Harrogate woman swaps running a nursery to set sail on dramatic yacht adventure

Sue Ball's yacht, PSP Logistics, arrives in Cape Town, South Africa, after crossing the Stormhoek Race to Cape of Storms finish line.
Sue Ball's yacht, PSP Logistics, arrives in Cape Town, South Africa, after crossing the Stormhoek Race to Cape of Storms finish line.

Gap years are usually associated with clueless graduates looking for adventure before settling into the world of the work.

But for 57-year-old Sue Ball, hers has come a little later in life than most. And there is no cushy hostels or sandy beaches - it really is an adventure, and one of great toil.

She has embarked on the 40,000 mile Clipper Round the World yacht race, setting off on the 11-month circumnavigation of the globe with a bunch of strangers on September 1.

As the organisers put it, the sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices - there is nowhere to escape the elements, and that has certainly come true for Mrs Ball in the first two legs of the challenge.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post from Cape Town before setting off on the third leg to Albany in Western Australia on Saturday, Mrs Ball, of Harrogate, said the challenge had already exceeded her expectations.

“Before we started I had no experience at all, it was a leap into the dark for me,” she said. “Despite the training, on leg one I still couldn’t really sail, but by the end of this leg, I am feeling more confident.

“By the end of the next leg I will be able to call myself a sailor.”

In reality, there is no room for dead weight in the Clipper race. Each of the 20 or so crew members onboard her yacht is vitally important, taking shifts of between three and six hours to work and sleep. The first leg took them from St Katherine Dock in London to Rio de Janerio, crossing the Atlantic over three weeks. After a brief stop, they set off to Cape Town.

It is quite a journey from the Killinghall nursery school she ran for 15 years.

It was selling the business, ironically named ‘Setting Sail Day Nursery’, that sparked the idea. It was a sports car or a boat race, Mrs Ball said. Four weeks of training, many trips to the gym and pilates classes, and she was ready.

“The first leg, to Rio, was an easy one. There weren’t any waves or big seas, and then we had five days before setting off for Cape Town,” she said.

That trip, however, proved to be much tougher just a few hours in. A sail, that was down on the deck was knocked off board by waves, breaking a guard rail. Then one of the mast supports broke, forcing the crew to turn back to port to make repairs.

Mrs Ball said: “Altogether we lost 12 hours. Getting to Cape Town took 16 days and was much more challenging as there were high seas, constantly having to change sails, but even with our initial delay, we managed to get back in eighth position.”

Getting to shore did not mean the hard work finished. It takes two days to clean the boat and get it ready for the next journey, and get it stocked up for crossing ahead. Then there’s meeting their new crew mates, as some chose to just spend one or two legs of the race. Mrs Ball however, is in it for the entirety, until July.

She said: “I did manage to get two days off in Cape Town, and even went to a spa for a massage. My mum, husband, sister and brother-in-law have come out to meet us here so there has been a chance to meet up with them too.

“They have been so supportive, and I think the trip has really captured their imaginations.”

After getting to Albany, it’s off to Sydney to take part in the Sydney to Hobart race, then to Vietnam, China, Seattle, New York, and then back to Europe.

“This next leg is the one everyone dreads,” she added.

“So far it’s much harder than I thought it would been but I wish I’d done it 20 years ago.”