Vendee Globe Article

Virtual Regatta | Tuesday 04 December 2012, 16:35

Yesterday was the United Nation’s International Day of People with Disabilities. In celebration, we got in touch with one of the best Virtual Sailors out there to talk about his experience of virtual sailing and what it means to him. Chris sails "Whitbyweather" in the Vendee Globe Race and will be a familiar name to many out there on the virtual high seas. This is his story...

I have been sailing all my life, at first racing dinghies and then in bigger boats with my two sons on family holidays, following in the footsteps of Swallows and Amazons on Lake Windermere. As a Royal Air Force Air Traffic Controller I led a very active life, running and cycling, and when I retired I moved to Whitby in North Yorkshire, hoping to sail in the waters made famous by Captain James Cook. Sadly my dreams were cut short when I developed rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease which destroys the joints. From running four miles a day along the beach I could only walk a few steps.

Desperate to keep busy, I bought a weather station and built a website to publish meteorological information for local yachtsmen and visitors to the town. The website grew very quickly and I soon added a sailing page with details of both local activities and international races.
Later, when writing an article I read about virtual sailing and decided to give it a try and entered the virtual Volvo Ocean Race. To my astonishment my skills as an air traffic controller of angle and speed assessment were very helpful and I found myself leading the race for a terrifying five days, finally finishing in 24th place overall after an absorbing nine months of excitement, tension, tears and a sense of achievement I had not felt since becoming ill.

Above all I made lots of new friends, many have stayed in touch after this first experience and we are now sailing together again in the Vendee. Being ill and housebound can be a lonely experience and the cheerful messages I receive through the day from countries as far apart as the Netherlands and Brazil keep me smiling, even when I am becalmed off the African Coast!

Virtual sailing has brought benefits on a much wider scale, my eldest son lives on the south coast of England and was keen to sail too. Through virtual sailing, I met a lady who lived near to him with a boat who was looking for a crew, and my son now sails with her every weekend! I also met a wonderful retired International sailor who asked me to act as shore-based weather man and advisor to one of the top ocean racing crews in the country. As a result I have been thrilled to help them in the Round Ireland Race, and in breaking the record for the circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland, in storm force conditions! Next year I hope to advise them in the Fastnet race, all from the comfort of my arm chair.

So virtual sailing has given me a new life, I am still very ill and there is no cure, but the excitement of the races and the comradeship of my fellow sailors keep me going on the darkest days.