by Marina Thomas
From communicating news on medevacs, man overboards, hurricanes, an unfortunate collision, piracy plans and shortened races, there is never a dull day at Clipper Round the World Yacht Race HQ.
Experiencing the highs and the lows of the sailors through their extreme tales of human endeavour and working out how best to interest media on their feats has been an incredible journey for me as well, and I only fly, not sail, to the ports.
As a press officer, it is my job to communicate all race news to media round the world, our official sponsors and friends and family who avidly follow the race on social media.
With the dangers and unpredictability associated with the race and in the digital age, when something untoward has happened, a quick public response is needed to reassure all parties.
I myself have followed the race since I was a child, when I used to go and watch the sailors start the race off the English coast on my parent’s boat.
I dreamt of sailing off with them, and when I grew up and became a journalist, I did stories on the ‘Race of your life’, and after a lot of persistence, persuaded the Clipper Race to give me a job.
The job combined my love of sailing, travel and media and I chased it as hard as I could. I have been the race’s press officer for a year now, after freelancing for the organization out in Australia as well.
No day is ever the same, but one thing that is certain when in the UK HQ is I will always be editing the skippers’ daily reports and writing the race daily update report with the latest tactics and who is winning.
While in the UK office, I also answer press enquiries from around the world, engage media in the countries we visit before arrival, plan events for stopovers, edit crew diaries, come up with PR ideas for sponsors and write features on the race for press and social media amongst many other jobs.
Being at a race stopover abroad and working with foreign media who may be new to the race is the best part of the job. Stopovers are a very special place, and seeing the sailors come in braver, stronger (and hairier and stinkier..!) and then hearing their stories in the bar afterwards makes pitching to media easy.
In Brisbane, Australia, I filmed a man being welcomed in with his team in second place who hadn’t seen his sons or wife in five months since he started the race. It was a heartwarming moment to witness the happy reunion at 2am and the ensuing pictures and interview went down a treat with his local media.
But anyone imagining that the life of a PR officer travelling the globe is glamorous is mistaken.
I have spent many a long, cold night waiting for the boats to arrive only to be delayed by hours by a wind hole, or in fact speed up so I have to leap out of bed at 1.30am and be at the marina within 20 minutes.
In San Francisco, a pile of foulies on the floor of our portacabin office was my bed for a 40 minute nap as I pulled an all-nighter with the top boats arriving in every few hours as I did photos and interviews.
Journalists too are also surprised at how unglamorous the stripped-out yachts are when I give them a tour ahead of filming on board.
I remember a stylish Australian TV reporter’s look of shock when she finally realized I was not lying about the fact there is no shower on board and for the vast majority of time at sea, wet wipes must suffice.
Working to get media on the race so they can experience the thrills of ocean racing and the extreme conditions for themselves for the best reports has been a climax for me during the Clipper 2013-14 Race.
Seeing nine media berther reporters come back alive (and mostly happy) and reading/watching their stories after the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in Australia was incredibly satisfying.
I was also emotional watching the journalists come in knowing they had achieved something remarkable and had been part of something very special.
Australian Body+Soul editor Gemma Sutherland summed up her life-changing experience in her article. “I’m in shock about what I’ve just done. I feel nothing but relief, numbness and exhaustion that’s so overwhelming it has consumed every inch of me.
“I braced myself in storms as the boat heeled over and I hauled heavy sails in the screaming wind and rain. The physical effort has punished my body in a way I’ve never known and I’m covered in bruises. I’ve ripped off two fingernails, had blistered lips and only 10 hours of sleep in almost five days. But the elation that’s been bubbling underneath and threatening to burst through has seen its chance.
“This experience has taught me that life is there to be lived, and we need to create our own adventures and challenges to appreciate what we have. A dry bed and normal toilet aren’t things I was consciously grateful for before.
“I’m proud – of what I’ve achieved, of the fact I had the guts to do it, and of the crew who took me under their wing to help me get there.”
Marina Thomas is the Clipper Race’s press officer and enjoys living out of a suitcase while travelling as much as possible. She also works as a freelance journalist and is a news addict, London and Sydney lover, trance music aficionado and sports and adventure nut. Her website: http://www.marinathomas.com/