It’s 3am in Newcastle, England – and, although this might feel a million miles away from The Ocean Race, if you can open your sleepy eyes enough you might just spot a familiar face or two.
Five stars of the 2017-18 edition – Liz Wardley, Chris Nicholson, Nicolai Sehested, Antonio Fontes and Lucas Chapman – are up bright and early, sailing boots in hand, and ready to get back on a VO65… but this time, there’s no trophy at stake.
This is a delivery – and it’s exactly what it says on the tin, says Liz. “When we say delivery, we’re taking the boat from point A to point B – in this case, from Newcastle to Kiel in Germany. It’s not racing but we do want to get there fast – the priority is to get the boat there without breaking anything.”
It’s not quite as intense as sailing the Race, she adds as the smell of frying bacon rises into the cockpit – but for this lot, it’s a case of once an ocean racer, always an ocean racer.
“It’s amazing how quickly you fall back into the rhythm, it’s a bit scary,” Liz explains. “It never gets old, as it’s always different. There’s always new people onboard to learn from, there’s science experiments to do, new things to see – there’s always something to look forward to.”
It might not be a white knuckle Southern Ocean ride, but it’s work, it’s experience and, Liz says, it’s a passion.
“It’s not just a job or I wouldn’t do it. This is something you really have to enjoy otherwise i’d be a pretty sad existence. I sometimes get remarks like ‘you’ve got the best job in the world’.
“People don’t realise how challenging it can be, we make a lot of personal sacrifice to be here, we’re away for a really long time – it’s all worth it, I’m not complaining - but you’re always pushing yourself, even on deliveries you have responsibilities to get the boats around and look after each other.”
Even a year after the end of the Race, stepping back onto a VO65 boat is like returning home, and having worked in The Boatyard for two years before the 2017-18 race began, Liz has more experience around this class than pretty much anyone else on the planet.
“After the Race ended, I delivered the boat back to Lisbon and decommissioned some of the other boats down there, before heading back to Australia where I got the post-Race blues,” she admits.
“I had a bit of a Race hangover – you need a bit of time to adjust to get your head back and return to reality... before you realise it’s time to go again.”
And with the next edition set for 2021, Liz, who has now raced around the world three times (Amer Sports Too 2001-02, Team SCA 2014-15 and Turn the Tide on Plastic in 2017-18) is already looking for her next challenge – and full of energy to go again with her learnings from last time out.
“This is an exciting time as I know I want to do the Race again so I can stop thinking about the last one, and start learning from it. I’ve posed myself a lot of questions about what I would've done differently, and what kind of people I want to sail with and learn from next time.
“After the last campaign I did on Turn the Tide on Plastic, we had a lot of inexperienced crew onboard so there was a lot of mentoring and sharing of knowledge to bridge the experience gap, but I enjoyed that part of it – it’s fun to teach things and when they’re eager to learn, it’s an easy audience.”
This is the life of an Ocean Race sailor. So much of the hard work to make it to the start line takes place when the cameras are off – and spots to compete in the toughest test of a team in sport are limited.
“It’s good to get back into the learning phase but it’s also daunting as you have to find a ride, and that’s getting harder – there’s a growing pool to choose from and the rules have made it harder for girls over 30 years old, so I have to fight for my place. It’s challenging – but it’s exciting.”