Completing a long-held ambition, and one that seemed for most of my life a completely unrealistic one, has been hard to adjust to.
It is now over a year since I took part in Global Challenge, the only race that sails around the world against prevailing winds. The 19-strong crew of ‘Imagine it Done’, all amateurs, raced against 11 identical 70-foot, steel yachts. We finished in 10th place, having had one of our crew rescued following a serious injury.
Adventure has always been important to me, and I admit that I felt a sudden loss at the end of the race, but have since adjusted and put it into a healthier perspective. It was a magnificent year.
I now have my own boat, about half the size of a Challenge yacht. My wife and I sail in a more sedate manner these days. We spend at least a weekend a month sailing and three weeks of annual holiday. Next summer we will sail up to the Western Isles to explore the fantastic coastline. I also continue to rock climb, and this winter I hope to cross the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland on a ski mountaineering trip to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Back in rural practice
One week after crossing the finishing line in Portsmouth, I returned to my post as a full-time partner in a rural practice. The first four weeks back at work had a honeymoon quality; it was rather a novelty to be practicing medicine once again. Then it became very apparent that driving a desk, unsurprisingly, had none of the excitement of ocean racing.
But I am slowly starting to enjoy my life as a GP again, and accepting that my future adventures will be smaller ones.
The 10-month sabbatical for the race was agreed by my three medical partners and my wife — I remain indebted to them.
My income all went in pay for my locum, so the financial damage would have been spectacular had it not been for sponsorship and earning money writing for organisations during the race.
When I returned, most patients wanted to talk more about the race than medicine. About once a month I give ‘the lecture’ to anyone who will have me, while raising money for the local hospice.
I have some intense memories of the race. It would be impossible to forget the first storm off Portugal, which we sailed directly into the centre of, our hearts in our mouths. And the force 10 storm in restricted waters off the River Plate, approaching Buenos Aires.
Around Cape Horn was the aperitif for a storm of up to 55 knots with towering, powerful waves stretching to every horizon. A gust of wind rotated the 40-tonne boat through 45° as we sat poised on top of a wave. Things were on the very edge of control.
Being away for 10 months also meant that I missed my daughter’s 18th birthday, her final exams at school and various crises at home that every family goes through. Was it justifiable? I believe so. It was a very different experience for my family, but it drew us together despite being so far apart. I emailed my wife daily via the satellite system on the yacht. My family also joined me at various ports. And in Portsmouth, across the finishing line, a once-in-a-lifetime collection of family and friends greeted me off the yacht.
I packed away my box of photos, cuttings and memorabilia of the race on the day that the organisers, Challenge Business, went into receivership. It is unlikely there will be any more races, so the 800 amateur participants may remain a small and unique group, of which I am proud to be associated.
Dr Roche is a GP in Wadhurst, East Sussex