1. Tell us a bit about how your sailing career began.
I started out my career as a secondary school PE teacher and came to sailing quite late compared to many. I first started sailing at university and, after a short period teaching in secondary school, went on to teach at a sports college on the south coast of the UK. I craved adventure and wanted to travel so I secured a water sport role abroad and, when I returned home, decided to make professional sailing my career. I retrained and my first job was as a corporate skipper, gaining miles and experience racing and day sailing. I then moved into racing around the world and I have never looked back.
2 And how did you come to decide to sail around the world on your own?
I was a skipper on the Global Challenge when the race owner, Sir Chay Blyth, planted the seed of the idea. The Global Challenge was a crewed ‘wrong way round’ circumnavigation against the winds and the currents and takes around twice as long to complete as a result. Sir Chay suggested that I repeat the voyage but next time, on my own and non-stop. He was the first man to do this voyage and knew it was only a matter of time before a female would do the same voyage and why shouldn’t it be me. I knew that, if I was successful, I would join a small number of people who have ever achieved it (in fact only four men) and be the first woman. I had the rest of that race to think about it and, by the time I had returned to the UK, decided that I was ready for the challenge. So, my big break was becoming the first female to circumnavigate the globe against the winds and currents solo and non-stop. The success of that led to me taking part in the Vendee Globe in 2008/9 - another solo non-stop voyage around the world, but this time the right way round and competing against some of the best sailors in the world.
We're really interested in learning about the food part of your sailing adventure!
3. Food is obviously critical for energy and survival for an endeavour like this, how did you plan your meals for the trip?
I was fortunate enough to work with Leeds Metropolitan University ahead of the Vendee Globe. They analysed my nutritional needs and advised me what my likely energy requirements would be whilst racing. The challenge with that race was to ensure the boat is as light as possible to aid speed. We stripped as much weight from the boat as possible and there is no toilet, fridge or kitchen onboard. In addition, during the race, food had to be quick and light and easy to prepare so it was all freeze dried packets that you can just add hot water to, stir, wait ten minutes and eat.
4. How many meals did you have to take with you to make sure you had enough for the trip and any unknowns?
On the Aviva Challenge (solo westabout) I took food for 160 days. The Vendee Globe was a quicker voyage, I took around 280 meals on that. This was meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day I estimated to be out there. You need to allow for the maximum amount of days that you might be at sea and its always better to over-estimate when it comes to food because not only is it your fuel for performing at your best, you need it to survive.
5. Were they all freeze dried/ dehydrated expedition food bags, or did you take any fresh food too?
The majority of my meals were freeze dried although I had a little more variety on the Aviva Challenge because the boat had a galley and I was able to cook some food. I have fresh food for the first couple of days, but with no refrigeration it spoils quickly. I normally try for fresh fruit for the first ten days.
6. How important is it to have variety of meal options when relying on expedition meals for longer periods of time?
It is really important to have variety. Food fatigue is quite common because you quickly get bored with the same taste, texture or flavour. It is also important to take food you know you like, which sounds obvious, but different makes of the same meal can taste very different. I taste test all the freeze dried meals ahead of a race to make sure there are no surprises! Often your favourite at the start of a race is not your favourite at the end of the race.
7. Which was your favourite expedition food brand and meal?
I have eaten a lot of meals and tried a lot of brands. I also am led by how tired I am and what the conditions are like. Some meals are perfect for some conditions more than others. But my favourite without a doubt is porridge. I can easily eat porridge for more than just breakfast. I also like the fact that many meals serve it with a variety of fruit, so even though you are eating the same food it takes different. Porridge with strawberries by Expedition Foods is one of my favourites.
8. Did you use a camping stove for cooking?
On the Vendee Globe, I simply added boiling water to the food packet, stirred and ate. It is a very basic existence. Some of my boats have has a gas stove and others have had a jet boil.
9. What was your first meal when you got onto land?
I crave fresh fruit and veg when I am at sea for long periods of time. My ‘must have’ treats on arriving home are diet coke, pizza and biting into a crisp apple.
10. What was the hardest part of the trip?
The most challenging conditions are when you get extremes. The stretch in the Southern Ocean is brutal and I have headed into my fair share of severe storms where all you can do is prepare for what is to come and hope that the boat doesn’t suffer too much damage. The doldrums are also tough because it is so frustrating floating with no wind and not being able to get moving.
11. Would you have changed anything?
Sailing, much like life, is a constant learning curve. In my sailing career I have learnt so much, been open to opportunities, met fascinating people and had the most incredible experiences. I really don’t think there is anything that I would change.
12. What advice would you give to someone who's planning to do a remote challenge in isolation?
Preparation is vital. As with many other remote and isolated challenges, offshore sailing puts you in an unpredictable environment for long periods of time. The nearest help is often days away and whilst the risks you take are calculated, there is still risk. All it takes is a miscalculation or an error made when tired for things to go wrong very quickly. My advice would be to make sure you are as prepared as you can be for the anticipated conditions and put a support team together that you can rely on 100%.
13. What adventures are coming up next in the pipeline?
For the first time in sailing's Olympic history, a mixed double handed offshore event will be on the programme at the Paris 2024 Olympics and I have my sights on being there. I have been invited to represent Team GBR in the Eurosaf Mixed Offshore European Championships in Genoa at the end of August. This is the first step on the long road to Paris but, like all adventures, the journey will be exciting, demanding, challenging and rewarding.