Wednesday 21 February 2018

Hardship on the high seas

 

Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy won’t be living in the lap of luxury on her eight-month race around the world. Photo credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane
Olympic medallist Annalise Murphy won’t be living in the lap of luxury on her eight-month race around the world. Photo credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Sam Wheeler

In many ways, the VO 65 class yacht in which Annalise Murphy is about to race around the world for the next eight months is the Ferrari of the sailboat world: built for speed, cutting-edge design and looks great, but you wouldn't want to live in one.

There are few concessions to luxury on board Murphy's 65-foot Turn the Tide on Plastic. For up to 23 days and nights at a stretch, the Olympic silver medallist will be time-sharing a bed - which she says is really "a carbon-fibre bunk-hammock thing" - with a colleague on the opposite watch.

If this sounds unappetising, consider that there are no showers on board. You can't even have a scrub with a hot flannel. "Biodegradable baby wipes," says Murphy, who is taking a 12-month break from Laser dinghies to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Each of the 10 crew members has a baggage allowance of 11kg, "and that includes your thermals, your clothes, a pair of shorts for when it's hot - because you're dealing with every weather condition." Not a lot of room for sun-cream and holiday books, then. Mobile phones are banned.

Grime

You get the impression Murphy, the antithesis of a diva, will have no problem coping with the lack of comfort and a bit of grime. She describes herself as a good sleeper, and she has no concerns about being able to grab forty winks whenever she gets the opportunity on her 45,000-mile itinerary, from Alicante to the Hague, via Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong (twice), Auckland, Brazil, Rhode Island, Cardiff and Gothenburg.

She suffers from seasickness, which afflicts a surprisingly high number of elite sailors, but says it goes away after the first 24 hours of a journey, and can be counteracted by pills.

Food, though, could be the biggest issue. Because Murphy is something of a gourmand. At the start of the year, she spent three months at the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School, breezing through the course. And now she is faced with the prospect of 23 days of three freeze-dried meals a day.

"From Ballymaloe to freeze-dried food - Darina Allen will be devastated!" she says. "It's all different things - porridge, scrambled eggs, chicken curry, pasta… It's high-calorie. Each freeze-dry pack is 800-1200cals."

She insists that this stuff is "pretty tasty" but concedes that there are plenty of things she'll miss.

"Fresh fruit and veg," she says. "And you'll start to miss food with texture. Because everything is like porridge."

Because the weight of everything on board has to be so tightly controlled, the team only caters for one day above the scheduled journey time, so if the boat is delayed by two days, the crew go hungry.

"But everyone doesn't always eat all their food," says Murphy, brightly. Yum. Leftover, freeze-dried scrambled egg.

This is a woman with a professed love of food and cooking who would like to work in the food industry when she finishes up with top-level sailing; a woman who admits she was "hangry" for six months in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics because she had to diet to maintain the optimum weight for Laser racing - about 10kg lighter than she would otherwise be.

Sailing 65-footers, upper-body strength is paramount, with the crew having to shift two tonnes of equipment from one side of the boat to the other every time they 'tack' or 'jibe', and she has spent the last month or so building up her arms to impressive dimensions.

Dublin-born Murphy did the Ballymaloe course partly with an eye on the future, and partly to take a break from Laser racing and from the attention that surrounded her after her Rio success -unfailingly modest, she is uncomfortable talking about how great she is.

"I love cooking," she says. "I needed to do something different. I didn't just want to be this sailor-athlete. There weren't many Irish people on the course. Most people didn't know who I was. No-one asked me questions.

"I'd like to be involved in food somehow when I finish sailing. I really enjoyed the course. I guess I'm kind of competitive, so I've always wanted to do everything as well as I could. I was really into cooking anyway, my entire life, cooking and baking. I realised pretty quickly on the course that I had a pretty good idea of what was going on."

Murphy barely got in a boat for those 12 weeks, but she assiduously followed her strength and conditioning programme, and hit the, er, water running when she returned in April as she built towards the World Championships in August - which to her chagrin, she ended up missing with a knee injury.

She was the first-placed woman at the Moth World Championships (a class of dinghy) in Lake Garda in July, holding her own against the men. It might appear that sailing is a sport where men and women could compete on an equal footing, but Murphy argues that men have an advantage.

"I think I'm probably as good a strategist and tactician, on my good days, as any man, which is really cool. But physically, I'm not going to be as strong. I work really hard but a guy who works as hard as I do, is going to be stronger. It's a fact. And strength is an advantage.

"Also, guys are generally more aggressive on the water. When I was racing in the gold fleet (deciding the medal places), I was the only woman against 70 men, and I was a little bit intimidated by how aggressive they all were. But only on the water - they weren't shouting or anything, just the way they were racing.

Physical

"Laser is probably the most physical dinghy class, along with Finn. It's fun to compete against the guys and try to beat them, but I wouldn't want to have to all the time - they are just physically stronger. Would I be an Olympic medallist if had to compete against men? Oh no."

In the Volvo Ocean Race, the seven competing teams have been incentivised to have women on board: crews can be seven men, or seven men and two women, or five men and five women in the case of Turn the Tide on Plastic. The boat, sponsored by the Clean Seas Trust, is part of a campaign to raise awareness about ocean pollution. It's a cause Murphy is passionate about: she automatically picks up any litter she passes in the street.

Murphy says she has already established a good rapport with her crew-mates, which is just as well given how much time she's going to be spending with them while she puts the rest of her life on hold for eight months.

"It's going to be a bit weird leaving your life behind," she says. "I'll miss my friends and family; I've got brilliant friends. But my parents and brother and sister are planning to visit when we're in port (the gaps between legs are generally around a fortnight, although there is in-port racing)."

And it's not just people she can catch up with. "We've got containers with our stuff going ahead of us," she says, already excited at the prospect. "So I'll have a suitcase with clean, human clothes when I arrive in each port - and shampoo!"

Annalise Murphy is an ambassador for Liberty Insurance

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