21st September 1997 was the day that I learned that I had no control over my life. It was the start of the Whitbread Round The World Race and I had blagged my way onto a 8m RIB with an 350HP inboard engine so that I could watch the start.
I had drafted a book proposal to follow, and document, the team Silk Cut, called Silk Cut: Uncut which was about to be submitted to publishers by my agent. I was dreaming of trotting the globe, observing and recording the debauchery of promiscuous and carefree, hardcore ocean racers. I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me and it was a life of adventure and travel. My most favourite things in the entire universe.
The start was majestic. I never tire of watching powerful ocean racing yachts charge away into the sun. The Farr 60 ocean-going beasts of that generation of racing were the first of a new class of offshore ocean racing yachts that could reach top speeds of 30knots. They were lighter, enduring and performed better. There was a frisson of tension amongst the skippers as they feared the beast and didn’t know what could be unleashed traversing the oceans over long distances with all this power and strength at their fingertips. Yet, although, they feared for their lives, at the same time like racehorses, pounding at the gate, they couldn’t wait to put them through their paces.
The fleet of spectator boats turned the tidal waters of the Solent into a torrential washing machine of lines and rivers of bubbling cold, salty, white foam. We were in the best boat to watch a start. A powerful, rumbling, monster of a RIB with the thrust and dexterity required to weave in and out of the fleet. We matched the speeds of the yachts as they battled for the lead; to display their mettle amongst the crowded waters; to glean a moral victory, to lead the charge out into the ocean; to gain the competitive advantage and to keep us guessing about how the race will play out. It was exhilarating to be a part of it. The September sun beamed gloriously all day and I felt completely alive as the cool, salty air swirled around me.
Once we watched the boats sail into the distance at the Needles, we turned around and headed home. We were one of the last spectator boats to turn. Many had not pushed as far up as we had. The water was flat now; a glassy mill-pond. The RIB bounced and flew deftly across the sea, like a pebble skimming the waves. We were all still buzzing. I was standing at the front holding onto the bow painter (rope from the from front). The rope was taut, I was leaning back and absorbing the wave impact by bending my knees (just like you do when you ski over mogul hills). I was used to boats. I had been driving RIBs professionally for 5 years.
The driver started to mess around for a laugh. The sea around us was calm and I was holding my own on the painter. Then out of nowhere a long, slow, wake of a ferry rippled across our path. The driver didn’t see it, and I didn’t see it. It acted as ramp for the RIB, which was traveling at 20 knots and the boat took off. As I was holding onto to the taut painter it acted like a pendulum, I took off too. It lifted me a foot off the ground. As the boat landed on the hardened water surface, I landed on the floor of the RIB. As I landed my ankle twisted and I landed on it. I felt it snap. There was initially no pain.
‘Shit! I have broken my ankle.’ I said. ‘I have to elevate it.’
With that I lay down on the deck and raised my leg onto the port sponson (left side inflatable tube).
I had indeed broken my ankle. I had clean snapped my tibia and fibula. I ended up having re-constructive surgery that lasted 5 hours with 11 titanium pins and a metal plate.
I hadn’t planned to break my leg. I wasn’t ready for it to happen. I learnt that day that I have no control over my life and so stopped planning my future from that day forth.
The universe has sent me to Dubai. I was coming here anyway for a rest, which I needed desperately, but it has sent me here to wait for change. I know that change is coming. The transition has already started. In the meantime, I am here in Dubai, reflecting in the glorious sunshine, pondering a future I can’t control and wondering how it’s going to play out.
I am doing Dubai on a budget, that is my goal and so I’ll tell you more about how that is going very soon. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that there are big changes afoot?