Giving up everything to spend a year racing round the world on a yacht took on a special poignancy when Claire Carroll’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. Kate Ginn reports.
In under two months time, Claire Carroll will pack up her life in Oman and head off for the adventure of a lifetime as part of the world’s longest ocean race.
She is going to join crews racing yachts for 64,500 kilometres around the globe, crossing the equator twice and battling everything from hurricanes in the Caribbean to the dreaded doldrums of South East Asia during almost a year at sea.
It may seem like the sort of grand adventure only the most hardened sailor should undertake. But Claire hadn’t even ever set foot on board a yacht until eight months ago. Add this to the astonishing fact that more people have climbed to the summit of Mount Everest than have circumnavigated the globe, and the daunting challenge ahead becomes clear. Yet Claire, a sound technician at Royal Opera House Muscat, has had to overcome more than most to become part of the annual Clipper Round The World Yacht Race.
Born with a congenital hip condition, which required surgery as a child and left her with one leg shorter than the other, doctors at one time weren’t even sure she would be able to walk let alone one day tackle the gruelling physical demands of such an event.
And two months ago, she was close to giving up on her dream altogether after her sister, Leigh, was diagnosed with incurable cancer.
By coincidence, Claire had already chosen a UK-based cancer charity as one of four she is fundraising for as part of the race.
The decision had to be made whether to continue with the race, with her sister’s prognosis uncertain, or back out having already spent her lifesavings of RO25, 000 for the berth fee and handed in her resignation.
“My immediate thought was that I couldn’t go. What would I do if she got sicker when I was away?” says Claire. “I felt that I would be selfish to go away and that I should be back home in Scotland spending time with her. “I spoke to my mum. We talked about it and she said that if I delayed for a year or so, something else might happen.
“She also said that Leigh was desperate to go to New York to meet me off the boat in the first stopover and she would kill me if I cancelled and she couldn’t go. “Leigh wants me to go, she would be furious if I didn’t. “I can always leave at any time during the race if something happens.”
Tests have shown that Leigh’s cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has spread through all of her lymph nodes and into her bone marrow but it is slow growing. Doctors have advised a ‘watch and wait’ strategy before embarking on treatment.
“It’s very difficult for her. The not-knowing is very difficult for all of us,” says Claire. “But I’m determined to do the Clipper race and finish it now.” May 31 will be her last day at the Royal Opera House, after two years, and her final day in Oman.
The following day, she flies back to Scotland in preparation for the final two training stages before departure sometime in August.
“I am sad to be leaving Oman, it’s a beautiful country and I’ve had a great time, but this is something that I have wanted to do for years. I have to get this out of my system,” she says.
“I wanted to do the race in 2006 but my plan was put on hold because of work commitments.
“Most of my friends think that I’m mad but I can’t wait to get started. “Opportunities don’t come along like this often, or not at all, and you have to take your chances.”
Lying ahead is a challenge like no other.
For 11 months, home will be a 70-foot ocean-racing yacht. Twelve crews will be racing against each other in a brand new identical boat, known as the Clipper 70.
In 2009, two Omanis were selected for the same race. Ahmed al Mammari and Abdullah al Busaidi, both fulltime sailors with Oman Sail, already had several thousands kilometres of offshore sailing experience.
Claire, in contrast, has no experience of yacht sailing. Although she won’t quite be a fish out of water, she has been sailing dinghies since her teens and has worked on tall ships – the clipper race will be, metaphorically speaking, like swimming with the big fish.
Capable of speeds up to 30 knots, the elite racing craft will take them through warm trade winds, winter storms and tropical heat in some of the most extreme sailing conditions on the planet from the Southern Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Sleep will be in narrow bunks in claustrophobic quarters on a diet of mostly freeze-dried food, and cooking on a tiny four-ring stove.
Claire, who has been keeping fit taking part in triathlons and working out in the gym, will burn up 5,000-6,000 calories a day during the race.
It’s not without its dangers. Two years ago, one of the yachts ran aground after hitting a reef and started to capsize. The crew was all safely rescued but their race was over.
Claire will meet the rest of her crew in June. At the same time, they will be allocated their yacht and given time to get to know each other and develop their race tactics. At any one time, 24 people will be on the yacht. Crew can sign up to race the entire way around the world – like Claire – or opt for a single leg or combined legs.
Life on the yacht is going to be quite a test of character then. Particularly as she admits from suffering from seasickness, a bit of problem when you’re spending weeks without seeing dry land.
“It’s healthy to be a bit scared but you can’t let yourself be too worried,” she says. “I’ve learned to deal with adrenaline with my job. “The biggest thing I’m worried about is having to cook. I really can’t cook at all!”
Read about Claire’s adventure on her blog: http://clairedoesclipper.blogspot.com, where you can also donate via Virgin Money Giving to the charities she is supporting: Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) and STEPS (supporting children and adults affected by lower limb conditions).
All money donated will be split between the four charities. If you would like to donate to Claire’s berth fee or offer corporate sponsorship, please email firstname.lastname@example.org