ARC participants pushing personal boundaries

17 November 2017

Start day is right around the corner and it’s all systems go in Las Palmas as months of planning finally come together. Every crew here has a story to tell about why they are sailing with the rally and it's fascinating to hear all the different experiences and history behind what has brought them to sail with ARC 2017. Down on the docks we caught up with couple of interesting crews from different sides of the world who have set themselves the challenge of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Against all odds
When Claire Schoemaker was 18, she had a life-changing powerboat accident which left her with partial paralysis in her legs. She was wheelchair-bound for a year and after surgery and rehabilitation was told that she probably wouldn’t walk again! Now aged 30, this highly determined and focused young Australian didn’t let go of her dream to live aboard a boat and to sail to far off places. She met her husband Brenton and together they set about looking into the possibility of making it happen. It’s an inspiring story as they have had to overcome numerous obstacles along the way, and they both admit it has been a tough and challenging journey:

“We started planning for this in 2009 and that was when we first chartered a catamaran to see whether Claire would be able to cope with it,” says Brenton. “We had to make sure that the platform would work for Claire and we decided that it was, so saved up and worked hard for a number of years in order to fulfil our ambition and make Claire’s childhood dream a reality.”

Their choice of boat was vitally important and they are more than happy with their new Nautitech Open 40 catamaran as it gives the stability needed to allow Claire to move around with relative ease. Luckily, she still has 40% use of her muscles below her waist and has learnt to adapt to the conditions on board, especially in rougher conditions where she usually stays down below during sail changes. Claire, a speech therapist and visual artist and Brenton an oil and gas exploration geologist are both taking a long break from their fulltime jobs in order to pursue this amazing adventure.

“I would say to others who are facing adversity of any sort, how much do you really want to achieve your chosen goal or dream? It’s obviously harder if you have something against you, but if you really want to do it and you love it, then there are ways around most things. You just work through the obstacles, one by one,” says Claire.

After picking up Aedis in La Rochelle, they have sailed double handed for 6,000 nautical miles to reach Las Palmas for the start of the ARC and will be sailing with family and friends, before continuing to Adelaide, Australia.

“Before we bought the boat we decided that our first big crossing would be with the ARC to have the support and the organisation,” explains Claire. “The whole ARC community and meeting a lot of like-minded people doing the same thing is great. This has been a longtime dream for me and the whole thing I’ve taken away from my accident is that you have no idea what is going to happen, and if you can do what you want to do, then just do it! Follow their adventures online:

From the world’s highest mountains to the Atlantic ocean
Facing a different kind of personal challenge will be Katrina ‘Kat’ Follows who is an extreme athlete and adventurer, more used to climbing the likes of Everest or going unaided to the North or South Poles, than sailing across an ocean.

“I usually like to have my feet firmly on the ground (or mountain), but I wanted to learn all about this sailing thing,” explains Kat who will be crossing with an experienced crew on her father’s Oyster 56, Chantana.

“I’m here for the ARC because I know nothing about sailing, so this is a completely new experience for me. I’ve skied to the North Pole, done a full South Pole crossing this year, and become the first British women to ski unsupported on the Fuchs-Messner route to the South Pole. I decided after doing all the polar travel and climbing Mount Everest and 8,000 metre peaks, that sailing was something that I knew nothing about and wanted to try. I’m trying to inspire other women to do more and to just have a go.”

Kat is worried about not being able to do her usual 25k runs up the mountain or climbs each day during the three week crossing on a 53ft boat: “One of the hardest aspects on this crossing for me is not being able to exercise properly. It will also be the same for Carlton Rowlands, a long-distance runner who competes in such events like the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, the pinnacle of the trial running sport. Not being able to exercise in the way that I do usually is going to be challenging. We will do sit-ups and things, but it’s not cardio.”

Kat is looking forward to learning as much about sailing as she can during the ARC and is a firm believer in learning on the job. “I will be part of a great crew with a good team spirit; all with one common goal of wanting to sail the Atlantic. It’ll be great to muck in and be part of the watch rota. I’m looking forward to the night watches and we’ll have a sextant on board so I’ll be learning how to use that. I’m going to use this time at sea to discover if I like sailing. I’m feeling very excited about the start and I feel really honoured to be part of it.”