‘Have you always wanted to do this?’ is more often than not the first question people ask me when they learn about my plans to compete in the 2013 OSTAR (Original Singlehanded TransAtlantic Race), to which I often answer in true snarky geek fashion ‘No, of course not’ before establishing that what my questioner actually wants to know is for how long have I wanted to do it. That’s a more difficult question to answer.
I can’t say for sure when I first learned about the OSTAR, which has been organised on average every 4 years since its debut in 1960 by the Royal Western Yacht Club of England. But I definitely remember in Autumn 2008, as Rupert and I began the long rebuild of his Quarter Tonner yacht in a boat shed in Cowes, becoming intrigued by the boat next to his, a J/105 being fixed up by a 17 year old kid who was planning to race it in the 2009 OSTAR.
We got to know Oscar Mead over the following months, during which time he turned 18, the minimum required age to compete. On the May Bank Holiday weekend Rupert and I travelled down to Plymouth to wave Oscar off at the start. As we were driven around Plymouth Sound on one of the big spectator boats before the start, cheering each competitor as they sailed by, I felt that same funny feeling I felt the first time I was a spectator at a marathon.
It was a mixture of admiration and awe for what the competitors were undertaking, curiosity about what it would feel like to be in their shoes, and the frankly unsettling germ of a realisation that I could, if I was so minded, someday do the same. And as if he had read my mind, Rupert turned to me and said ‘if you wanted to, you could be here in four years’.
It seemed a ridiculous idea when voiced, but then so did the idea that I might run a marathon the first time I spoke about it. Less than a year before my first marathon I had never run more than a mile without stopping. But if I learned anything from that experience, it was that the mind is the most important muscle to develop when working towards a challenge such as a marathon. Belief in that can take you on many unexpected adventures.