Rossis Member, David Greer, has finally returned home to Norfolk after nearly a year taking part in an incredible undertaking – sailing around the world as part of Team PSP Logistics in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2017-2018. We have been following his adventures and asked him to tell us his story.
David had always dreamed of circumnavigating the globe after receiving a world atlas from his grandfather as a very young boy. In 2012, he suffered a traumatic brain injury which left him unable to walk and with cognitive issues. However, with lots of hard work he made a significant recovery and decided to apply to take part in the 2017-2018 Race and was surprised and delighted to be accepted. That was the start of lots more hard work as he approached Rossis who agreed to sponsor him and Liam Killington, Sport & Fitness Manager, built a training programme specifically for David. His first experience of hauling the huge sails on a Clipper 70 during his Level 1 Sailing Training was a bit of a shock so Liam helped with focus on triceps development and progressed his land training as he learned more from his sailing training. David says “I was about a prepared as I could be physically, thanks to Liam and to Rossis”.
Sailing training involved 4 intensive weeks basic and advanced training with assessments after each session, helping prepare the Race participants both physically and mentally. Sailing training included endless safety training alongside training for each participant’s specialist role, which for David, as Lead-Bosun, included servicing and repairing all the sailing equipment such as winches and pulley blocks.
The Race set off from Liverpool on 20th August 2017 – twelve 70ft ocean racing yachts made up of 13 races over 8 legs; a total of 40,000 nautical miles. It finished on 28th July 2018 and is considered to be the toughest endurance challenge on the planet with crews sailing in all conditions from blistering heat to sub-zero temperatures and silent waters to hurricanes. There are no luxuries on board – no showers and shared basic bunks lining corridors. Crews work 24/7 shifts 4 or 6 hours on and 4 or 6 hours off, often being woken to help in the toughest conditions. But David told us “Each time we stood on the podium was special; the welcome and the cultural treats we received at every Port were a joy”.
Such an adventure creates real “highs” but also real “lows” and David says that “helming in all conditions is totally exhilarating, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, I even enjoyed sailing through a hurricane with 140 ft waves”. That feeling of freedom and isolation riding the waves cannot be equalled on land. Being treated to spectacular displays of wildlife was a real privilege – we raced pods of dolphins, were slapped by flying fish and saw many species of whales and fish plus beautiful sea turtles and albatross and petrels became our regular companions. Nature treated us to the most spectacular skies, sunrises and sunsets.”
“The “lows” included being hit by a 90 tonne Southern Right Whale leaving the yacht seriously damaged during Race 2 meaning a return to Uruguay for repairs. Sleep deprivation too is a serious issue for anybody but as a brain injury survivor with ongoing fatigue problems at times I found totally debilitating. After 9 gruelling months at sea, in May 2018 I was forced to give in and return home for a few weeks but re-joined the boat in New York to complete the Race. Mother Watch which means cooking for the crew for 24 hours wasn’t my favourite experience either but did earn a few precious extra hours of sleep.”
Sad moments elsewhere in the fleet of Yachts had an impact on all the Race participants who had quickly become a “family” as the loss of a sailor highlighted what a difficult task they had all taken on, realising that it could have been any one of them during a heartbreaking burial at sea.
Team PSP started as underdogs but came an impressive 5th overall in the Race, renowned for notching up more miles than any of the competitors! The winners were Team Sanya Serenity Coast.
David says that he’d recommend others looking for the ultimate challenge to give the Clipper Race a go. even if it’s only one or more legs rather than the year-long Race. Financially and emotionally there are sacrifices to be made; it’s tough being away from loved ones for a year but the Race attracts people of all ages, male and female, from all walks of life and the camaraderie, exhilaration and pride of completing the challenge are amazing.
He’ll continue sailing and plans taking part in more events and will be a crew member in the assessments for potential Skippers for the 2019/20 Race, hoping he can return himself to complete Leg 7 that he missed so pairing up with Liam at Rossis once again in a land training programme. He’d also like to enter the Fastnet Race some day. Meanwhile, he’s returning to a life more ordinary with family and dogs and the long “to do” list built up by wife, Marie, over the last year. He continues to volunteer for Coast Watch and also with Mundesley Independent Lifeboat, learning more new things.
After his brain injury David faced many issues including balance, short-term memory problems and major socialisation problems. He was told he would not be able to drive or return to his Chief Executive Office role, leading to a period of deep depression and further inpatient care. He feels lucky to have discovered Headway UK, the brain injury charity, who helped him connect with other brain injury survivors, sharing experiences and helping brain injury survivors to find their new normal. His fundraising page can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-greer5