Barkingside grandmum recalls adventures on the high seas following round-the-world voyage

�Battling 70 foot waves, pulling crew members out of the sea and not seeing another boat for days was what Catherine Draper faced a year ago.

She was attempting to sail around the world – a challenge so tough that more people have made it to the top of Mount Everest.

Last Christmas she was admiring the tiny Christmas tree she had smuggled onboard, eating roast chicken and singing along to carols blaring out of the speakers on deck.

The grandmother of three from Hamilton Avenue, Barkingside, spent years thinking about going on the voyage, but financial and family commitments meant she put it off.

Catherine, 61, said: “Life began at 55 really for me. I did a master’s last year and the trip was in the back of my mind. It’s an expensive undertaking and we put it aside as we were still supporting our children.”


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Catherine and her husband Ian read about the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in the travel section of a newspaper.

She said: “I didn’t even know there were races like this going on, it never occurred to me that ordinary folk could have such an amazing adventure.”

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She finished her master’s degree in July last year and two days later was getting the boat ready for the 12 month voyage with her teammates.

They would be racing nine other boats around the world in a 40,000 mile journey.

She did four levels of training in preparation which covered everything from rope making to sail repair.

“My stomach was churning but we were busy every day,” she said. “You have to make do with what you have on the boat so you have to repair things with what you’ve got.

“You can’t just go to a corner shop.”

Catherine soon found her sea legs as the boats chased each other, first to Madeira then over the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.

They were then off again, stopping in Cape Town where she was met by her family.

But all was not plain sailing.

“It varied from leg to leg,” she said. “Sometimes you were at sea for two or three weeks and could go days without ever seeing any other boats.

“I remember one time we were in a storm and we had to take down one of the sails to get another up as in a storm you need smaller sails.”

Despite plunging temperatures, billowing waves off the Southern Ocean, and it being the middle of the night, all the crew was called up to the deck to help change the sails.

If they were not changed quickly the boat would get increasingly difficult to handle.

She said: “You have to get the sails down and put the next sails up quickly, the boat’s rolling in the waves and people are shouting to you.

“It was really cold and the waves were 70 foot, maybe higher.

“You’re all so wrapped up you couldn’t recognise each other.

“It was quite scary but you just have to get on and do it really.”

With the rain lashing against the boat and the waves getting higher, Catherine said her own safety was not her main concern –it was ensuing she did her duties correctly.

She said: “There’s just so much going on and you hope you’re not doing something wrong or you’re pulling the wrong rope.”

Keeping morale up was vital on such a difficult journey especially when taking on the 28 day leg over the Atlantic to America.

“We didn’t see the sun rise or set for the whole way: everywhere you looked there was cloud” she said. “Quite a few of us said why are we doing this?”

Things that we take for granted in everyday life like pots not flying off the stove or food staying in the bowl we are eating from, provide challenges on a boat.

Before the team left they had to remove all the labels from tinned food and write what was in each can as the saltwater dissolves paper.

“It’s virtually impossible to keep anything really dry, even if it’s in two sealed bags. Everything gets damp,” she added.

One of the other realities of living on a boat is only being able to shower once a week – except when they reached the tropics.

As soon as the warm tropical rain began the crew would all put on their swimming costumes, get shower gel and take a shower in the rain.

Every week someone would be nominated to be “mother” and would spend the day cooking for the crew.

Catherine said: “One guy was cooking curry and the whole pot flew up and ended up in the sink, he managed to save as much as he could.

“I was making a cake and the oven flew open and that was the end of that.

“You would hit a wave and whatever was in your bowl would fly up and you had to try and catch it.”

All the crew had a piece of cord on their lifejackets with a clip at one end so when the sea became rough they could attach themselves to the boat.

She said: “One guy did go over the side but he was clipped on. If you’re dangling the waves could smack you against the side of the boat or you might gasp and the water goes into your lungs.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that everything will be OK just because you’re clipped on. People were nearby and picked him up.”

Over the next year Catherine visited 14 countries from Ireland to New Zealand where the crew would docks for a couple of weeks to make vital repairs.

Despite coming ninth in a 10 boat race and being wet and cold for days on end, she said she has no regrets about going.

“I would say to anybody don’t think you cannot do it.

“If you want to do something just put your mind to it,” she said. “Have a go and do whatever you want.”

She is trying to raise �10,000 for two causes, Stand By Me, which helps children in crisis, and School Home Support.

n Visit www.justgiving.com/catherinedraper for the former and www.justgiving.com/catherine-draper for the latter.

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