As I sit in an almost empty train carriage hurtling through the Buckinghamshire countryside, I could be forgiven like most of the 700 crew who partook in the 2015-16 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race that the last 11 months was just one big long dream. This is the first time we have seen England in 11 months, and I’m en route back to my hometown in North Wales for my welcome home reception.
Did we really complete over 45’000 miles of Ocean racing just three days ago, creating seven TV documentaries over the course of 14 races? Throw into the mix the requirement of integrating with 12 different crews in some in the most challenging weather conditions any sane person could just about endure, and that would test most people to limit.
Life, death (Very sadly), illness and injury – this race is the epitome of adventure.
Endeavouring to document the stories of the race crew in the Southern Ocean will leave you colder than you ever thought possible. The vastness and spectacle of the North Pacific is an environment so alien your inner most conscious struggles to articulate what your eyes are actually absorbing. You’re really operating right on the edge of physical and mental acceptability.
You’ll have creatively clambered over hurdles you never believe existed repeatedly, which serves only to galvanise your sense of purpose and steel your resistance to the next impending challenge, depending on how you choose to respond to a variable set of unpredictable circumstances.
So how did I become involved in the World longest Ocean race? The details of ‘who agreed what’ are of significance, but for this story quite irrelevant. This isn’t a question of money, time, or sacrifice. It’s a story of passion, perseverance, and endeavour.
Experiences inevitably develop people and instil a confidence creating a real belief system. I found the race extremely relatable to life at University where you individually enter into a unknown group dynamic for a limited time period, where you will acquire new friendships, new skills, and at the end will emerge from that bubble ready for the next challenge hopefully better equipped than before. Both require a mental fortitude, and a positive attitude to succeed.
The race proved that my time at Staffs was really a fantastic grounding for these wider endeavours. Life at Uni meant I had a good platform already in people skills, owing to the diversity of personalities you encounter throughout lectures, social clubs, and work experience opportunities at places like BBC Radio Stoke. I was very fortuitous to have passionate and dedicated lecturers prepared to heighten my learning curve encouraging forever me to take on ambitious projects. I worked on behalf on Staffs creating video content for many regional businesses and the emergency services, whilst receiving expert guidance in film and Television production. I had mentors, I had support, and as importantly – I had a portfolio once I exited the University bubble.
It seems fitting that the train I’m currently travelling on is passing through Stoke-on-Trent as I type, so naturally I reminisce warmly about the first time I exited the station and made my way up College Road to the Flaxman building to begin my studies in the city.
My time at Staffs provided the empowerment necessary to progress, and create a pathway suitable for me to produce documentaries and Television programmes for the BBC, Sky Sports, Fox Sports, and with award winning agencies. The media door wouldn’t have been opened to the 30 countries I’ve now worked in so far at the age of 32, and I certainly wouldn’t have been on the Clipper Race en route to my next challenge.
Obviously many experiences have been since leaving Staffs, but without the initial seed of inspiration, it can be very difficult to blossom, so I recognise and thank the University for their support during my time there, and since I have left.
My train is almost back home now, and completing the journey and it feels a little like Frodo returning to the ‘shire. Writing this is perhaps helping me digest the enormity of what we have collectively achieved over the past few months, as this train journey is probably the first time in a year that I’ve had to myself.
I’m looking forward to coming back to the University, the place where it all started, to talk about my experiences in the coming months.