Sailing: High winds, huge seas and a lonely Christmas

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The Independent Online

Lonely this Christmas? I'd certainly anticipated a sense of solitude, sailing solo through the Southern Ocean, thousands of miles from home.

Lonely this Christmas? I'd certainly anticipated a sense of solitude, sailing solo through the Southern Ocean, thousands of miles from home.

The conditions – biting cold, unpredictable storms, huge seas, icebergs still to come – have a reputation for being the most inhospitable that solo sailing can throw at you. And given the problems the fleet has already endured since the Around Alone round-the-world race began in New York in September, hurricanes included, today had the potential to be one long lonely day – for all of us in the fleet, not just me as the youngest competitor or only woman.

But Neptune has been kind, up to now at least. Writing this in the late afternoon, the sun has been out, there has been a 30 to 45-knot wind blowing me, albeit erratically, south-east towards New Zealand. It's bitterly cold, but probably not so much worse than it might have been at my parents' house in Scotland. And I've managed to have a celebration, of sorts.

Normally, going to bed on Christmas Eve would be followed by waking in the morning and sitting round a fire with family and friends. My priority instead has been to make sure my boat, Pindar, is racing as fast as possible. This is my job, after all, and my sole aim between now and the end of the race in America in May, is to finish, and as high up as possible.

So Christmas Day started in the early hours after my first 20-minute nap of the night. I had one Christmas cracker on board and I pulled it. It turned into a competition between my left and right hands (the right won). My reward was a paper hat, at least until I went on deck, when it was swapped for a Santa hat. I saved the obligatory joke: what do you call a man who used to be interested in tractors? An extractor fan. How I laughed.

Although I'd love to be at home with my family and friends, I always knew that this was one of the sacrifices I was going to have to make to compete in this race. I thought that I'd be able to speak with everybody via the satellite phone, but it's not been working for a few days now.

I did manage to call my parents, briefly, on my back-up satellite, but I had to be quick as it drains my power. Mid-morning, I opened my stocking, full of small gifts from my family and friends, and a tape of messages and songs. You don't get a chance out here to be too reflective, but it did bring home what I've left behind. So I opened the party poppers, and hence a cabin strewn with streamers.

And so to Christmas lunch, the only meal on my voyage with any planning. The normal routine is hunger, followed by fantasy menu, realisation that fantasy is just that, followed by something from a packet. Today, thanks to stocking up in Cape Town two weeks ago, I sat down to a feast. Or to be exact: one potato waffle, a piece of my mum's Christmas cake, and a little sip of sloe gin.

It was a treat. I always had waffles as a kid and they remind me of home. Double nourishment. Back to racing now. At least I won't have to deal with a hangover.

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