Well, firstly… Happy New Year everyone!
It’s been a manic start to the year, and a somewhat unbelievable one!
Last year... which already sounds weird, as it still feels like 2017, but anyway... last year, I took the final practical exam that I needed to complete my Yachtmaster Offshore. Going in to the exam, I was more nervous that I have ever been, partly because of how much this all means to me, and partly because it’s a pretty tough exam to begin with. I've wanted the qualification for a while now, not so much because I need it, but because I want the confidence in my own ability, and the reassurance that I’m not completely crazy to continue on with my dream and goal of being the first disabled participant in the Vendée Globe. The prep week was stressful; I hadn’t had anywhere near enough training, I was already exhausted having had the week from hell prior to it, but I was fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly strong group of women and a rather fab instructor, Peter.
During the week, it seemed that we, as a crew, were taking it in turns to have emotional breakdowns, and my turn came on the Wednesday after some particularly shocking parking practice in Ocean Village… I had so little confidence in myself that I even asked Peter if I should drop down to the lower level of YM and go for Coastal instead. The girls were all amazing during the week; the support I felt from them, the reassurance and the teamwork was what kept me going. Everyone had each others backs, and we worked so well together. Then, the dreaded Friday evening arrived, and Peter handed us over to Philippe Falle, who was to be our examiner for the weekend. A toss of the coin decided who would be tested first and I drew the apparent short straw. I decided to go for a 'ripping the plaster off' approach, bite the bullet and go first. So that was that. Off we went into the night.
Arriving in Portsmouth for our first nights stop, my nerves were getting the better of me and I immediately struggled to park. I could even hear Peter’s voice in my head 'A good boat handler knows when they’ve been beaten' and backed out of my first attempt thinking I was beaten, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I could do a better job second time around. The second day, I had things a little easier. Everyone else was starting to take their turns. That took the pressure off so I just did what I normally do on a boat, tried to enjoy the sailing and keep positive for the girls. By the final day, I was even starting to enjoy myself a bit, well right up to the part when Philippe set me the park from hell! Shaking more than I ever have - even on the start line of the Paralympic games! - I set the girls up for the park, aimed the boat into the tiniest space and, by some miracle, I managed to pull it off with no one dying, no one falling off, and no damage done to any of the surrounding boats! Still shaking like a leaf, I got off the wheel and on to the pontoon to thank the girls for their epic work in helping me stick the landing, maybe muttering a few choice expletives about my examiner too.
Looking back now, I appreciate how much Philippe challenged and pushed me. Sitting on the pontoon with him afterwards, waiting to find out whether I had passed or not was the most nervewracking thing in the world. Literally all my emotions of the past few weeks spilled out after he gave me the good news - sorry Philippe! I didn’t even celebrate at the time; I just rang Alex to let him know, then got in the car and drove home. The pressure of the exam was definitely more than I’d realised! Driving home, I thought I’d done a fairly good job, but my critical self knew there was still a lot I could improve on, and that I could have done better, done more. So, imagine my shock later in the year… I’m walking through Victoria train station on my way to a meeting with HSR’s charity, Ditch the Label (a really brilliant anti-bullying charity), when I get a call from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) telling me I’ve been nominated for Yachtmaster of the Year!! I suddenly burst into tears, not even comprehending what was going on, and then Richard Falkner, the Director of Training, told me that I'd won… It was incredible.
Fast forward to the 10th January 2018, and I’m on the RYA stand being presented with a lovely trophy by HRH Princess Anne…
There are so many people who have helped me get to this point, so bear with me whilst I thank them… Lizzy, Lucinda, James, Amy and everyone at Girls for Sail, thank you for the training that got me on the path towards being ready to take the big practical steps to becoming a YM. Vic, a total superstar, who managed to fit into my stupid schedule and got me through my theory in 4 days - nothing short of a miracle as far as I'm concerned! Peter, thank you for the awesome prep week. You gave me confidence when I had none, reassured my doubts and challenged me to push harder. Alex, Jennie and Carol, thank you for the endless support in the run up to the dreaded exam, and for putting up with phone calls, panicked messages, crying and a lot of self doubt. Katerina, Jen, and Karen, thank you for all the support, the cuddles, the cups of tea and the encouragement. You all made an awesome crew when it was my turn, and I appreciate all the effort you put in. Congratulations to all of you too for your exams xx
Then, it goes without saying but a huge thank you must go to Philippe. I might have sworn at you a few times and called you some names, but challenging me the way you did has given me so much more confidence in myself and I'm so excited about what the future holds. I'm thrilled that you've agreed to join my team behind the scenes - and that you're not afraid to sail with me again! haha - because there's so much still to learn, but I know that we'll get there.
And, finally a massive, humungous, bit fat THANK YOU to all of Team HSR (Alex, Adam, Adriana, Kat, Dan, Carol, Jennie, Sally, Chris, Lucinda, Mary, Sandra and lots of parents) and all our supporters who came to the Boat Show to see us, especially all of you who branded yourselves up. We had an entourage that rivalled even Princess Anne’s!!
2018 is going to be an amazing year, of this, I am sure!!