Race to Scotland: Immersive, Emotional, Amazing & Surprisingly Comfortable!
The next day was the calm after the storm with light winds, paddling and blue skies all day as I meandered my way around the jaw dropping scenery of Skye. As I passed under the Skye Bridge the next day I looked up at the soaring span of the bridge high above me and really understood just how far this amazing dinghy had travelled. Having lost the last two yachts I would see for the trip just beyond the Skye Bridge, it was time to up the excitement levels by accidentally sailing in to the middle of a nuclear submarine exercise! After being asked very politely by an escort boat to move out of the area I soon became a “coastline hugger” whilst desperately looking in all directions for periscopes! My landing sites for the next two days were the stunning beaches that make this part of the West coast one of most wonderful places I have ever visited in my life. As I passed lighthouses, towering rock stacks and idyllic deserted islands I finally had the time to enjoy the scenery around me and take on board just how fortunate I was to be out here sailing this dinghy.My last nemesis was fast approaching – the North West corner of Scotland and Cape Wrath. The massive swell provided me with a roller coaster ride around the northwest corner of Scotland and as I became becalmed for a short time abeam the Cape Wrath lighthouse, I could at last sit and savour the view from the top of Scotland! Turning the corner at Cape Wrath was an amazing experience and I really felt I had conquered a massive demon in achieving it. Passing the cliffs of Mor towering nearly 900ft above my dinghy reminded me, yet again, how insignificant I was and just how big a wind shadow they can create! That night at the campsite I discovered there were two other RS Aero owners on the campsite and it was great to meet up with fellow sailors who had been following my adventure from afar. It was really weird how every day there was just my support crew and the odd early morning dog walker when I launched and yet around the world there were hundreds of people following my progress on social media. The last sailing day was long and tortuous with rain so heavy it hurt! Having passed ominous cloud covered cliffs with waterfalls cascading out of the clouds and watched large tankers disappear behind rain storms; I finally conceded defeat after 7 hours of sailing in challenging conditions. As I sailed in to the small harbour at Talmine I knew the forecast for the next two days would prevent me sailing. So there it all ended, on another deserted landing site with only my amazing support team of Ian and Jane there to acknowledge the passing of the final day of an awesome adventure. I hoped desperately that the weather forecast would be wrong, but had to accept that it was highly unlikely that I would have the chance to fulfil my dream of sailing in to the harbour at John O Groats. Unfortunately for once the forecast was 100% accurate and I awoke early next morning to lashing wind and rain, which meant that towing the Aero to the car park at John O Groats was the only safe option. It certainly wasn’t the triumphant ending I’d hoped for (much like the start of the trip come to think of it) but the day was all about maximising the fundraising total – that’s why I’d left Lands End some 30 days ago. It felt strange rigging the Aero by the famous signpost with no intention of sailing anywhere and then putting on my cosy Rooster Pro Aquafleece for a photo shoot. Looking around I think I was the most suitably dressed person there. As the horizontal rain lashed the photographer and gathered local dignitaries I could see a jealous twinkle in their eyes! Interviews and photos done, that was it – all over, finished, ended. As everyone drifted away I was left with really mixed emotions. I reflected on the achievement of having sailed 865 miles across the length of Britain, the happy memories of the fantastic people I’d met and the stunning places I had been so fortunate to visit.
My support team of Ian and Jane had been all I could have hoped for and more, never wavering, always greeting me at the end of very long days with a smile and laughter. Without them I could never have achieved what I did - a team always achieves more than an individual. On the negative side I felt a real frustration at having to tow the boat to the ultimate destination and genuine sadness at the ending of a truly amazing voyage. However the most overwhelming feeling was one of having really made a difference to people’s lives in raising £35,000 for Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice. This was the real aim of this adventure and the one against which I knew I should really judge my success or failure.So on reflection I would describe my recent adventure of sailing an RS Aero dinghy for a month as immersive, emotional, amazing and surprisingly comfortable! Being at the whim of the sea, the weather and daylight makes you realise just how unimportant you are – and funnily enough that’s a really good thing!
What I hadn’t really expected was just how emotional I would be during the trip. I think the long days with no human contact left me with the rare opportunity in life to reflect on those special people I missed in my life - my father and mother-in-law both taken by cancer. Out there on the high seas in this very small bit of plastic I think I realised just how much I missed their wonderful presence and just how fragile life can be. I have never cried so much in my life.
The choice of an RS Aero for this adventure was driven by the need for a lightweight (essential for dragging up wild beaches) performance dinghy, with a choice of rigs to allow me to deal with varying weather days. The Aero’s open cockpit layout offered flexible storage options and the hiking position for long days was far more comfortable than my old laser. Despite being so light, “Yoda” met all the challenges the big seas threw at it and most importantly sailing it always brought a smile to my face. It felt like a young puppy constantly pulling at the lead and wanting to play in the waves. “Yoda” and I are now a permanent item and I can’t wait to take it on further adventures.Since returning from the trip I think I’ve become a more content sailor, really appreciating every day on the water. The freedom to sail where I want, for as long as I want – not something Race To Scotland ever offered! I still race occasionally, it really helps improve my skills, but it holds less of a buzz now and I find myself continually drawn out to the big sea and exploring the vast open horizon. As the nights start to get darker I now have a winter goal, to write down all the wonderful memories “Race To Scotland” has given me and hopefully inspire others with my experiences.
So don’t ever fear failure or underestimate yourself. You will be amazed at what you can achieve with preparation, determination and a willingness to get out there and give it a go.
This “one way” ticket of life has so much to offer – you just need to be looking! (......................... I’m busy looking right now!)
You can still donate to Cancer Research and Oakhaven Hospice at www.racetoscotland.co.uk and just click the big blue DONATE button. All donations are very greatly appreciated – these are life changing causes.