Grace Payne-James

Grace Payne-James

I have been on the water since I was nine days old and I have been taking part in offshore yacht races since I was nine. Offshore yacht races are longer races, generally either partially in sight or completely out of sight of land.

I have done them on a series of boats called Heartbeat, owned by my parents. Heartbeat IV is the current yacht and is a 45ft long sailing boat. Prior to competing in the Rolex Middle Sea Race, my longest race was the North Sea Race, which is around 180 miles from West Mersea on the UK East Coast to Scheveningen in Holland and is organized by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC). Once we had competed in EAORA Race Week in Holland and in some of the more challenging races (like the Buckley Goblets, for example, a 90-mile race from West Mersea to Oostende in Belgium), my parents started to think bigger, which was what led them to enter the Rolex Fastnet in 2007. This race was marked by dire weather conditions that mirrored those in 1979 in which 15 sailors lost their lives and Heartbeat had to retire from the race after about 180 miles due to damage – as did most of the fleet. In the 2009 Fastnet they had a more successful time and managed to complete their first 600-mile race. Next came my first big race: the 630-mile Rolex Malta Middle Sea Race. A year’s worth of preparations went by and finally Heartbeat was delivered the 2,500 miles to Malta. The race was a mix of ups and downs due to some light winds and rain, but there was also beautiful sunshine and we finished mid-fleet – which wasn’t bad, considering we were one of the smallest crews and the only unsponsored, all-amateur one! We were able to see some incredible sights, such as the 3,000ft volcano Stromboli erupting and pods of 20 or 30 dolphins playing alongside the bow of the boat. During the race I helped out with jobs such as packing the spinnakers or grinding (winching) for my mum while she was trimming the sail. Mum and Dad’s next step was to sail her across the Atlantic. Heartbeat IV did the 2800-mile Transatlantic Race in 2012 from Gran Canaria to Lucia: it took them 15 days and they came 3rd in class. In 2013 we took part in my favourite race so far: the Caribbean 600, in which we raced around 11 Caribbean Islands and again came 3rd in class. Again, in this race I helped with tasks that needed doing, but felt much more confident in taking on some larger roles like helping hoist sails with our bowman Ash. Finally, we have just finished taking part in the oldest ocean race – from Newport (Rhode Island) to Bermuda. Despite not doing as well as we would have liked due to light wind, we learnt a lot and are continuing to grow as a team. My team are my family and I couldn’t feel safer when racing with them: I get on with all of them and know that if anything dangerous happened I would be able to rely on each and every one of them to help me. I personally believe this is a crucial part of racing because you need to know that, if a life or death situation ever arose, you have the support and security of everyone around you. In years to come I hope to compete on Heartbeat with our crew in the China Sea Race and British Virgin Islands week; the ultimate goal would be to sail her all the way to Australia and be a part of the famous Sydney to Hobart race.

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