An adventure of a lifetime. A race around the world, in a sailing boat staffed by strangers.
And for one Yorkshire woman, who returns home this week after 11 months at sea, it was a life-changing experience.
“It’s been the most amazing year of my life,” said Sue Ball, who swapped life as a nursery owner in Harrogate for months of hard graft in the world-famous Clipper race.
“I didn’t know what to expect – but it’s been incredible. I’ve met some incredible people and had some incredible experiences.”
Mrs Ball was one of an 18-strong crew aboard PSP Logistics which sailed six oceans, travelling 4,700 miles around the world, arriving back in London on Saturday.
Having spent 17 years in the Army before setting up a nursery, she was ready for a challenge.
She was inspired to take part in the Clipper race after spotting a poster while travelling on the London Underground.
“I’d never sailed before, it seemed a big challenge,” she said. “I was ready for a challenge. Certainly, after a few days I was thinking ‘what have I done?’.
“The people are the biggest challenge. Lots of personalities I wouldn’t normally mesh with, all in a very confined space. You just have to learn to get on with it.
“I’ve always been told I don’t suffer fools gladly; well I’ve had to learn.”
Crossing the Pacific ocean was the most physically exhausting, she said, as the crew faced ‘storm after storm after storm’.
“Getting into Seattle I felt a real sense of achievement – to have survived,” she said.
“That was the best feeling.
But there were so many highs. Seeing the Milky Way, the stars out on the ocean. The rain lashing your face in a storm. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
She celebrated her 58th birthday on board the boat somewhere between Seattle and the Panama Canal, her fellow crew members baking her a chocolate cake in the galley and breaking out some Hawaiian outfits. They even shared a forbidden bottle of champagne – between 18 of them.
“It was certainly a memorable birthday!” she said.
London’s Tower Bridge opened its gates on Saturday to welcome home the 12-strong fleet as the race drew to a close.
Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames to welcome home the crews as they ended an 11-month circumnavigation of the planet.
As darkness fell, the fleet crossed the official race finish line in Southend, after a 30-hour tightly-fought battle across 198 nautical miles of the North Sea.
Mrs Ball said the reality of real life has hit hard.
“I’ve been so used to being out on the ocean, where it’s nice and quiet, and then suddenly there’s a lot of people,” she said. “It’s all been a bit overwhelming.
“I was ready for the race to finish. I was definitely ready to get off the boat.
“But I’m not sure I’m ready for real life!”
PSP Logistics came 12th out of 12 boats in the Clipper race. But, says Mrs Ball, they were the “happiest” crew if not the fastest, and certainly the most popular.
“Everybody loves an underdog!” she laughed, as she prepares to return home to Killinghall in Harrogate.
“My whole life I’ve been asking myself ‘what’s the next challenge?’. But I can’t even imagine myself doing any more sailing to be fair.
“I’m most looking forward to getting into a regular sleeping pattern. The race has been relentless.
“I don’t know what the next adventure will be. I have no idea. What I want now is to sleep for a week, become a lady that lunches. After that, who knows?”