Sailing: A long-suffering lifestyle for the wife on the ocean waves

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The Independent Online
Yesterday's festivities provided some rare moments of respite for the crews, and family, of sailing's Whitbread Round the World Race. But as Nicki Dalton, the wife of Merit Cup skipper Grant, says the work is never really done for the travelling community who live for the competition.

The Christmas present we most wanted, a win for Merit Cup on the third leg from Fremantle, did not arrive, but perhaps it is just delayed and will be waiting for us when we, and Grant, get home to Auckland early in the New Year. Last time his arrival in New Zealand Endeavour was one of the most fantastic moments I can remember in yacht racing.

At least on Christmas Day we are able to forget the race for an hour or two. Grant's sister, her husband and family live in Sydney so we could not only spend the day with them and their children, but take time to open the presents in the morning then have the whole crew round for an Australian Christmas barbecue in the afternoon. Our two had already sent notes to Santa telling him not to send the presents down the chimney at home because they would be away.

But normally we are concentrating the whole time on the race. It starts with putting the project together and finding the finance. In some ways that is even more nerve-wracking than the race itself.

Once the project is under way it seems to be a 24-hour job, especially as we are working with people in different countries around the world, and then when it is on, although it is the time you have been looking forward to, there are the tortures known as the six-hourly skeds. These are position reports sent out by the race organisation in England.

We, that is myself and the other wives and shore crew, get really involved in it and these reports can make a huge difference to your day. You can have a good report showing position gained or maintained and you are having a good day. But six hours later it might be a bad one and then everything turns bad and your stomach churns until there is a better one.

It is hard to take your mind off it, though having to look after the children helps. But I never worry that he is away or that he is in danger. I would be more worried if he were driving a car the same distance than I would about sailing.

Before the finish in Sydney I thought that, on a scale of one to 10, our Christmas would score 12 if there was a win, eight if we were second or third, and anything below that would be five downwards. This is Grant's fifth Whitbread, my fourth, so we all know the way things work by now and children are remarkably adaptable.

My first race we were just going out together, the second we were married, the third we had one child, Eloise, and now, with Mack, we have two. Of course their arrival was planned to fit in with Whitbread schedules. The Shoebridges and Quilters are the same because none of us wanted to do the Whitbread with a brand new baby, nor did we want to stay at home pregnant. It has worked out well, the children get on well together, and a four- year gap seems quite good.

And would I swap this for a normal, nine to five, domestic easy of life? No. I have great admiration for all the guys, and that includes the shore crew, because I see just how hard they work. They go to great lengths to perfect everything they are doing and I have a lot of respect for that effort. But I cannot think of anything I would hate to do more than a leg of the Whitbread Race in a W60, even though I love the race.

My mother still wonders when Grant is going to get what she thinks would be a proper job, but this is his job, this is what he does for a living. I absolutely love the lifestyle. I really enjoy the closeness of the racing, and I love that he is doing something he is passionate about. I really enjoy the travel and meeting people from all over the world.

I am not really a strongly social person, but the environment of this community as it travels together is fantastic. Trying to watch the fleet come into Auckland and not be part of it would be sheer torture. Which reminds me, I have a house to get ready.