Y’all, this week has been an ADVENTURE. I’m feeling a bit too tired to get a full proper blog post out so in the meantime please enjoy these quick thoughts. Getting to sail a Clipper 70 has been an absolutely incredible experience. This week was my first time out on one and the high I got working on the boat is unlike anything I have ever felt in my life. The sheer power of these boats is impressive and has to be felt to be believed.
I’ll go over more details when I have more energy, but for now I will say that I have no doubt that this is where I belong.
This week under the mentorship of an incredible skipper I feel like I have grown so much and become a more confident sailor. I ran a freaking foredeck on a Clipper 70!! If someone had told me a few years ago that I would feel ready to work a foredeck on a boat like this I would have said they were out of their tree. Actually, come to think of it I have had such a conversation with someone. Lisa, turns out you were right! This week involved a bit of spinnaker work and some talk on tactics and trimming. Fortunately an awesome friend gave me the North Sails trim book so I got to read that and then go play with some of my readings on a super fun boat.
This week was not without its challenges, as it became apparent that we had some folks who hadn’t necessarily kept up with the homework and/or weren’t in a racing mentality. The challenges became learning experiences in themselves as it meant that I had an opportunity to step up and take my turns leading maneuvers on foredeck and for man overboard drills and sail evolutions, and of course make my own mistakes on some of them because my ego needed a bit of a check at points.
My skipper was great about encouraging me when I was doing well, and having the “so, what did we learn?” conversations when I had done something that wasn’t correct. I was able to own my errors and it felt really good to be in an environment where that was appreciated. Throughout all of this, Wavy imparted his years of sailing experience on me and let me ask just about any question I wanted about sailing. He caught on quickly that I like working the pointy end of the boat and it turns out that he’s a founding member of Foredeck Union so he was excited. 🙂
While we didn’t get as heavy into gybing the kite and talking about trim and tactics as I was hoping for, it was still a really valuable experience and I feel like I learned a ton. I feel ready to take on Level 4, but first there is one teensy little detail that needs to be addressed…
I need to finish paying for this damn thing! In addition to shilling beer mittens and candles and being available for other sewing work and putting in hours at Fisheries, I’m on the hunt for sponsors who believe in my mission and want to give a scrappy young sailor a leg up. I am working on my value proposition and presentation, but if anyone has recommendations or advice on pursuing sponsors as an individual racer I would love to hear it! Crew Allocation is May 11th and I’m looking to bust a major move or three before then. I know it’s going to happen through a combination of hard work and dumb luck but isn’t not knowing exactly how I am going to get there part of the fun?
I know I’m going to do this and it’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime, all of the hard work will be worth it. I’ve spent so many hours meditating on and manifesting what it will feel like to leave the dock in Seattle with friends and family waving goodbye and wishing good luck.
Welp, with three levels in and a month and a half until I’m back in the UK again for Level 4, probably makes sense to get on with talking about what I’ve done thus far on the Clipper Race training adventures.
My journey began at the very busy SeaTac airport in Seattle. As fate would have it, my best friend Elli was flying in at around the same time from North Carolina, so we got to have some well-needed hugs and coffee. I’d been having a rough go with the depression battle so there were some tears mixed in as well. That woman and I have been through a lot together so it was incredibly special to get to see her before embarking on this adventure.
Soon it was time to board flight one of two that would take me to London. The flight was uneventful and soon I was navigating LAX to get to the terminal. LAX is notoriously a pain to navigate and it lived up to its name. After getting lost a couple of times and walking right past the gate a couple of times I finally made it to where I was supposed to be. Being the dork that I am, I couldn’t help but grin at the British accents I was hearing as I sat eagerly waiting for my time to board. Before I knew it the time to board had come and I got on the huge plane. Again, a rather uneventful flight. I will say if you ever fly on an American Airlines flight in Economy that includes food, it’s not a bad idea to bring your own. Carbs and sugar seemed to be the name of the game as almost everything was either heavy on bread or sweetened in lieu of other flavors. It was free with the flight but breakfast especially was just sugary yogurt and a sugary muffin. You know it’s a ton of sugar when even a unicorn is calling it out!
After a long long slog the flight tracker showed that EEK, I was actually over England, a place I had only ever dreamed about going to. I eagerly looked out the window to see what I could and as soon as we dipped below the clouds the adorable quaint country homes told me I was here! Before I knew it we had landed and I took my carry on bag through a fairly easy customs process and was on my way to baggage claim to get the rest of the luggage I would be living out of for the next two-ish weeks.
OMG! WHERE’S MY BAG?!
Pretty much everyone who has ever checked a bag has had that anxious moment where they watch the bags of their fellow travelers go round the carousel but can’t see theirs. Until that day I had always eventually spotted mine. Today held a different plan for me as I watched the number of bags on the carousel shrink with increased anxiety until the carousel stopped completely and my heart sank. I walked over to the American Airlines lost baggage counter and after a few stressful phone calls (and admittedly a few tears) the LAX Alaska baggage counter was able to surmise that my bag had only been checked to LAX, not through to Heathrow. I was assured it would be put on the next plane and then couriered over to Gosport.
Amidst all of this I got one of my first BIG glimpses of the Clipper family network. I posted on our Facebook group that I was freaking out as my bag had not made it, and within about 20 minutes a few wonderful people had arranged to have gear ready that I could borrow whilst waiting for my bag to get to me. One of those lovely people was Della from the head office who said she would be waiting for me when I get off the Gosport Ferry and would give me a ride to the B&B. She asked if there was anything else I needed and I said at that point, I could really go for a pint and a hug! I was tired and exhausted and now had the quest of figuring out a bus and a train to Portsmouth. Thank goodness the rest of that went well and soon I was boarding the Gosport ferry. By this time night had fallen but I was able to just make out the masts of the Clipper fleet at the marina and things began to feel more real!
I got off the ferry and was immediately greeted by a kind face that turned out to be Della! She was an absolute sweetheart and gave me a much-needed hug right away. She had even put together a goody bag with some chocolates and a beer and G&T in a can as she wasn’t sure what I would like. I was very grateful and humbled for the hospitality. She whisked me off to the Spring Garden Guest House which turned out to be run by the sweetest woman EVER named Heather. Della helped me get settled and showed me what she had pulled together for me to borrow and then went on her way after another hug. Next I needed to sort out food finally, but it turned out to not be an issue whatsoever as another kind racer named Anthony was also staying at the B&B, had heard of my adventure, and had an overabundance of Indian food he insisted on sharing. I was all too happy for it and after some banter in the common room it was finally time for some well-needed rest on a thankfully very comfortable bed.
Training office and #selfiewithsophie
After a night of some very weird sleep patterns I finally crawled out of my bed at what seemed like a reasonable breakfast hour and was treated by Heather to my first FULL ENGLISH. For those not in the know, the right proper English Breakfast is a smorgasbord of tastiness. Eggs, I swear three different kinds of meat, toast, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and all the tea I could drink were brought out and I was in food heaven. For as much guff as the Brits get about the supposedly flavorless meat/potatoes/veggie supper formula, the breakfast game is on point.
The famous and delicious Full English!
Once I was fed the next order of business was to wander over to the training office to drop off the bag I DID have with me and sort out what the hell I was going to do about boots in case my bag didn’t come on time. Tom, another Seattle compatriot who was in town for his Level 3 training met me across the Gosport Ferry in Portsmouth and greeted me with a hug and a goody bag of essentials such as earplugs, Sturgeron (amazing seasick meds) and other treats to get me through the first week.
After a pint we wandered over to the Musto store where I got to meet the lovely Sophie, our gear goddess for the Clipper crew! She sat me down, gave me my very fist tea and biscuit and a BIG hug as she had heard of the bag debacle. She helped me get fitted to some AMAZING new boots (link here to the Musto ocean boots) that I was excited to wear both for the next two weeks of training as well as at home in the chilly PNW waters for winter racing. I may have walked out with a backpack too, oops! While there I also got a selfie with her like a proper #millennial and next thing I knew had started the #selfiewithSophie tradition for the Clipper crew!
It’s Finally Time!
The time had come to assemble at the training office and finally meet my training skipper and boatmates for Level 1! Two boats worth of excited and eager sailors and soon-to-be sailors were gathered in the office and treated to tea and biscuits (sensing a theme here…) and then next thing we knew we were walking down the dock with our skippers to what would be home sweet boat for the week. We were assigned to CV7, one of the Clipper 68s. For Level 1 and 2 training we use the previous generation of boats as the 70’s are busy being used for Level 3 training and corporate sails. It turned out that our boat was extra lucky as our Skipper was a wonderful man named Simon, our Mate was a guy named Matt who was a bit of a cheeky and lovable one, and then we had a bonus mate in the form of the incredible Kym. It was very lucky having a female trainer on the boat as she was able to teach us gals some tips and tricks that were unique to us. The evening was spent getting our bunks quickly set up, then skipper treated us to dinner on the boat and we talked about who we were, what we hoped to get out of the race, and what the plan would be for the week. It was cool to see that we had a mix of all different ages and levels of sailing experience. The Clipper Race is truly for all sorts, as evidenced by the fact that my watch partner for the week was a 70+ year old gentleman named Graham.
After we had dinner and our chat finished, next stop was the infamous Castle Tavern for a round or two of pub drinks. The Castle is infamous for being a Clipper crew hangout and sure enough, when we got there we were greeted by others who were in various levels of training. Getting to the pub would become a theme over the next week!
The next morning we awoke to an amazing sunset. After breakfast and morning rituals it was time to get ready for a day of drills at the dock as the weather was, as the Brits say, blowing a hoolie. As some of the crew on the boat had NEVER sailed before, we did a lot of work on practicing knots, going over the deck and all of the different danger zones (there are LOTS), practicing line handling and winch handling, proper usage of safety gear including PFDs and tethers, and learning the art of sweating up a halyard. Let me tell you, everything on the Clipper 68’s was bigger and HEAVIER than anything I had ever worked on up until that point on a boat. These boats are no fluffy charter boats and as one of our crewmates for the week discovered, there is no button to operate the winch, just brute strength and the mechanical advantage offered by the pedestal grinder or a winch handle. Even though we hadn’t left the dock at all, by the end of the day we were all tired from practicing grinding a “bricked” sail (sail that has been tied into a bundle in its bag and attached to a halyard) over and over and sweating the halyard up. Dinner was very happily consumed and then as you can guess, we went to the pub!
Slipping the Lines
As with a lot of things the Clipper Race does, they have a specific way that lines are handled when leaving the dock in order to make sure it can be done as cleanly and safely as possible. Our skipper went over the process with us along with the art of using two roving fenders to make sure we didn’t cause damage to the boat on our way out. Fortunately for us, our skipper made steering that boat look like he was driving a little car so in a few minutes we were effortlessly motoring out of Gosport Marina and off into the legendary Solent! I could not wipe the grin off my face as the reality of what was about to happen was sinking in. I was really on a Clipper boat and was finally about to be sailing!! We spent the day going over raising sails, tacking, putting in a reef as the weather was still a bit windy, sail changes, and maneuvering safely around the boat. One important component that was handled twice a day was TEA!! I became quite fond of the ritual of tea and biscuits.
Much like everything else thus far, the steps for everything were all bigger and more involved than anything I’d previously done on a boat. The Clipper training team had done an incredible job of creating bright yellow wet notes that we were to keep on us at all times. These wet notes broke down the process of all of the main functions on the boat and were our lifeline as we worked to memorize the processes. Doing the drills over and over again helped greatly, I am definitely one who needs to see/do things rather than one who can learn just from reading pictureless instructions.
In order to keep things exciting (not that that was challenging!) the dock for the evening was not in Gosport Marina but rather in Cowes! Yes, THAT Cowes! I being the silly American that I am thoughts at first we were going to some random place called Cows. When I told my mother where we were going she got really excited and I very soon learned that Cowes is legendary for sailing. We arrived at the dock, put the boat away, had dinner cooked by two more of our teammates, and then as you may have imagined, found a pint or two at the pub attached to the marina.
Being the adventurous sort that I am, there was no way I was going to let an opportunity to do something exciting pass me by. The next day held more drills and skills, with one being a solo paddle in a dingy from one part of the dock to another. There is an art to getting from the dock into the dingy without getting wet and thankfully every member of our crew was able to succeed. After the dingy fun there was an opportunity for those who wanted to go up the mast, and surely I wasn’t going to pass it up! The view from the top of the mast (90′!!) was incredible, I could see the tops of the adorable English cottages around Cowes and out into the Solent. Looking down made my heart jump in my throat a bit but I was glad to have done it and gotten a bit of a cool photo opportunity as well. Once we left the dock the day and the following week held more practicing on the sailing skills we had continued to develop.
Get your kit fitted!
One important and exciting part of Level 1 is going to the Musto Lighthouse store and getting fitted for your race team kit. This includes your team gear like polos, crew jacket, and shorts and trousers as well as the soon to be infamous bright yellow foulies!! I got super excited to get my kit on as once again, things were feeling REAL! I’m also grateful that the neck gaskets have been changed for the race as they were TIGHT on the smocks! The fantastic Sophie and her team helped us get sorted into our gear and then it was time to go to the Customs House pub to wait for the rest of the crew to finish.
Before we knew it, the week had come to an end and it was time for a team dinner and one last night at the pub before the favorite activity at the end of every training level… THE DEEP CLEAN!
Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere…
For those who may not be in the know, at the end of every level of Clipper Race training the boats are turned inside out as much as possible and deep cleaned. Hygiene is a super important habit to have on the boats as germs and bacteria can take a fun trip to a nightmare in a hurry, especially with only two heads (toilet for you landlubbers) on board. It’s also important to ensure everything on the boat is maintained in a safe working order as things that are maintained can break and that can cause huge issues. What this means is that EVERYTHING that can be removed from the boat and cleaned… gets removed from the boat and cleaned. Every single floor board, every sail and coiled line, every cushion from the berths and salon, every piece of kit allllll gets taken out and then what’s left on the boat gets inspected and scrubbed very carefully. It is utterly amazing how dirty a boat can get in just one week, mold can be public enemy #1 and it grows oh so well below deck. Every nook and cranny from the bilges to the cave lockers to the galley to the heads was cleaned with anti-bac and then as you may be able to imagine, we had to put it all BACK in the boat. We were positively knackered by this point (another fun phrase I learned from my new UK friends) and then after passing our maintenance inspection were very excited to get to the Boathouse restaurant for lunch. We also had the good fortune of getting to go poke around on a Clipper 70 and get a feel for how they were laid out differently than the 68s. After being on the previous version of the boats for a week I could definitely understand why some of the changes were made for the 70’s.
It was an incredible week of forming friendships and new muscles (more on that in the next post), learning some new sailing skills and unlearning a few bad habits that had accidentally been picked up, having a new definition for tired, and most of all having an incredible time on these amazing sailing machines. Stay tuned for the report on Level 2 where we went offshore for 4 days!
Tonight was supposed to be an excited post outlining my adventures last fall on my first trip to England for Level 1&2 training. Today took a different tack so that post will have to wait. I promised to share the good, bad, and ugly of the journey I’m on so let’s make good on that.
My hope in participating in the Clipper Race and other sailing adventures is to encourage others to be brave and take risks. The fact of the matter is that risk tasking involves inevitable failure. It can be minor failure, it can be big failure, but at some point it’s going to happen. Right now I’m feeling pretty discouraged, as I’m not where I hoped to be by now with my individual fundraising and it’s going to be an uphill battle to get there. I know I can do it and I know deep down that somehow it’s all going to work out, but right now I don’t know what that’s going to look like. You see, my HR contract ended at the end of January and I chose to take the leap and go full time with my sewing business. There have been some exciting successes and really great weeks, but also a metric shitload of learning that running a business by yourself is a hell of a lot harder than doing a cute choreographed pitch on Shark Tank.
I say all of this not to be a Debby Downer or to look for pity, but to say that the Sailing Unicorn is not all sunshine and roses and not everything I touch turns to magic. Sometimes I wind up in epic, messy challenges that I need to work a way out of. I am growing and learning all the time and trying to not make the same mistakes twice, but holy crap is this hard to navigate. Sometimes I think I’m an absolute idiot for leaving the corporate job with an enticing stock vesting schedule a few years ago. Other times I realize that while this is not the easy path, it will hopefully result in some epic stories that I will laugh about in the future. I am so incredibly lucky to have the support system that I have, especially on nights like tonight where I got home late, exhausted, and just needed a shoulder to cry on and a beer. Tonight it feels like the goal I have three months to reach is slipping further and further away. Tonight I am discouraged and out of energy to work out Plan D, E, or whatever the F it is at this point. To those who know the Spoon theory, my drawer runneth empty. To those not in the know, I highly recommend you read about it here. Tomorrow I will brew a cup of tea, throw my hair in a bun, regroup and get back to hustling my ass off to make this shit happen.
If you’ve read this quasi-pity party and feel like sending a hug over the internet, go for it. I’ll be ok, but tonight I’m tired and beat down.
This post has been composed, edited, deleted, re-written, and so on and so forth so many times both in my head and on my poor laptop. Rather than continue to let my brain’s insanely high standards keep this story from getting out, I need to just send it out continue on with my journey.
I am a survivor of a suicide attempt.
Those who have encountered me typically see me as a very lively, happy person with a zest for life. It’s hard to imagine the Sailing Unicorn reaching a point where life didn’t seem worth the pain any more, and yet about 5.5 years ago I did indeed reach a point where I wanted to do anything I could to stop hurting. In the September of 2013 my now ex-husband decided that he no longer wanted to be married. When he told me in our therapist’s office after we had been separated for a couple of weeks that he wanted a divorce I felt like the wind had been knocked clean out of me. No, our marriage wasn’t the happiest but I thought we were working on it. That wasn’t the case and he wanted out, and no amount of begging or pleading would keep him (believe me I tried). I got married at 21 (yep, pretty damn young) and had my life planned out ahead of me. Enjoy being young newlyweds, work in our careers, go on some vacations to cool places around the world, then after a few years start thinking about kids and starting a family. It felt like my whole world was crashing down.
I was not ok. I had previously been diagnosed with depression but was not currently taking any medication or seeing a therapist for it. What happened over the next couple of days was a bit of a blur as I didn’t feel like me. I felt like a person lost in someone else’s body, yet the few times I could bear to look myself in the mirror I did see someone who looked similar to me. Somehow I was able to get in to an urgent care clinic and after looking at my medical history they prescribed me an antidepressant… and Xanax. I had never taken this medication before but was up for anything that might make me feel a little better about this whole thing. It was either that night or the very next night that I realized at the time nothing would be able to make me feel better so I just wanted to sleep for a very long time and not be in pain any more. I was alone in the house in Seattle that my ex and I had moved into a few months before. That house never really felt like a home to me, I could never put my finger on why. I was alone in what used to be “our” room and was tired of being too exhausted to do anything of substances but unable to sleep. I either messaged or called my ex and told him that I was taking the whole bottle of Xanax and wished him well. In hindsight I’m not sure why I did that as I was determined that I wanted to just fall asleep and not be in pain, but I’m glad I did. He called my mom who somehow managed to make what was usually the hour drive about 30 minutes. I think at some point SPD was called too. The whole night is an incredible fog. Fortunately they were able to determine that I had not actually taken a lethal dose and would be ok after being allowed to sleep it off under supervision. The next day held a lot of serious conversations and tears both with my mother as well as the close friends she had summoned to come over and help.
I am very lucky. I didn’t at the time think to look up what a lethal dose or combination would be, I just assumed the amount of Xanax I had taken would be enough to send me peacefully of to sleep. I am so damn grateful that I was wrong. The Fall and Winter that followed were some of the hardest months I’ve ever been through in my life, and yet I’m glad I was able to get through them. Almost two months to the day after my attempt I was browsing online and came across a Black Friday special where adoption fees were waived for animals with black coloring that PAWS, a local animal shelter north of us was hosting. I had always wanted a dog, and it was time. There will be a longer post dedicated to him at a later date, but that Black Friday special became Murphy, a sweet lab/dane with the cutest little tinge of gray on his muzzle. I owe my life to the dog who is currently snoring right next to me as having him meant I had to be home at least twice a day to care for him and could therefore not go off on weekend-long benders. I may have resolved to not attempt to go to sleep forever again but I still wasn’t making some of the best life choices so he kept me from going completely overboard. I had the support of a few very dear friends, some of whom I am still close with to this day. One who I became closer with through this process took me up to the mountains with Murphy to the snow on New Years Day of 2014 and we did a Trash the Dress shoot so that I could reclaim the experience of wearing my now-former wedding dress. I also had a party at Golden Gardens when my divorce was finalized where I burned wedding photos and other mementos from the marriage and invited friends to bring what they needed to release in the flames as well.
I continued to get through that winter and the coming spring with the support of my amazing network. My mother also took it upon herself to get me out sailing more and well, we know how that ended up! Sailing has become an incredible force in my life as it has helped me gain courage, strength, and an absolutely amazing supportive community. Through sailing there have been so many “I’m glad I’m alive for this” moments. While sailing is part of my therapy, I have also found a wonderful therapist who has been helping me work through life. My goal as the Sailing Unicorn is to encourage others to keep fighting to stay alive by spreading awareness of depression and resources available to avoid suicide. We never know who may be fighting an invisible internal battle, it’s so crucial to be loving and supportive to those around us. By sailing in the Clipper Round the World yacht race I hope to take the message globally as these are things that impact people all over the world. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If it has impacted you I welcome continued dialogue. If you need someone to talk to please seek help, it’s never too late.
Stay alive my friends.
If you or someone you love has struggles with suicidal thoughts PLEASE reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They provide free, confidential guidance and resources for individuals and people who care about them for free over the phone, via text, or online chat. They are staffed 24 hours a day and are connected to centers all over the US to help individuals access care close to home in order to get help. I have spoken to them before and was over whelmed by the compassion and care on the other end of the phone. I recommend saving this number in your phone, you never know when you or someone you love might need it.
Howdy y’all! I am Lizzy Grim, your friendly neighborhood Sailing Unicorn! I have a longer blog post that I’ve been trying to write for the better part of a month, but I’m not ready to publish it yet. For the time being I figure an intro post will do and then you’ll get to know me better (if you don’t already, hi Mom!) as the days go on. But for now, a quick and dirty “who am I?”
Location: Seattle, WA
Occupation: Sailing Unicorn!
Favorite food: CAKE
Favorite beverage: tea, whiskey, or champagne. Not necessarily in that order
Kids: one four-legged goofy big old dog named Murphy
Favorite color: glitter
Favorite place to sail: Puget Sound (so far!)
Adventures planned: Clipper Round the World!
So, why the hell am I creating yet another sailing blog? Well, I’m signed up to do a couple of legs of the Clipper Round the World yacht race. It’s a race that was founded by Sir Robin Knox Johnson, the first man to sail solo non-stop around the world. Unlike other round the world yacht races, the Clipper Race is one that can be raced by ordinary people, even if they haven’t previously stepped foot on a sailboat! I first discovered the race about 3 years ago when they stopped over in Seattle, but that will DEFINITELY be it’s own blog post! In a future post I will also delve deeper into my #ReasonToRace. The race is one that does carry a significant cost both in time and funds. If you want to support me there are a few ways below. I am also earnestly looking for individual sponsors and would love to chat more privately if you are interested in supporting me or know someone who is.
My Etsy shop has both fun costume pieces as well as some home goods and the infamous beer mitts! Every purchase gets me closer to my Clipper goal.
I have a gofundme set up for those who wish to donate directly to my cause, any funds raised above my berth fee will go to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness
If you don’t want to pay gofundme fees here is my PayPal link. Make a mention that you are donating to my Clipper race and I’ll put it towards my next payment.
For now however, I will share that sailing has been absolutely life-changing for my mental health and recovery and I hope by racing and being transparent about my own ongoing battle with mental illness I can help and encourage others to discover or rediscover their own strength. I look forward to having you join my journey, and look forward to sharing so many facets of my life and sailing. Thank you for being with me!