Sailing: Time to say another goodbye

With the Whitbread finally under way, the skipper of Merit Cup considers the problems for crews and their families.
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The Independent Online
With the Whitbread finally under way, the skipper of Merit Cup considers the problems for crews and their families.

This is my fifth Whitbread, so by now I should be used to saying goodbye to my wife Nicki and children Eloise and Mackenzie. Yet there was the usual tug when we left the dock at Southampton yesterday for the first leg to Cape Town.

Once we settle into a racing rhythm - and that has to be very quickly - then all thoughts are dominated by the boat. And we are always in contact with each other as satellites link yachts in even the remotest parts of the globe to home in Auckland by telehone, e-mail and fax.

It is when you are not doing well that you always miss your family a lot more. And it will also be difficult when we have the other big goodbye from our home port in New Zealand. That is where all the families of the Merit Cup crew will go tomorrow, but most will also be in Cape Town as only a few of the children are of school age.

That has always been part of the deal for us; this is part of the way the team has developed. We have all grown up together, met our partners and wives together, and have started families together. The only downside is that by the time of the next race, schools will be much more of a problem. Several of the crew may not want to be involved in long offshore campaigns which keep them away from home for a long time.

For myself, at just over 40, I almost feel it is only now that I really know what I am doing, that I have everything under control and know how to run the whole organisation. There are some great yachtsmen out here, but they are only one man on any boat and it is the organisation of the whole effort that concerns me most.

I have my speed men, guys like Kevin Shoebridge and Mike Quilter, and they are the men of influence out on the water. The team we have all know each other very well, and we can rely on each other. It will be hard: the first leg may be the hardest just because it goes on for such a long time, but we know what it is all about.

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