IAN WALKER REVEALS ALL AT CREWSAVER HQ
10 August 2015

Q: What was your best stop-over?

A: Well, I’m paid to say Abu Dhabi, but no, it wasn’t! Well, I think that’s a really unfair question, because they are all very different. Different parts of the world, you remember for different things. Some places have great food, some haven’t. Some places are really pretty, really friendly people but to cut a long story short, I think personally, I enjoyed Newport most, because of the enthusiasm. It seemed like everybody who went there all loved sailing, they all had questions and they all wanted to buy merchandise and get autographs and see the boats and there was a real buzz about Newport. As a sailor, that’s what you like, when you feel that people are passionately interested in what you’re doing. So I’d probably say Newport. I mean we’re lucky; we get to see all the parts of the world, it’s one of the great privileges.

Q: You must see some fantastic wildlife?

A: It’s amazing how little you see, if I’m brutally honest! Of course, generally the wildlife lives on the land, so in the middle of the ocean, very often you go for days without seeing anything other than maybe birds. I mean albatrosses are my favourite animals, my daughters will tell you, and albatrosses will follow you for days on end it seems like down in the southern ocean. But yes, we see whales, and tons of dolphins, or sea rats as we call them! But whales, we’re a bit worried about because of course we can crash into them. So on the one hand we are excited to see them but on the other hand we’re like aargh there’s whales about! I saw a whale about the same size as our boat at one point, it was about a boat length away!

Q: What was your scariest moment at sea?

A: Well, it was actually on the last race; we had two. On the first night of the last race, our mast broke, in the dark. It came crashing down but didn’t hit anyone, so that was a bit of a worry. We also had in that race when we were sailing from New Zealand to Chile. We weren’t supposed to be going to Chile, we were supposed to be going to Brazil, round Cape Horn, but halfway across the southern ocean, basically the boat side started disintegrating, the side started delaminating, 1500 miles from land. We didn’t end up taking on water, but there was a period when it started happening, and we were like “we’re in a bit of trouble here”. We spoke to the Chilean Coastguard to ask for assistance and the nearest boat was 1000 miles away! It was a weeks sailing to safety. To cut a long story short, we ended up tipping the boat on it’s side and drilling 32 holes in the bottom of the boat, and bolting the skins back together. In terms of the strangest things I’ve ever done in a boat, tipping it on its side, 1500 miles from land and drilling holes in the bottom is right up there! Just before we did it, I was like “are we really sure about this?!” Literally someone was in the bottom of the boat with a battery drill and someone is on the other side ready to put the nuts on bolts!

Q: Can you explain how it feels to be out there, in the middle of nowhere, going at that speed?

A: Well, we get used to it but I have to say, when it’s windy and very dark, you do sometimes think to yourself, this is ridiculous! Because obviously you can’t see where you’re going, but you rely on the fact that there’s nothing there. You rely on the fact that if there was a fishing boat or something, it would have a light on it, but you are sort of playing a game of Russian Roulette where the odds are very much in your favour. In certain parts of the world, particularly the Far East, Vietnam, China, you get a lot of unlit wooden fishing boats. And of course there’s a lot of debris in the sea. Containers, trees. I’ve seen a cow, fridge freezers, navigation buoys that have broken free in America that are now off the coast of Spain drifting around and have been there for 5 years. There’s stuff you can hit so you need a bit of luck. How can I explain it? I don’t know, maybe try….no don’t try this. I was going to say, try driving home with your lights off. But no, don’t try that! There’s also a certain beauty. We see fantastic starry skies, middle of the Indian Ocean, no light pollution, just perfect starry skies, it’s nice weather, you’re in your shorts and t-shirt, the race is going well and you know, life is good. But it’s also a little bit strange as you’re so cut off from the world. Everyone is so addicted to their phones and computers now, but we don’t get internet. We can get email so my wife and my daughters, we can email each other, but I can’t go on line and read a news paper. People can send the sport – I have to get the West Ham scores, obviously or I wouldn’t survive! But it is kind of strange being detached from the world like that.

Q: What speeds do you get up to?

A: Well, they never sound very impressive compared to cars, but we did the 24 hour record for this race which was 550 miles, 23 kts, which is 26 miles an hour. It sounds slow, right? But it is actually fast in a boat because when it’s windy you get big waves and it gets very hard because it gets rough and then you’re jumping off waves and smashing yourself to pieces. You get to the point where it’s hard to stand up. Down below we have to move around almost like monkeys swinging from handholds because you just can’t stand up. You’d just fall flat on your face when you went over a wave, which is not good if you’re holding a kettle of boiling water!!

Q: Do you take turns in cooking?

A: Actually, we all cooked our own food. Well, when I say cook, we eat freeze dried food, so cooking means tipping boiling water into a bag of dried food. Even I can do that! In fact some of the freeze-dried meals are better than I would manage if I cooked at home! Normally what happens on these teams is that people do communal meals, so you cook maybe for four people, and there’d be food in the pot and you help yourself. Sometimes it would be cold or wouldn’t be what you wanted. So one of the things we did was individual menus, so everyone chose their food and it was individually packaged and everyone makes their own.

Q: Do you actually switch off when it’s your turn to sleep?

A: Well, it’s not my strong point. I sleep right by the Nav Station computer. You sleep with one eye open because you’re worried about the wind or whatever. As a skipper, when it’s windy, it’s quite hard to sleep because you’re nervous about breaking stuff or what’s going to happen. And also, if you’re in a tactical situation and you thing you may have made a mistake or you need the wind to shift right or left, you’re waiting for something to happen. It’s a critical part of the race it’s a bit like waiting for your exam results you struggle, but then you get to the point you get so tired you just sleep. Sometimes when it’s really bad it’s best just to go to sleep – when the going gets tough, the tough go to sleep!

Q: How do you and your team train and prep for such a massive event.

A: Well we all came together in February so 6 months before the start; so we did 6 months training. Of that, 4 weeks was ashore in training camps, so we do 3 weeks on, 1 week off, so we did 4 months of that. We did that 6 days a week, half is weight-based training and half is aerobic. We might do weight training three times a week, circuit training because that’s fun with the whole team – almost team building. Well, it’s fun for the younger blokes, it’s not much fun for me! And then, maybe a team bike ride once a week, but we cancelled that as we were worried about injuries.

Q: Are you going to do it again or are you going to do a different challenge?

A: I can’t answer that because my wife’s here!! No, no I am NOT going to do it again!! I don’t know, I’m not getting any younger, and the boats are getting more and more physical and the race is getting tougher and closer and it does take a lot out of you mentally and physically, especially if you’re the skipper, mentally. First you’ve got to be asked, you have to raise the money yourself for the team, so you might not have a decision to make. We know so much about it now, I’d love to be involved again, I’d love to run a team, coach a team, maybe be involved in some shape or form on the sailing side, but I don’t really want the full commitment. It is hard especially being away from the family, I think was at home for 50 days in the year. I need to be at home to keep my daughters in check!!

Ian also thanked the Crewsaver team for the part they played in keeping him and his team safe during the race