Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Adventurers

I used to think I was quite adventurous, a man who approached the edge, albeit with caution, and peered over, satisfied that I had actually dared to go close enough to regale friends and colleagues with tales of valour and adventure.

Last weekend I realised that there are people who march up to the edge and throw themselves off with wild abandon and a spirit of adventure that makes my tales and experiences pale into insignificance.

Mrs PM has a friend called Ryan, a man lives life to the full. I met Ryan way back in 1999 in Hong Kong when Mrs PM and I were working together. He was immediately likeable and extremely outgoing. He had left England’s shores and moved to Hong Kong with no plan other than to do something different. When I met him he was writing for a local magazine, mainly as a source of income so that he could remain there.

After Hong Kong, he continued to work his way around Asia teaching English as a foreign language.

The last time I saw him was early in the 2000’s when he returned to England for a university reunion, which coincidentally took place in Manchester. Before too long he was off on his travels again.

I heard snippets of his adventures and eventually found out that he had met an American woman called Tasha and had moved to New York.

Earlier this year, Mrs PM asked if I fancied a trip to London for another of her university reunions. The answer was yes, of course. Not only would it be a good excuse to visit the capital again, I would also get to see her friends again, all of whom are great fun to be with.

“Ryan will be there,” she said. “In fact, it’s really just for him we’re going. He’s going to sail part way around the world.”

The words slowly sunk in.

“You mean on his own?” I asked.

“No – in a clipper with a crew of people.”

His adventures had cranked up a gear.

“We get to go on a spectator boat as his guests,” she added.

Even then I didn’t really sense the full impact of what I was about to see.

We arrived in the East End of London at Sarah and Rob’s who were kindly putting us up for the night. On Saturday night, we arrived at London Bridge station and made our way to St Katherine’s Docks just next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where we met some of Mrs PM’s other old friends.

It was then that I realised that this event was much bigger than I initially thought.

There were twelve 70ft racing yachts, each manned by a team of 20. The race was fairly big news, making the national papers and the BBC news. St Katharine’s Dock was very busy with security prohibiting people from getting close to the yachts themselves.

We saw Ryan on one of the yachts and after a brief exchange on the phone with his wife Tasha, we were allowed to bypass security as guests of the crew and have a chance to explore the yacht itself. My first thought was:

“Twenty people on this boat?”

Yes indeed – and there was not much room, particularly below decks. Ryan told us that crew took it in turns to sail the boat, getting four hours sleep then working for four hours before getting more sleep, sharing bunk beds in the cramped space.

Even more surprising was the fact that the teams were largely made up of novices, each of whom had undergone intense training. Ryan and his wife were actually sailing on different yachts.

The trip itself consists of several legs; Ryan and Tasha are sailing the first leg (London to Rio de Janeiro) then the third leg (Cape Town to Western Australia). They are going to visit Rio, then fly to Cape Town before the yachts arrive and explore the area before rejoining the race to Australia. From there they are leaving the race and exploring Australia before heading off to Asia for more adventures.

To me the boat seemed really small for the number of people and I was in awe of the crew. It soon became clear that this was the edge that I would peer at as people like Ryan and his wife marched over gleefully.

Later that evening we had dinner with Ryan and Tasha and their family and friends and I had a chance to talk to Tasha, who was suddenly aware of the enormity of the task in front of her. Her nerves were evident but I sensed that she it was nervous excitement; her enthusiasm was almost infectious.

I chatted briefly to her about my travels but compared to her I had travelled the easy way. For example, I love telling people that I spent three weeks in a hotel in the middle of a Russian winter. Tasha told me about spending many more weeks in Russia in the middle of winter teaching English but in a place where for one reason or another, the electricity was turned off, leaving her effectively living fully clothed in a sleeping bag reading book after book.

She and Ryan seem made for each other, kindred spirits keen to try something new and adventurous while travelling the world.

The next day we arrived at St Katherine’s Dock again just in time to see Ryan’s team being interviewed before departure. The whole place was absolutely packed; in fact there were people along Tower Bridge and the river side waiting for, what turned out be a fairly large flotilla that would escort the yachts down the River Thames towards the race start.

I realised how lucky we were because we were privileged enough to be on a spectator boat. Such was the significance of the race that Tower Bridge was raised to allow the yachts through so that spectators could see for themselves.  I had never seen Tower Bridge raised.

Our boat was one of a quite a few and we sailed beneath Tower Bridge and got the best view as we approached each of the yachts in turn before they set off towards Greenwich. Crowds cheered and applauded from the boats and the riverside as well as Tower Bridge itself.

We cruised down the Thames, following the yachts which, at this stage were all in sequence, the crew on board dancing, waving and shouting to the cheering crowds offering encouragement. Whenever we passed a yacht, family and friends screamed encouragement to their loved ones in the team, waving flags furiously to attract attention.

Ryan actually spotted us and did a little dance on the front of his yacht. Other teams were clapping, singing and dancing.

After a couple of hours of accompanying the yachts, we reached the Thames Barrier and this was the point where we said goodbye to them. The spectator boats lined up to watch the yachts sail past, with every single one of them receiving raucous cheers.

We returned back up river to St Katharine’s Dock and chatted about the task that lay ahead for the intrepid sailors. One of Mrs PM’s friends asked if we should do it.

“I’m a little too old I think,” I said.

“You’re NEVER too old,” she replied. “LET’S DO IT!!”

I suspect that she was joking but there may be an element of true desire to do it. From my own perspective, I may have been tempted to have a go in my younger days but I really don’t think I could now. I feel unable to step over the edge into the unknown.

Yet there is a little part of me that wouldn’t mind – and feels envious.

Nevertheless, I would love to just pack in my job and fly off on a round the world trip; it is still an ambition of mine. It would be an adventure, but not a true adventure like the one Ryan and Tasha are embarking on.

To finish off, here are a few photos of the weekend.

Tower Bridge and The Shard

Spectators next to the Tower of London
Tower Bridge opens for the occasion

Ryan's yacht

Tasha's yacht

River Thames and a few boats
You can read more about the race here.

I am off on my travels again on Friday, this time back to Turkey for a relaxing holiday with a couple of friends.

Not exactly sailing around the world but it will do me for now.


H2B said...

Terrific account. Bon voyage. Look forward to more travelog.

Elephant's Child said...

Oh my. I suspected that I am a wimp - and it is obviously true.
Have a wonderful time in Turkey.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

Thanks very much.

Turkey photos may follow.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

Thanks. In this case I am a bit of a wimp too.




Jackie K said...

Great blog post PM, you really captured the excitement in the air. Don't feel bad about not jumping on a yacht and sailing round the world - it's definitely not for everyone. I think the claustrophobia would get me!
I had my share of (tamer) adventures when younger and they are a great experience I love to remember and am proud of. But I think most people DO get too old for stuff like your friends are doing. At some point you just don't have the tolerance for discomfort and deprivation that you once did!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jackie,

I agree with you. I think I will leave such adventures to the young.