How to “Explore, Dream and Discover”…. without the guilt.

Della Parsons, a two-time circumnavigator with the Clipper Race, is Recruitment Manager for the world’s greatest ocean adventure. In Della’s role as Recruitment Manager she is very familiar with the challenges that female applicants say that they face when signing up…and also has a few ideas on how to surmount them!

When I hear people talk about wanting to experience an adventure, particularly an ocean adventure, they often use a quote attributed to Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

It is tough for anybody to commit the time and money to an adventure of a lifetime but, for some reason, women in particular find it far harder to throw off the bowlines – why is this?

At the Clipper Race, we are proud that over a third of our race crew are female and we continue to encourage this percentage to increase. All crew have to complete the same four world class intensive training levels and pass disregarding gender, age and sailing ability. Having the courage to apply for the training is a challenge in itself though.

The excuses that I have often heard about putting off an application include:

“Asking for time off work will damage my career prospects”

This is something that can be a worry to anybody but women in particular may feel that, if they have taken time off already for maternity or are considering doing so in the future, employers will take a dim view. My answer to this is that taking part in adventure shouldn’t be considered to be “time off” but rather an opportunity for personal development that most employers should encourage and may even support. Not only does a person feel invigorated after an adventure, but they also learn skills to take back in to the workplace and will inspire others. Highlight the potential benefits to your employer. What’s the worst that can happen by at least approaching your manager or HR representative to see what they say? Many companies have Career Break policies in place so do some research to see if yours does.

“I can’t afford to spend time or money on myself”

Yes, an adventure takes time and costs money but it should certainly be considered an investment in oneself. Even so, many people may feel a sense of guilt and feel it is an extravagance to be so self-indulgent. An adventure does mean some sacrifices and relationships will need to be treated with care but, so long as they are handled the right way, relationships can blossom even more as partners, parents or children feel part of the adventure that you might be taking. I have heard so many stories now on the Clipper Race where people at the start are worried by the impact on their relationships but by the end of it, when their families are so proud at what they have achieved, they wonder why they had spent so much time worrying about it!

“I don’t feel like I can ask for help to have an adventure”

An adventure is very difficult to handle alone. We shouldn’t feel guilty or awkward about asking for help when we know we want to achieve something. Moneywise, we are ok about getting a loan or mortgage etc to buy a new car or new kitchen but why then should we feel guilty about borrowing money for something that is likely to have a far greater and much more positive ongoing impact on our lives? If you are uncomfortable about asking for help or support or not sure what to do, put yourself in your best friend’s shoes. If she was struggling to find a way forward with a challenge, what advice would you give her?  You’d want to help right?  So let her do the same for you!

“What will people think if I spend time away from my children?”

For some reason, it seems far easier for men to take time away from their children rather than women. As one of our current crew members put it recently, “there are a lot of expectations of women, especially when you have children, so it's nice to be able to push those barriers and challenge those expectations. People seem quite shocked that I'm leaving my family to take part in the race, yet they don't seem quite so shocked when a man does the same. My children are incredibly proud of me!” The point I’m trying to make is that women can be powerful role models for their children by taking part an adventure and can involve them so that they feel a part of it.

“I’m not good enough to do this”

This is most commonly where we have the divide between men and women. Over 40% of people who take part in the Clipper Race have no prior sailing experience. On this basis, there is no reason why a woman cannot successfully complete the training and take part in the race. It’s interesting that with a little training, the men in general, have little self-doubt but often the women are more concerned about their abilities to really gain the new skills required. In reality they are just as capable and have learned just as much but it often takes women longer to feel more confident and be sure that they really know something! For us, it is more important that there is a support network available to help build this confidence. There so many inspirational women in sailing and I have always found them willing to share their experiences. Right now, we have two amazing female Skippers, Nikki Henderson, who is only 24, and Wendy Tuck, who is back for her second circumnavigation and won Leg 1 of this Clipper Race edition. They are proving that in a sport that has traditionally been dominated by men, there is no reason why women cannot compete at the same level.

Don’t let your doubts hold you back from what you want to achieve. It’s a big world out there which needs to be explored and I encourage you to dream big and go out there and discover it for yourself. The Clipper Race is just one way to go and do that and is unique in taking ordinary everyday people and turning them in to ocean racers. Whatever it is that you have set your heart on doing, take that first step towards your goal and don’t be one of those people that looks back in 20 years and wonders why you ever felt guilty about pursuing your dream.

The Clipper Round the World Race will be exhibiting at the Women’s Adventure Expo on the 3rd of December. Come and have a chat to us about this big ocean racing adventure and find out if it’s the right adventure for you! Our stand will be staffed by alumni crew members who have already taken on this big challenge so come say hello and hear our sailing stories!

To find out more about the race visit