you know a lot of the crew, plus I trust the boats are well built and will take everything that nature can throw at them.

I think we saw that best on the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It showed clearly how well built the Clipper 70s are. You had all those billion dollar boats smash up but the Clipper Race fleet just powered on. Before we used to sail and thought 25 knots was a bit too heavy, and now you hear 50 knot gusts and think “they’ll be alright.” The whole sort of context changes. It’s really weird.

Also in some ways you are more used to what goes on. You know what is going to happen when they arrive into port. But it doesn’t get any easier in the sense that you do still worry. I am a sailor, well a champagne, or wine, cruiser. Not an ocean racing sailor, but yes it is getting easier because you understand it better and you are used to what goes on, but it doesn’t take away that little nag in the back of your head that says “I hope they are going to be ok.”

Leg one was interesting (*John broke his arm and lacerated his side when he was thrown around from the top of the mast during rough weather). That was an interesting exercise in life. It couldn’t have gone much worse than that from John’s point of view so I hope the accidents are over. But I think most of us in the supporters group will breathe a sigh of huge relief once they all reach Seattle. Ok. Big one over. Not the home straight just yet but it gets closer then.

What led to the decision to do the Clipper Race?
John: It was when we were in Sydney two years ago. We were going down the harbour in our boat to the Fish Market and the Qingdao yacht was actually going alongside us in the opposite direction past the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. It really stood out. We followed it for a bit and saw the ‘Clipper Round the World Race logo and Tracey said, ‘what’s that, we should look into it.’

(John's picture of Qingdao in Sydney in 2013, which sparked his Clipper Race journey)

Tracey: So we did and then I though that’s alright. You can do that, I can fly. And here we are, two and a bit years down the line and we’re in Qingdao. China was never originally on the cards for me though as it is too cold. It was just not top of my travel list, but after John’s accident in the first leg, I just sort of thought that I really should try to get to every port and you can’t not be there if you have the time and ability.

Marie was not going to go to Albany, but I convinced her to go, and then after Unicef’s horrendous Southern Ocean crossing, Henry said please come to China, so we agreed, and now Marie and I are going to be round the worlders too.

Was your travel trip part of the deal between you when you let John race off round the world?
Tracey: There was no ‘letting John’ go, it was more like he said “I’m doing this, is it ok? He has wanted to go around the world solo for a long time, and I was like ‘yea that’s never going to happen.’ And then when we found out about the Clipper Race, I though ‘ok yea that’s better.’

Have you noticed many changes in John since he has been on the race?
Tracey: Physically John has lost about ten kilos but I try to feed him up a bit in each port. Today we’ve been for a massive breakfast and bacon double cheeseburgers. I said to John, we’re a great team as always as while he is losing it, I am gaining it. It is all about team work.

The other thing I have noticed is that it has kind of made us appreciate each other more. I think when you almost lose your other half, you go ‘he’s alright actually. I think I’ll keep him.’ It kind of focuses the mind on what’s important. We’ve got much closer too, when we are in port. Obviously, not while he is on the boat but we do more together when we see each other which we wouldn’t normally do.

It is actually almost like being back at University in a way, when I would only see John every other weekend and you are nicer to each other and do more together because you see each other less, so I think you make the most of it whenever you get the chance. The partying in port only adds to that feeling, although we don't do quite so much of that anymore!

So how long have you been together now and how did you first meet?
Tracey: John can answer this one. He better be able to anyway!
John: We got married 22 years ago, on March 26th. (actually 25th as Tracey corrects) so we’ll be headed into the Pacific on our actual anniversary. We met 32 years ago.
Tracey: We met in a nightclub in the 80s.
John: Actually you were going out with my friend in 1978.
Tracey: And you were going out with someone else! You weren’t available. If you were I would have been too.

How will you be celebrating your anniversary across the distance?
Tracey: Well we won’t be together but everything is already planned. John gets card a week on the boat, and we write each other little love notes. I found a box of love in a shop, and this is not normally my style, but a previous crew member and I were talking about how to stay in touch. The email system can get pretty costly but she said she used to write a letter to her husband on every leg.

I thought, well I can do better than that and do one a week. So I got these little cards and on this leg, he will have four, for each week on the boat. The first one says to open on the 25th. Inside that though it has little love notes. We’ve done it since Race Start.

What attracted you to each other?
John: For Tracey it was clearly my dashing good looks. I’m also very suave and sophisticated….
Tracey: Hmmm...It was more about his big personality. You can’t really miss it. I think his smile really stood out to me too, and also he is a bit of a bad boy and we’re all attracted to them aren’t we?
John: For me it was Tracey's Elle McPherson look-a-like figure.
Tracey: This is a funny story actually. When he was under the anaesthetic in the hospital in Rio I asked him if he knew who I was? He said, yep, you are Elle McPherson! I wish I had recorded it. He was so funny. The nurses couldn’t understand but they could see us laughing so much. I think they thought we were nuts.

What does Tracey’s support and love mean to you as you race John?
It is fantastic to have Tracey’s love and support. Having her in port is always something I look forward to, plus she has everything organised which makes my life so much easier. When I get off the boat I have a hotel room, clean clothes and good food waiting. I put my bags in, and bang, it is all done. I’m good to go. It makes such a difference. And I know I’m lucky, Not everyone has a loved one in port to visit them. But I’ve been very lucky to have Tracey in every port.

Does it mean the Clipper Race has been a shared experience?
John: Definitely for me, yes. I get to share the high points in port with Tracey and she gets to feel part of it without getting cold and doing all the hard work on board.
Tracey: It does a bit yes. It is hard when they are off doing this thing on their own for ever so long. It is the first time he has done anything for so long without me. The GREAT Britain crew are fab though. They embrace me, although they have no choice really!

How hard was it back in September when you had the call to say that John had had an accident on board?
The actual call itself wasn’t the bad part. I knew he had broken his arm and severed his side too, but I guess he didn’t want to tell me the whole extent of the seriousness of the damage. Which I get. I remember stepping out of the hospital in Rio though after hearing the detail from the Drs, that the cut under his arm had been just 4mm from a major artery and he could almost have died.

I stood there a moment thinking wow this is dangerous. I knew it was, but I don’t think you really appreciate the reality until it hits you full like that. But there you go. It is his dream to do it and I’m much happier that he had his Skipper and all the crew around him to help him, rather than if he had been doing it alone which is what he originally wanted to do.

What have some of the highlights been for you along your own Clipper Race journey then Tracey?
Tracey: Definitely meeting some of the other supporters. I think the whole thing there is that they all understand what you are going through.

John and I have always enjoyed travelling together so that has been the side of it that I really have enjoyed too. Getting to see parts of the world we wouldn’t normally be in. Plus actually looking forward to getting to see your husband! A feeling I haven’t actually had for years.
John: Cor, that’s nice isn’t it?!
Tracey: No, I mean I never get to miss you because you are always normally there! That’s why!
John: Oh ok. That makes better sense if you put it like that!

Do you have any adventures planned together after the race?
John: Not yet, though we have talked about getting on a boat and doing the Fjords.
Tracey: Actually, we’re going to the Seychelles for my birthday, on the way back to Australia. I’m sure however once we have been back a few months, the Winnebago will be packed up and we’ll be touring off somewhere around Australia. Perhaps nothing water based for a while though.

How would you summarise the experience so far?
John: It’s been amazing, we’ve met so many lovely people and seen some great places in the world that we wouldn’t normally have ever been to, plus we still have many more to come before it is over as well. I will be glad when the Pacific is out of the way. Psychologically it will feel we will then be on the downward slope home.

The Pacific is going to be hard, it is going to be long, cold and wet and all the rest of it, but once we are in Seattle, and start heading back, it is mostly going to be summertime in the northern hemisphere and that’s going to be easier. Perhaps!

How you feel about John going across the Pacific?
I’m pretty ok about the Pacific actually. I know it is going to be long but for me, having gone through what he has gone through already, I know the boats are good, and I know John is good on the boat. I think ten per cent of me is now glad he had the accident because it made him pull back a little more, and he realised he is not 21 and invincible anymore. As a result I think he is a little more careful on the boat.

So I’m ok. I will be glad when it is all over though, as there always is that little doubt in the back of your mind when they are sailing and you look at that Race Viewer and you see them stop or not go very fast, or go backwards. Your heart stops a little. There was a moment on the way into Qingdao where they stopped for a couple of hours and I thought ‘here we go again, someone’s had an accident.’ But no, they had got stuck in a fishing net. So there you go.

But no, the Pacific I am not too nervous about but others might be. Because it is so long.

What are you enjoying most about the Clipper Race?
John: Meeting all the different people. I’ve met fantastic people, yourself included in the highest of that.
Tracey: I forgot to add charming to his list of attractive qualities..
John: In all seriousness, sailing around the world has been one of my lifetime ambitions. Obviously I missed a leg of the race because of the injury but I am really hoping I can get on and complete that finally in the next race to finish that off, if Tracey agrees! That was a big disappointment but I hope I can complete the whole trip eventually.

What over the years has been the secret to your happy marriage?
Tracey: We have a common sense of humour and neither of us take each other too seriously.
John: We have always both loved adventure and travelling.
Tracey: We are quite different people. Both quite different sort of upbringings and background but there three or four things that are really common between us. Adventure, travel, and humour are definitely things we share most in common. Plus, no one else would actually have him that long!

As the teams cross the Pacific, we will be catching up with a different supporter each week to hear their side of the experience. Next week will be Gay and Tony Milsom.

If you want to tell us in the comments section on Facebook 1. Who you are supporting 2. Your relationship to them. 3: A little message of encouragement, we will send it to the boats on the day they cross the International Date Line, and help spur them on during the longest day of the longest race.

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