There is nothing quite like the ocean to shrink your worries. There’s something about being next to something so big that makes even the greatest traumas feel a little bit smaller.
I grew up in the countryside in Devon and nature was my playground. It makes me smile when people talk about wild swimming – for us, that was just swimming! That was the norm, then we’d say we were ‘going to the swimming pool’, to make the distinction on the rare occasion that it was needed.
As a teenager, I was desperate to get out of the village I grew up in – with it’s sparse and unreliable bus timetable and where everyone knew my name. I headed off to university in London, enthralled by the anonymity, lights, noise and endless possibilities.
I arrived and felt like it was where I belonged. I found my tribe of smart, campaigning, funny women. I found my calling: working in early-stage tech start-ups – a job I hadn’t even known existed before coming to London.
One thing I’ve learnt is that the landscapes of our childhood map onto us in profound and sometimes surprising ways. When I experienced trauma in my mid-twenties, the city had none of the answers for me. It suddenly felt loud and harsh. I yearned for the sea.
I went back home and stood on the edge of the ocean with my mother, the wind tangling our hair and the salt spray leaving our skin gritty. Hiking the steep cliffs makes your heart pound so hard that it temporarily forgets to ache.
It helped but it wasn’t enough. This time I needed a bigger dose of the ocean to heal me. So, I signed up to sail across the Atlantic – having never sailed before. This felt like such an extraordinary challenge that it would exist beyond my pain.
During the two years of preparation, I met so many other people like me. People who had been drawn to the race, after facing great trauma or transition in their lives – deaths, divorces, other losses.
This initially surprised me (I suppose grief can do this to you, make you feel unique and alone in your experience) but then, of course, it makes perfect sense. Signing up for something so extraordinary and dangerous requires both push and pull factors.
During the race, there were times when we were closer to the people on the International Space Station than the people on land. There is no light pollution, so the stars shine brightly – transitioning from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere constellations as we progressed on our journey.
Out in the ocean, nature is abounding. Sholes of bright-green phosphorescent plankton move around the boat in blobs, broken by large pods of dolphins dancing around the bow – their muscular bodies flexing and glistening.
Sailing across the Atlantic (the long way – UK to Uruguay!) was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Being up against the elements, with your fellow crew members, shows us what we are truly capable of. It also provides a beautiful reminder that we are lucky to be alive, that this planet is extraordinary and that – ultimately – we have to accept that we are not in control. I will forever go back to the ocean to be reminded of that.
Hannah Thomson, Founder CEO