Mark Tucker has withdrawn from the Round the World Race

Facebook watchers will have seen the announcement  that Mark Tucker from Horsington has decided not to continue in the Round the World Clipper Race.

He has kindly furnished the Blog with an explanation of why he has taken this decision.

Mark Tucker (Foreground, right) with members of the GREAT Britain crew

Around The World (or, maybe, just around the corner…)

Sometimes in life things just don’t pan out exactly as you think they’re going to.  Situations often work out better than you expected but other times they don’t quite live up to their billing.  My round the world yacht adventure rather falls into that latter category.

For some people racing a sailing yacht around the world has been a childhood dream.  For others it’s an important tick box to go with climbing Mouth Everest, running the Marathon Des Sables or hiking to the North Pole.  For the rest, like me, it’s simply a personal challenge, an adventure.

You’ll probably all have read the previous posts about the Clipper Round The World race but, for those that don’t know, it’s an organised event that runs every two years and provides paying amateurs the opportunity to race a fleet of twelve ‘matched’ racing yachts over 40,000 miles around the world, or part of it if time, money or enthusiasm doesn’t stretch that far.  As the Blog’s Editor previously attested, these are proper racing yachts – designed to be fast, hard work and uncomfortable!  The race is staged over a series of eight legs – Liverpool to Uruguay, Uruguay to South Africa, South Africa to Western Australia, Western Australia to The Whitsundays (including the Sydney-Hobart Race), The Whitsundays to China, China to Eastern USA, Eastern USA to New York and New York to Liverpool.  It had been my plan to do the lot.

‘So, what happened?’ is the question everyone asks when they hear that finishing the 6,400 mile race to Uruguay was going to mark the end of my Clipper adventure.  I think they’re looking for some earth-shattering event; a massive argument with my Skipper, ending up overboard mid-Atlantic or my bunk buddy wetting the bed perhaps?  Disappointingly for them, none of those things are true.  It was more a realisation over time (and, believe me, five weeks at sea gives you plenty of thinking time!) that the race, for me at least, wasn’t as fulfilling as I had expected it to be.

I had massively enjoyed my training.  Clipper provide everyone, regardless of experience, with four weeks of compulsory training.  Additionally I had been selected to act as a Crew Coxswain (one of the people that take over if the Skipper becomes incapacitated) and had received a further couple of weeks of, mainly theory, training for that.  It had been great fun; I was learning lots, experiencing new things, was physically demanding and I was meeting lots of new friends.

I had expected all of that to continue into the race but, perhaps a little like a failing marriage, once the honeymoon period had worn off the realities of life started to hit home.

Sailing a yacht across a vast expanse of ocean is rather different from racing ‘round the cans’ or even cruising around islands or down the coast.  For the vast majority of the time, sometimes for days on end, the boat needs only a couple of people to sail it – someone to helm and another to ensure they’re making good speed and course.  Whilst these roles are rotated around the watch of about ten crew it can mean that, save a little sail trimming, for most of a four or six hour watch there is little, if any, sailing to do.  Fantastic when the sun’s shining and there’s dolphins on the bow, not so great when it’s dark, cold and pouring with rain!

So, what does occupy your time?  Well, clearly talking complete rubbish to fellow crew mates is an important time filler and aside the more interesting tasks such as an hourly log of position, a daily check of the received weather information, an occasional glance at the display to check for other vessels nearby and the six-hourly review of our race position against the rest of the fleet, it’s a long list of cleaning and maintenance chores. It’s amazing how dirty a small space can become, even when in the middle of the ocean, when there are 21 people living in close proximity.

It’s equally surprising how much maintenance a yacht can require.  The regular list of duties includes cleaning heads (toilets), pumping out and cleaning bilges, ‘making’ fresh water (from sea water), emptying waste water holding tanks, checking for any chafe (signs that ropes have been rubbing and are likely to fail) and performing any maintenance required – anything from servicing pumps to repairing cookers and generators.

All very necessary, none very inspiring!  Add to that the sea sickness (far worse than I’d experienced ever before), the tiredness (it’s really not that easy to sleep in a roastingly hot bunk, in an ocean swell, with someone operating a winch inches above your head) and uninspiring food (sorry Pip!) and you couldn’t be much farther from the sailing pictures you see in the back of the colour supplement.

Life is about balancing things to make decisions; often there’s no correct answer, you just have to do what feels right at the time.  I thought long and hard about my decision and, ultimately, the lack of that childhood dream or tick box meant there wasn’t enough on the ‘keep going’ side of the scales to offset the boredom, sea sickness, exhaustion and risk of injury.  Ocean racing is something you have to be 100% up for; there is nothing more annoying and, in some cases, dangerous than to have a ‘passenger’ on the boat – I promised my Skipper and my crew mates that I’d either be completely in the boat (pardon the pun!) or I’d walk away.  Could I have completed another leg or even finished the race?  Absolutely, but it wouldn’t have been fair to them or true to myself.

So, after a few days in Buenos Aires, I’m now enjoying the South African sunshine as my crew and the rest of the fleet race towards me.  How do I feel?  Content, I guess.  I had set out, with the best of intentions, to conquer the world and I won’t have achieved that.  But I will have completed a long ocean crossing (the longest in Clipper’s history), I’ve sailed across the Equator (whilst Neptune transformed me from Slimy Pollywog to Trusty Shellback), I’ve learned loads about the oceans and about sailing and I have made great friends along the way.  Was I a little naive?  Maybe, but my training and discussions with everyone I talked to suggested it was going to be a blast.  Do I regret it?  Absolutely not.  I’m proud to have achieved what I have and would make a similar decision given my time again.  I’m just ready to fill my time with the next, different, adventure.  After all, that’s what life’s all about.

Looking forward to seeing you all about the village, or in The Half Moon for a pint, for the unabridged version very soon!  And please keep supporting the GREATBritain crew; I certainly will be and knowing there’s a ton of people out there willing you on makes a huge difference!

We thank him for his openness and honesty, and wish him the best of luck -ED

Postscript – Horsington’s other adventurer, Chris Bailward, cycling home from Sicily via Italy, Swizerland and France, is now in Paray-le-Monial a day’s cycle ride this side of Macon. With a following wind and no punctures, he might be back by the end of the weekend. 1800 miles in the saddle, another epic ride.

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