Dream trip goes along at fair clipper
KEN PRITCHARD is standing in the prow of a 68ft replica clipper, managing to keep his feet as the yacht is gently tossed up and down by the waves of the Indian Ocean, his face being warmed by the southern African sunshine.
It sounds like an idyllic moment on a far-flung holiday - but instead it's just a peaceful interlude from some backbreaking work for the 42-year-old who is currently fulfilling his lifelong ambition: to circumnavigate the globe.
For the last two months, he and 16 other amateur sailors have been aboard the clipper, living on dried food and getting to know each other, sometimes rather too intimately, in the confines of the boat. It might not sound like everyone's idea of a dream - even Ken, who is normally a mild-mannered Edinburgh chartered surveyor, feared before he began that it might turn out to be "Big Brother on water" - but now he wouldn't swap a minute of it.
Speaking by satellite phone as he floats some 250 miles off the South African coast, he says: "It has been a burning desire of mine for a few years to sail round the world and I have often talked about it to my wife and kids, mostly joking about selling the house and buying a boat.
"I have salt water in my blood - my great-grandfather went to sea with his father at the age of 13 as a cabin boy on the original tea clippers. But the most important reason for my doing this now is because I still can."
What the father-of-two means is that recently he has had a serious reminder of his own mortality, and decided it was now or never to start fulfilling his ambition of sailing around the world.
"I have had three close pals pass away all at my age. It was a real shock and the deaths in 2003 were all very sudden and within around nine months of each other.
"They were separate incidents and non-related but it was such a shock that it made me realise my own mortality and that I should do something big with the rest of my life."
He adds: "I'll be honest and say I'm not doing this in their memory, but their deaths gave me the jolt I needed to fulfil my personal goals and make the decision not to work myself into the ground, and do something that fulfilled me.
"This is not quite a midlife crisis but I've always wanted to do this and what happened to my friends served as a real wake-up call."
Having decided that it was time to set sail, Ken applied for a place on the 2005/2006 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - which pits teams of absolute beginners and amateur sailors from ten countries against each other.
The race is run by Clipper Ventures, whose chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston made a historic solo non-stop voyage around the world 36 years ago.
Each ship in the race is led by a professional skipper, but the only criteria for crew members - aside from the challenge of finding a hefty 28,500 for the full trip - are that they must be over 18, fit and healthy and able to pass rigorous training courses in basic seamanship and racing techniques.
Ken and his 16 Scottish teammates began their training during the summer before joining the Scottish boat, called Glasgow, at Cardiff in August to complete their training. Then on September 18 they set sail from Liverpool to Brazil for the first leg of the race.
And they have barely stopped since. Ken says: "We've raced 24/7. It doesn't matter what the weather is. There are squalls one minute and sunshine the next. You live life at an angle of 25 to 30 degrees and the motion of the boat is like a trampoline. It makes life entertaining. We work in watches on a 48-hour cycle, with four hours on, four hours off in the day and three hours on, three hours off at night."
Having sailed since he was a child, and raced competitively on the Clyde in his 20s, Ken is one of the most experienced members of the crew, which has resulted in him being made a watch leader. It is a far cry from his working life back in Edinburgh as a partner in commercial property consultancy firm Culverwell.
Asked if his skills as a chartered surveyor help on board, he laughs: "Absolutely not. There is no crossover," before adding: "Apart from people skills because I manage people in the office and I'm the leader of Crimewatch here." Crimewatch is the name the Glasgow crew has given to one of the two watches. The other is known as Baywatch. Such monikers hint at the importance of a sense of humour when you are squashed into a 68ft boat with 16 other people and there is no dry land for miles. As the race organisers point out to applicants, a daily mix of sleep interruption and deprivation plus sheer hard graft can test the most even-tempered person.
And when members of the crew are feeling tired and low they will be surrounded by "a diverse mix of people, some of whom may not be of their choosing".
Which brings us to Ken's Big Brother fears. So far they have failed to materialise.
Feeling constantly wet, eating a monotonous diet of packet food and living in cramped conditions are the downsides of life in this Glasgow - something an Edinburgh man might quip holds true of the rival city itself, though Ken draws no comparisons. But
the highlights more than make up for the hardships. Ken adds: "The cheers from the other crews, the camaraderie, when you arrive at a port, and seeing wildlife like humpback whales is fantastic."
What he finds hardest of all about his epic voyage is being apart from his wife, Mags, 40, an Edinburgh teaching assistant, and their children, Kenneth, 13 and Zoe, 11.
"I miss my family very badly sometimes. I would not have done this without their full support, or that of my business partners. Mags wants me to get this out of my system otherwise I'll drag her around the world with me."
He will see his family in the flesh this Christmas as they are flying out to Australia to meet him during his stopover at Fremantle.
In the meantime, Ken and the team are lagging far behind in the competition, which is not set to see the ships sailing back into Liverpool until next July. But, for now at least, he says: "Winning is not important. It's doing this while I still can that's important."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west