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Katherine Simpson

Katharine Simpson
Since graduating in 1996, Katharine Simpson (MSc Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry 1993-96) has developed a passion for ocean sailing and is currently taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. She was able to take some time out during the race to answer questions about her experiences.

Alumnus of the month

This month’s featured alumna is Katharine Simpson (MSc Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry 1993-96). Since graduating in 1996, Katharine has developed a passion for ocean sailing and is currently taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. She was able to take some time out during the race to answer questions about her experiences.

Why on earth would you want to do something like this?
I'd like to be able to say that there was a really simple reason like having grown up racing boats I wanted to take it to the next level. That would be a lie. Instead the truth, like all things, is a little more complicated.

One Friday evening back in 1998, I was idly flicking through the television channels and came across a programme about the Whitbread Yacht Round the World Race. As I watched footage of half a dozen men fighting to change a sail during a storm in the Southern Ocean I found I was thinking 'Cool! I wish I could do that'. The experience of tackling a real challenge, the very real and obvious teamwork and the same exhilarating sense of being alive that those men felt as they successfully changed that sail and sailed the boat into port.
How did you get involved?
As a non-sailor (with somewhat limited funding and virtually no sailing experience) this remained a pipe dream until five years ago when I came across Challenge Business. Not only did Challenge run an around the world yacht race for amateur sailors once every four years but they also ran sailing training courses and sailing experience weekends. I figured that it would be best for everyone if I gave sailing a try on a short weekend trip rather than a 10 month voyage and signed up to a taster weekend. Four hours after leaving Southampton I was cold, wet, scared witless and completely hooked.

It was a shortish leap from that weekend to exploring the possibility of actually taking part in an around the World yacht race. The rest is, as they say, history.
Is yacht racing expensive?
I've paid nearly £30,000 to take part. For that we are provided with training, food while we're on the race and during training and a certain amount of branded clothing. Any expenses you incur at stopovers are extra and so is the insurance (£1,059 to be precise). I realise that this costs more than a new BMW/world cruise on the QE2/mortgage deposit but to me there's no contest. The yacht race leaves the BMW struggling to get out of the starting blocks.
Do you get seasick?
Oh yes. I'm told that I go a spectacular shade of grey just as it kicks in (if grey can be a spectacular colour). You name the seasickness remedy and I've tried it. None of them has any real effect.
Is it a real race?
It's very definitely a race and despite what we say in public, deep down we all want to win. Even during training it's horribly competitive. The cheap thrill you get from managing to hoist your sails that bit faster than someone else or racing another yacht past an imaginary mark is phenomenal. Especially if they don't know you're racing them!
What do you win?
The overall race winning boat gets a trophy but apart from that we don't get anything except a sense of achievement.
How much training do you have?
Because the race is open to anyone regardless of whether or not they have sailed before, everyone has to follow Clipper's training programme. The training is split into basic principles of sailing a yacht, developing into a racing sailor, teamwork and tactics and weather and navigation. On top of this I've done a number of other courses to help prepare me including a diesel engine maintenance course, a first aid course, a radar course and a sea survival course.
What drives you?
I don’t want to get to 80 and look back on my life and think ‘Oh I wish I’d done this’ or ‘Why did I pass up on the opportunity to do that?’
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A Caterham Super 7 would be rather nice. Seriously though, life at the moment is pretty good; I have fantastically supportive friends and family (even if they do secretly think I’m several sandwiches short of a full picnic), I’m in the middle of one of the most amazing experiences ever, I’m healthy, fit and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. How on earth could that be improved on?
Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
Ten years ago I’d have laughed at you if you’d suggested I’d one day take part in an around the world yacht race. So who knows what the future holds? Besides life has a habit of throwing you curve balls just when you least expect them.
What are your favourite memories of your university years at Warwick?
The people. I’m just sorry I let things drift and that as a result I’ve lost touch with so many of them.
Do you have any advice for new graduates and undergraduates?
Just because your life doesn’t work out the way you thought it would at 21 doesn’t mean its any the worse off for it. It’s what you do with it and how you react to those changes that matters. Trust me, my life now certainly isn’t what I imagined it would be at the age of 21 and if I’m honest it’s all the richer for it.

Katharine Simpson: the facts

Currently aboard Cape Breton Island Clipper. But will be returning to Bracknell in July
Education Secondary school – Red Maids’ in Bristol

Have spent the past eight years working in local government

Interests Trail running, hiking, baking, gardening, whale watching, bird watching (the albatrosses in the South Atlantic take your breath away), studying the world’s supermarkets (I’m responsible for all the food on our boat; heaven only know how that happened!). Yes that’s right I’m a geek.