This article is part of the Adventure Travel topic. Below are more articles in this topic.
For your next sailing holiday, how about being swept the length of the deck by a 60ft wave, struggling to put a reef in the mainsail in a Force 9 gale and then enjoying your supper of a freeze dried meal before strapping yourself into your bunk for no more than three hours sleep at a time? If this doesn't appeal, try another perspective - how about taking the biggest adventure of your life, breaking the boundaries of everything you thought you were capable of and experiencing the most natural and untamed edges of the world?
One of nature's last bastions, the sea is amongst the few remaining places where it's still possible for human beings to encounter life-threatening, uncontrollable danger. And that's one of the very reasons people want to go there, because as well as testing you physically to the limits, it stretches your mind and touches your spirit. Imagine the feeling of slipping the mooring lines at dawn and pointing the bow towards the horizon, beyond which lies thousands of miles of ocean and, eventually, a foreign shore. No airline ticket, no traffic signs, no stopovers but the promise of a life-changing experience. As author Michael Calvin says in his book 'Only Wind and Water': "The Sea imposes hard truths. Anyone who ventures out into it cannot hide, from Mother Nature or their fellow man. It strips characters bare."
Surely it's an experience reserved for the professionals?
You'd be forgiven for thinking there's no way that your average man or woman could ever participate in something so specialized; surely it's for the hardened professionals, people who've been sailing all their lives. However, it's already been proven that if you give individuals the chance, they can find hidden depths of skill, endurance and tenacity; so much so that the experience changes them forever. Sir Chay Blyth was the first person to sail non-stop around the world against the prevailing winds and currents; or the 'wrong way' as it's often described. An adventurer with a mission to encourage others, he subsequently ran a series of round the world races to break down the barriers associated with international yacht racing, enabling ordinary people to participate in a way that had never previously been thought possible.
However, the inherent danger of sailing over the open ocean cannot and should never be underestimated. Indeed, having the opportunity to confront real danger is part of the thrill and the element that is such a powerful catalyst for the psychological dimension of the experience; you can't stop the yacht and get off when you get scared. As professional yachtswoman Ellen Macarthur succinctly put it: "…when you're in a big storm you just have to deal with it; there is no way you can get out." Participants often describe their overwhelming feelings of relief at not having suffered any serious injuries, as well as love for their family and friends waiting on the quayside. The world suddenly seems a lot smaller than it did before they left, and many people who fall in love with the open ocean cite the peacefulness of being away from land, as well as the focus that participating in such a physically and mentally challenging activity brings: "It gives you time to reflect without the clutter of everyday life getting in the way".
You don't have to sail around the globe for a taste of what it's all about. You can also get well out of touch with the nearest landmass in the world's classic ocean races such as the Fastnet, the Sydney to Hobart, the Transpacific and the Newport to Bermuda. Each course puts participants to the test; in all cases the seas can be ferocious and the racing is serious. Participating yachts are submitted to safety inspections and for the Fastnet and Sydney to Hobart half of the crew (including the skipper) must be qualified in sea survival. It is recommended for everyone aboard to have completed basic offshore race training, as well as some familiarization sailing on the yacht in question.
The most popular race is the biennial Rolex Fastnet which attracts about 250 yachts. Its five day, 850 mile course starts from Cowes, England and rounds the Fastnet Rock off the south west corner of Ireland before returning to Plymouth via the south side of the Scilly Isles. As well as hardened champions from the Grand Prix circuits, it attracts yachts and sailors from all over the world and not just the professionals - family owned and crewed cruiser-racers, dedicated amateurs, sailing schools and enthusiasts who have chartered a yacht for the occasion. The handicap system gives everyone a fair crack of the whip. But the most spectacular start is that of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race. Every Boxing Day hundreds of spectator craft follow the yachts out of Sydney harbour, helicopters buzz overhead and hundreds of thousands more people line the shore to wave the yachts off.
For many people though, the ocean crossing they most want to make is the transatlantic. No matter how many times you've flown over it whilst watching a movie or trying in vain to get some sleep, there remains a certain romance about the notion of traversing between the old world and the new by the same method as Christopher Columbus. Each November over 200 yachts cross the Atlantic from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to St. Lucia in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). It's the largest transoceanic sailing event in the world and whether you want to race or just get from one side of the Atlantic to the other without any jet lag, the ARC can help you do it safely and in good company. Conceived as a race that would be entirely different from other ocean races, the event is more of an organized rally in the Cruising Division, where limited motoring is allowed. For the more competitive entrants a separate Racing Division is run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, who also supervise the Fastnet race.
The spirit of the ARC is one of fun and the increased security that comes from being part of such an event gives a welcome confidence boost to even the most seasoned sailors. For the adventurous amateurs taking part, the start is a watershed between months, sometimes years, of preparation and the realization of a life's ambition. The kids come too: normally more than thirty under-18s made the crossing, most aged between six and twelve. Most participants are making the crossing for the first time, either on their own yacht, a charter yacht or as crew. Some are beginning a world cruise and plan to be away from home for several years, others may have no home to return to as they have sold it to fund their travels! It's fair to say that many of them have reached a crossroads in their life and the event provides a focus for change.
For anyone with determination and persistence, the opportunity to sail across oceans is there for the taking. It needn't be Spartan - most of the yachts available for charter on ocean crossings are equipped with comfortable berths rather than minimalist crew bunks and only the most committed competitors eat freeze dried food - but you will have to participate in the sailing, including standing watch. You can charter an entire yacht with skipper and crew, buy a berth for yourself or, if you are an experienced sailor, crew places are sometimes available free of charge in return for your services. The extraordinary reality is that whilst chartering a luxury yacht to loll about in the sun for a week or so is out of reach for most people, the possibility of racing across oceans exists for just about all of us. For those who decide to take it, the reward is an experience that few will ever even glimpse and one thing's for sure: the person who returns will not be the same as the one who set sail.
Article by Michelle Blore