Sailing: Jones sick of life on the ocean wave: Stuart Alexander in Hobart on a glamorous sailing trip that became one man's nightmare

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The Independent Online
IT WAS meant to be the achievement of a lifetime. But for Phil Jones it became a nightmare that lasted for five weeks, 24 hours a day. The British Steel Challenge, which allows members of the public to experience the rigours and rewards of sailing around the world, could have furnished him with a fund of memorable images. Instead he spent most of his trip cocooned in his bunk bed, being sea-sick.

The 28-year-old Welshman, who works for British Steel in Port Talbot, was understandably proud when he won one of the 24 places, six on each leg, made available to employees. Jones, who had sailed dinghies for 12 years and small keelboats for the last two and had never had sea-sickness before, chose to do what was expected to be the most difficult and glamorous leg, the second from Rio de Janeiro to Hobart, Tasmania.

There was only the faintest hint of what was to come at the beginning, with the occasional queasy stomach, and Jones was able to enjoy the moment as his boat, Coopers & Lybrand, calmly rounded Cape Horn. Then came trouble.

'It was from 2 December that I started to feel ill and it got gradually worse. I was still trying to do my work, but could manage only about three hours of a four-hour watch. Then I went below to my bunk with a bucket, was sick and then had to get up again four hours later and start again.'

As someone who had spent six months weight training in preparation, as well as being a keen golfer - 'I may stick to golf from now on' - and playing on the wing for Taibach Rugby Club, the attack took him unawares.

By 12 December he was confined to his bunk for two complete days. Still he did not improve. He ate practically no food except occasional biscuits for a week and a half, and reached the low point on 21 December. 'I was very ill,' he said. 'I couldn't even swallow my own saliva. My throat muscles seemed to be constricted after I had tried to be sick four times in three hours. It was like having an apple stuck in my throat, or razor blades. I could only breathe through my nose.'

What made it worse was having no knowledge of when the ordeal would end. 'Knowing there was so long to go and feeling so ill was soul-destroying. At times like that you feel as if you're going to die. You just want to get off. So I thought of my family (wife Tracy and daughters Jessica, 4, and Emma, 15 months). They kept me going.'

Lying in the lower of two bunks, with the other just 18 inches above his face, he could only close his eyes to ease the sense of movement and listen to endless hours of music on a personal stereo.

'I didn't want relaxed, soothing music, I wanted loud disco music, Dire Straits and Queen to drown out the noises of the boat as 40 tons of it crashed through the confused seas. Sometimes I would go to sleep with it playing and wake up with it still playing. I got through a lot of batteries.

'For two weeks I could not go on deck and when I could get up I was very weak. I have lost one- and-a-half stone of the 14 when I set out and that is after eating for the last few days.'

The rest of the crew rallied round, skipper Vivien Cherry found time every day for a lengthy chat, the ship's medic, Brian Bird, a butcher from Plymouth, combined jokes and sympathy.

Finally he started to feel better. 'I had tried Stugeron (an anti-seasick pill), and acupuncture wrist bands, but I did not want to take a major sedative. I've never been ill and didn't want to give up the fight.' Then the motion of the boat eased, the end was in sight. The target became real.

By the end he was back on deck working enthusiatically, keeping a look out for land even more enthusiastically. 'The green and the trees were like something out of wonderland,' he said.

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