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Senior Supervising Social Worker Kirsty takes part in Clipper Round the World Race

FCA Scotland Senior Supervising Social Worker Kirsty shares her experience from this Summer in a blog when she took four months off work to take part in Clipper Round the World Race.

October 11 2022 - 6 min read

This is a race between 11, 70 foot sailing boats that have been stripped back to the bare bones to ensure the boats are as light as possible. A light boat is a fast boat. This meant our luggage had to be under a certain weight this allowed for your basic sailing gear and a change of clothes for on land.  Two weeks prior to leaving, packing my bag took that length of time, trying to double bag everything to stop my things getting wet inside the boat and devising a strategy where I could find things quickly and efficiently. There were two watch systems in place, consisting of 4 hours on deck and 4 hours off watch during the night, and 6 hours on and 6 hours off during the day. There was a minimal set time to get yourself up, clear your bunk (hot bunking), get several layers of clothing on, and out. There was no room for any lateness and you were not popular if you were.

So my journey was made of two legs, totalling 12,088 nautical miles (nearly quarter of the world). First leg was the pacific side of America joining the boat in Seattle, racing to Panama (approx. 30 days). We then went through the Panama Canal then raced to Bermuda on the Atlantic side of America (approx.5 days).  My second leg was racing from Bermuda to New York (approx. 2 weeks), then from there, across the Atlantic, to Derry in Ireland (approx. 2 weeks). The last race was from Derry, through the Pentland Firth, round the top of Scotland and down to London (approx. 5 days). The quicker you reached your destination the longer the stopover, which was always a good drive to do well.

The first leg was a race of endurance. It was long and extremely hot with no air going through the boat. Sweat was the main feature of life 24/7. Always a joy when there were no showers! When you all smell, it didn’t really matter, except for some peoples shoes. There were many threats of throwing these items overboard! Tea tree spray however, often came to the rescue. Our noses became nose blind but we could always smell land before we could see it. We could also smell cooking of the meals but I think that also contributed to our nose blindness lol! This stretch of sailing was at a slower pace, involving numerous sail changes of the spinnakers and staysails to get the right weight of sail for the strength of wind. We had 10 sails to choose from, some of these, were the length of a tennis court in length. Unfortunately, the clipper way, is to haul everything manually with no electric button in sight! My upper body strength improved greatly. The combination of sail depended on the swell of the sea and weather conditions. We were fairly conservative with our choices so had minimal repairs to do to the sails, whereas, other boats had their sails shredded from head to foot. There were however, many thunderstorms every evening, when passing Mexico, resulting in one boat being struck by lightning and losing all their tech equipment including lights and navigation tools! This could not be repaired until they got to Panama so were sailing in pitch black conditions where they had no idea what other vessels were around. We also had a number of squalls which are pockets of extreme wind/weather which can flatten the boat and can often be spotted on the horizon, coming across the ocean. In these instances, we buckle down to reduce the size of the sail plan and prepare to be battered by whatever it brings. They last about half an hour but are really exciting and gets your adrenalin flowing. It’s also helpful to warn the person on mother watch, making the days meals, as food flies all over the place and gets tricky trying to save everyone’s meals from the bilges! The crew are never happy when they are starving and being served half portions! The off watch also required a shout, so that if they haven’t pulled up their pully on their bunk, to jam them into the crack of the bed, they had warning to do so or they were likely to be thrown out. It can be a sore fall if that happens, leaving people with bruises, broken ribs and various other injuries.

The pacific however provided ongoing wildlife. My favourite must be the dolphins. Such graceful, fun and friendly mammals. At night, they would shoot up the sides of the boat leaving a torpedo white line in their wake, with sounds of splashing and the occasional noise from their breathing hole. Around teatime you would see a semi-circle of approx. 30 dolphins gathering up the Tuna which you could see spinning in the air, as they close into their catch. I always felt safe when the Dolphins were around, as it felt as if they were looking out for us, on our journey. They would spin and leap and were free with no restrictions to their lives. They seemed to love the boat often seeing them playing around the bow and zooming from one side to the other.  There were many mammals such as orca families, basking and hammerhead sharks and turtles galore. It was a bit depressing when stuck in a wind hole for two days (not a breath of wind) with Turtles slowly swimming past. I swear they were smirking as we grumpily paced about the boat waiting for a breath of wind to come our way! The whales were magnificent and big, sleeping just under the surface of the water. Unfortunately, for one, one of the boats charged head long into a sleeping whale. The accident was a blood bath for the whale and broke off the outer shell of the bow!  Thankfully, the inner case did not crack. There were many birds, such as boobies who hitched a ride on the bowsprit, whilst Fulham’s, Shearwaters, Frigates and Petrol’s who flew around us, often appearing and disappearing. We also had baby squids jumping on board around 4am possibly attracted by the reflection of the sun rising off the sails. This was for two weeks but gave us our protein in the morning when fried up for breakfast.

The Atlantic was a different experience altogether. The mammals and birds were sparce however the litter was not! The litter was depressing to see as we sailed towards Haiti, where it was in abundance, a hundred odd miles out at sea. The litter disappeared and reappeared on approach to New York in the form of children’s helium balloons. Sad sight to see and a reminder of how humans are continuing to negatively impact nature.

The Atlantic brought with it exciting, fast sailing. Life became cooler during the day and cold at night. We were just under the ice warning areas which were thankfully strongly highlighted on our charts as being off limits.  The boat was sailing on her edge on a regular basis with big swells and strong winds (up to 50 knots at one stage). This was interspersed with calmer times which was welcomed by us all especially those who were prone to seasickness. They had days of being green about the gills and unable to hold down any food or liquid. Life below deck was a challenge. Ropes were set up to help pull yourself from one side of the boat to the other, as well as to stop your fall. Getting in and out of your bunk, was testing during these times, along with getting meaning full sleep as you held onto the boat ready to react when needed.  We were in racing mode and after a disappointing last place going to Bermuda, we were determined to do better. The number of sail changes increased day and night and the focus was to be on the podium which we achieved, twice.

The stopovers were great fun. During our stopovers, we had sail repairs, corporate sail days and shopping to stock up the boat to do, but the rest of the time was our own, which we all made the most of. The most overwhelming port to arrive in was New York going down the Hudson river and the most emotional port was going into Derry. The welcome and hospitality was fantastic.

Personally, I was unsure how I would manage being in close proximity to crew for such a long period of time and having nowhere to escape. It was surprisingly good despite my initial concerns. We became our own dysfunctional family. The boat was filled with a full range of people from CEO’s to social workers, however there was no room for status but there was for teamwork, autonomy and respect for the skills people brought to the table. A happy crew was a successful crew which one or two boats did not experience. I had to sharpen my communication skills and be aware of my own presentation and own it. Sooner things were addressed the quicker resolution was found. There were tensions at times especially around food but this was counterbalanced with banter and a lot of singing. My experience brought a new found respect for the sea and nature. I also had plenty of time to reflect and reset my path. Time rushes by until you stick your head up and take note. Balance in life is required.

I had the privilege of sailing on the UNICEF boat. As a social worker, I am fully aware of the work UNICEF is involved in and the impact they have had and will have in the future, all over the world, for every child. It was an honour.  I have a Just Giving page if you would like to contribute to the UNICEF cause. If you type in kirsty.maguire Just Giving page my fundraiser page will come up.

I would like to give a big thank you to being given the opportunity to take time off work, to take part in this experience. I continue to be genuinely surprised and humbled at the support I received from family, friends, carers and young people who have been behind me from the beginning and taken such an active interest in my journey.

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