Reflections on the previous race

Cambridge , 12th July 2001
Having a rare Saturday off training, I took the chance to go down to Southampton to watch the finish of the previous race, the BT Challenge. Due to the continuing absence of my promised jacket from the Challenge Business I'd have to be a little more anonymous than hoped. On the train down there it was strange to think that this journey might become very familiar over the next few years, but for now I could sit back and enjoy the newness of it all.

Arriving at Southampton, I managed to share a taxi to Ocean Village. He knew a few of the people involved, including Simon Walker, who interviewed me. Once there I had a look around - there was loads of people milling around, music playing, children's entertainment, merchandise to buy, live footage from the end of the leg in progress and videos of the race so far. At least half the people there were eithe= r in kit or full face paint to identify them to a crew. It felt slightly strange to be gate-crashing their party, when I didn't really belong to any crew.

I watched the video footage for a while; it had some breathtaking views of the yachts racing - it was quite something to think that it would be me in a little more than three years time. Most of this was footage recorded from previous legs, but sometimes they'd show footage of the race in progress. At one point they showed the race and leg leader, LG Flatron, about to drop their spinnaker - but cut away just before they released it; there were quite a few groans from the audience, who were far more interested in watching the actual sailing than another interview with someone's relative!

I then stood by the edge of the marina wall, overlooking the berths that the yachts would take, in amongst the crowd. I stood behind a group of young school children who had adopted LG Flatron at the start of the race, and had come down to cheer on their favourite. At least it meant I could see...

After what seemed like an age, after most of the fleet had passed the finish mark, the yachts started to come into the marina. For each one their theme tune would blare out through massive speakers, as the crews would celebrate coming up to the dock - getting showered by the obligatory champagne when close enough. Some crews celebrated more than others, by that and by the differences in the crew song, you quickly got an idea of which crew you would have rather been in.

It was quite emotional, seeing each new crew great friends and family they might not have seen for 10 months - fathers picking up small children and babies off the dock into the yacht, friends shouting from beside me to crew members, parents throwing champagne bottles (with variable accuracy and wasteage). I spent the time just trying to imagine what it might feel like to finish. What it must feel like to finish and win - or finish and feel like you could have done better. I left after most of the fleet had arrived, in a gap of several hours between crews, somewhat quiet and soberly.

Since then I've taken the time to do some more reading around the subject; rowing outings at Ely are now also taken up with looking at cloud formations as much as with rowing. I'm booked to do two weeks of day sailing out of Southampton in August for the corporate season. It should be a good opportunity to get to know the race boats, and also to have the strange experience of knowing more than other people on the yacht!