Amateur sailor turns carer as Atlantic adventure postponed due to pandemic
This was due to be a momentous week in the life of Marie O’Riley who should be setting off on the adventure of a lifetime as a crew member on the Clipper 2019-20 Round the World Yacht Race.
After two years of intensive training, the 54-year-old from Leamington, was due to join the crew for the final seven-week ‘Atlantic Homecoming’ leg from New York back to the U on Saturday, arriving in London in August.
But when the pandemic hit the race was postponed and, after her own sales and marketing business also came to a halt, she now finds herself in a very different setting, working as a community care assistant in Stratford.
Marie said: “I was really looking forward to joining my team Dare To Lead. The fleet is currently moored in the Philippines but fingers crossed the race can restart in February and I can sail the final leg next summer.
“In the meantime, I’m continuing to fundraise for UNICEF UK, the Charity partner for the race, in order to reach my £1,500 target. Now more than ever they need help to support the world’s most vulnerable children.”
The Clipper Race, first established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, is described as the ‘toughest endurance challenge on the planet’ – and the only event of its type that is open to non-professional sailors.
“When I was younger, I used to do cycle touring and the experience of lightweight camping has stood me in good stead for living onboard a racing yacht. Conditions are very basic with only two toilets, no showers and hot bunking – where you buddy up with a crew member from the other watch and you sleep while they are on watch and vice versa,” said Marie.
“There is also a weight limit of how much kit we can take with us so I’ve been buying lots of merino wool base layers as these can be worn for many days without smelling!”
The race – against 10 other yacht crews – was to follow two years of physical and mental preparation for the novice sailor, including overcoming a fear of heights to enable her to ascend the 90-foot mast.
Each team has a professional Skipper and First Mate. The rest of the 20-strong crew are amateurs, with half of them sailing 40,000 miles around the world, while the rest join for one or two legs.
COVID-19 has not only put her adventure on hold. As a freelance Sales and Marketing Consultant all her work has dried up. As a result, she responded to an appeal from Stratford-based care agency Welcombe Care in March and following extensive training has been working as a Community Care Assistant.
“It’s not what I had planned for this summer however like thousands of other people I’m trying to make myself useful during these uncertain times. I’m really enjoying my new role, caring for our service users in their own homes. Lockdown has also given me the time to get my allotment in order for the first time in 13 years!”
So what do Marie’s husband and teenage daughters make of her wonderlust?
She said: “I was visiting family in Liverpool in August 2017 and saw the start of the 2017-18 race. I started following it daily online and after a couple of months I decided I’d love to give it a go and it was my husband Mike who encouraged me to go for it! My initial reaction was it’s expensive and I’ll never get a place but he encouraged me to go for an interview. It’s funny how dreams can change what you think is important in life.
“Having been offered a place to race Leg 8, I spent the money we should have used to update our kitchen. This meant for six months we had to cook on our camping stove because our hob broke and needed replacing!”
Marie is still appealing for sponsorship for her trip, which has already amassed to more than £320 towards her personal target of £1,500. Visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/marie-o
Twitter: personal account @Plot2Yacht & Dare To Lead account @Cv27Guy
Facebook: Dare To Lead 2019-20 Supporters
Clipper Race details: www.clipperroundtheworld.com
Donate to UNICEF UK: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/marie-o