A Lancaster woman is taking on the challenge of a lifetime this summer when she joins a team aiming to sail around the world.
The arduous year-long Clipper Round the World Yacht Race sets off in August, and Mary Vaughan-Jones will be among the crew of one of the 11 boats taking part.
“This is a massive feat,” the 23-year-old said. “Currently less people have sailed round the world than have climbed Everest.
“I’ll be pushing myself both physically and mentally. Sleep deprivation, cramped conditions, and away from friends and family for almost a year.
“Being cold, wet and seasick might not sound very appealing, but I honestly think that the best experiences come from pushing outside our comfort zone.
“I hope that by completing this adventure I may encourage others, no matter their background, to challenge themselves in their own way.”
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston set up the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race with the ethos of bringing ocean racing within the reach of everyone.
It is now a major global event with an audience in excess of half a billion people in more than 200 countries.
The challenge, which runs from August 2019 to July 2020, is a race between 11 identical boats, all with a mix of sailing experience on board, some with no sailing experience apart from the clipper training.
The only professional sailors in a crew of up to 22 are the skipper and a mate.
Teams are not allowed to use their engine when racing; it is completed solely by sail. The route is not yet confirmed, but will start from somewhere in the UK – the previous race set off from Liverpool.
It then goes to South America and across to Cape town.
From there it crosses the Southern Ocean (renowned for its high wind and waves) to West Australia, Fremantle, where teams will stay for around three weeks for Christmas and New Year.
They then continue to Sydney or New Zealand before going up to China.
This marks the start of one of the biggest ocean crossings, sailing the North Pacific to Seattle/San Francisco.
From there the race continues through the Panama Canal and back up to New York, from where it’s another big crossing back to the UK and the port they cast off from.
At each stopover crew will join or leave the boat, as most people don’t do the complete circumnavigation.
Mary will be one of around nine crew members per boat for the whole route, meaning she will become integral in the smooth transitioning of crew changeovers at each stopover.
The crew will have the majority of the responsibility in the running of the boat, navigating, sailing as fast as possible and also organising provisions and cooking on board.
The skipper and mate are there in case of emergency and to help guide the crew.
“If you’re a circumnavigator all you’re doing for a year is sailing these boats and so you become very adept at it,” Mary said.
“Therefore you help train new crew into how you run things on your boat; this takes some pressure off the skipper and allows the whole boat to become faster.
“Watch leaders are selected by the skipper from the crew and these people are in charge of their watch, they will call sail changes etc. in the place of the skipper.”
Mary has undergone a rigorous training regime to prepare for the event.
There are four levels of training, each one a week long, and to progress onto each level you have to pass an assessment from your skipper involving your physical capabilities and your seamanship.
No matter how much sailing you’ve previously done, everyone must complete the clipper training.
All the training is based in Gosport, Hampshire, where Clipper HQ is. They sail in the Solent and out into the English Channel to find the rougher waves and more wind.
Teams remain on the boat for the entire week, and in the cases of Level 2 and 4 don’t come in to harbour but continue sailing throughout the night.
Level 4 will be completed in May once the crews have been decided.
Mary grew up in Scotforth, attending Scotforth St Paul’s Primary and Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School before going to Cardiff University to study English language and communication.
Her parents both worked at Dalton Square GP surgery for more than 20 years before leaving last July to live in Islay, Scotland, for a few years.
Mary’s two brothers and sister all played a lot of sport locally, and Mary herself played hockey from the age of seven for Lancaster Hockey Club and represented Lancashire consistently from age 13-17. Mary now lives in Kuwait, where she works as a fitness instructor.
“It’s an easy place to save money for sailing, although I wouldn’t recommend it as a holiday destination,” she said. “I miss the green and rain of home.”
Mary has enjoyed sailing since she was a youngster.
“My mum grew up sailing with her dad so since we were kids we’ve had days on Coniston Water in our little dinghy trying to figure out how to sail,” she said.
“I’ve always enjoyed it but I can’t say I really knew how to sail, it was more chance if I ever found any wind!
“I love being outdoors and active, especially on water, so the idea of a physical challenge involving sailing really appealed to me.
“On the training weeks it seems I am able to get the hang of things quite quickly, and in my personal debriefs with skippers I’ve been commended on it and suggested to be put forward as a watch leader.
“My dad actually pointed this event out to me; the 17/18 race had just left from Liverpool so there was quite a bit in the press about it.
“I had just moved back home from Cardiff having decided I wanted a career change from personal training and I think he saw it as something that would push me out of my comfort zone and would make me realise what I was capable of.
“It came at the perfect point as I have nothing holding me back from going away for a year currently, no kids or set career path, so I decided to go for it and if it all goes tits up at least I’ll have learnt something from it.”
Mary attended an information day and interview in Gosport, and then had to pass her Level 1 training before her place was confirmed.
“They’re not looking to see how good at sailing you are, but more how you’re personality would stand up to the challenge, not massively the physical side of it as you can prepare for it,” she said.
“The main issue is what you’d be like as part of the crew; you have up to 22 people in a very small space, and tensions are bound to rise at some point. People are cold, tired, wet and missing home, and on top of that you have practically no privacy.
“You have to be a certain type of person to keep positive and not get irritated and argumentative in that situation.”
In order to be able to take part in the challenge, Mary has to raise £49,500 and is currently two-thirds of the way towards her target.
She is currently fundraising, and is also looking for sponsors who can help out.
To find out more about how Mary is getting on, or to support her through fundraising or sponsorship, go to https://maryvaughanjones.wordpress.com/