A Scotswoman sailing around the world will this year be celebrating Burns Night at sea.
Gillian Donald (50), from Edinburgh, has just completed half of what she considers to be ‘the biggest challenge of her life’ – the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, as part of the Imagine Your Korea crew.
She enthused: ‘It’s been a huge privilege.’
Accountant Gillian has swapped crunching numbers for undertaking a full circumnavigation of the globe as part of the Imagine Your Korea team. She recently spent Christmas and New Year at sea and is set to celebrate Burns Night at sea too, with some traditional Scottish shortbread stashed away to indulge in.
Her journey started in London in August 2019 and onwards to Portugal, Uruguay, South Africa and Australia and is now racing to China.
In total, by the end of the race, she will have sailed over 40,000 nautical miles. Whilst this is not Gillian’s first rodeo when it comes to sailing, this is without doubt the biggest challenge that she has participated in.
She said: ‘My previous experience was on the inshore waters of Scotland, and I signed up for the Clipper Race for the sailing rather than the endurance. The previous experience I had was local to Scotland, but it still gave me an understanding of the physical nature of sailing at 45 degrees.
‘The challenge of living at that angle is well explained in the rigorous training that the Clipper Race provides but it was still the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken by some way.
‘I am glad to have signed up for the full circumnavigation because the physical aspects get easier with each leg and you can enjoy the sailing more when you are comfortable moving around the boat above and below decks.
‘I’m also glad I did balance and flexibility training before starting. It gave me a good foundation for staying safe when moving around the boat.’
Aside from the sailing, Gillian admits she wanted to strike while the iron was hot: ‘I had known about it for a few years before signing up and promised myself I would do a leg one day. My thinking was that I would do it when I retired at around 55, but a knee injury in late 2015 made me realise I couldn’t take my health for granted and needed to do it asap.’
Gillian believes the four weeks of intensive training she undertook before her global adventure prepared her for the epic task ahead.
She explained: ‘There are three components to the training: social, intellectual and physical. It provided an excellent foundation for the technical aspects of Clipper Race sailing.
‘My friends and family think I’m brave and adventurous and are proud of me. The team aspect of the Clipper Race (our crew, on shore maintenance team, race office – the whole set up) has been important to me. This is not something I would ever be able to do alone.
‘I’ve also really missed family and friends, much more than I thought, and am glad of the ability to phone and email back home from some of the most remote parts of the world from the boat.’
Without a doubt, Gillian and her teammates have formed a strong bond: ‘There is a great team spirit here and I have enjoyed almost every moment of it!’
When asked about her favourite memories at sea so far, Gillian finds it hard to pinpoint just one standout memory.
She recalled: ‘I have so many, how about: Our first scoring gate points? Possibly seeing dolphins as the sun rose on the day, we crossed the equator. The stars? Or coming second in the last race? Conquering the Southern Ocean? Christmas lunch at sea?
‘So many of these experiences are because of being with this crew on this boat and when I think of them, my memories are of celebrations with my crewmates. I owe my fellow Round the World-ers a huge debt for the energy and commitment they give to our race every day and the positive energy that produces for us to continue to be our best.’
Could celebrating Burns Night be another fantastic memory to treasure? Gillian thinks so, but there could well be a slight twist in the tale.
She laughed: ‘Well, Burns Night coincides with the Korean New Year, so I’ll be deferring to my Korean buddies for cultural input! I didn’t think my crewmates would appreciate a full haggis dinner, it’s hotter than the sun here just now, but some home-made shortbread might make an appearance.’
Now, she has passed the midway point of the race, how does Gillian think she has changed as a result of taking part in the race?
She said: ‘I’m more relaxed. My concentration has improved, interestingly. I think I’ve become tougher in some respects and softer in others. My perspective has shifted to suit the leg/stopover nature of my life. I can sleep through pretty much anything!’
The Clipper Race is a 41,165 nautical mile circumnavigation which takes eleven months to complete. Crew can choose to race around the world or take part in one of more of the eight individual stages with the global route. Each team, led by a professional skipper and first mate, is crewed by everyday people, from all walks
of life and representing 43 different nationalities.
The Clipper Race pulls into ports of call along the way. So far, the race has called into Portion, Portugal, Punta del Este, Uruguay, Cape Town, South Africa, Fremantle and the Whitsundays, Australia and will continue to; Sanya, China; Subic Bay, Philippines; Zhuhai and Qingdao, China; Seattle and New York, USA; Hamilton, Bermuda; Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland before finishing back in London’s Royal Albert Dock in August 2020.
Find out more at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/