Sailing: Stars in her eyes, mum in her heart

SINGAPORE - She spoke of rainbows and leprechauns, and of diamond-dotted nights often streaked with shooting stars.

Vicky Song is enjoying herself, as she attempts to become the first Chinese woman to sail around the globe.

Part of the crew of the Qingdao, one of 12 70-foot ocean racing yachts currently docked in Singapore before the next leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, Song is the proverbial girl-next-door - but tough.

A smile permanently etched on her face, Song's eyes lit up as she spoke of the wonders that she has already seen and experienced after completing half the journey.

"Having seen the colours of the sky constantly changing and a huge rainbow across the entire sky, you realise how beautiful the world is," said the Qingdao native on Monday, in fluent English.

"You become a romantic and start to believe that all those fairytales could be true - maybe there is a pot of gold at the end of that big rainbow," she beamed.

It is not hard to imagine the sports presenter singing "The Rainbow Connection", but Song is clearly made up of more than just sugar and spice.

Five months before setting sail, her mother was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer, but still encouraged her daughter to embark on the adventure.

"I am the only child, but still, she told me to not wait to do the things that I want to do. So I made a deal with her: I told her that if I didn't give up my chance to sail, she cannot give up either," she said, choking a little.

She kept in touch with her mother once a week using the satellite phone on board, and the 31-year-old revealed one of the hardest moments she has had to endure was the time the device failed to work.

Having gone 10 days without checking in, she cried when she finally managed to talk with her mother, using the personal phone of Qingdao skipper, Gareth Glover.

It was the first time she had told the skipper of her mother's illness.

It is not the only challenge Song has had to face.

STRESS

"I think about leaving the boat all the time - you're never dry, there's a lot of stress, a lot of big waves, and you're always exhausted because conditions are so bad," she said.

"Working on four-hour shifts, sleep is a premium, and only in cramped quarters below deck where temperatures can rise to 38 degrees Celsius.

"On a boat, there's nowhere to hide. You're afraid, but you have to face it, no one can help you with that. You really have no choice but to become physically and mentally tougher.

"I can live, eat and talk - no problem - but you're lonely."

The Clipper race features amateur sailors on a journey to circumnavigate the globe. Starting in London, the trip sees 12 yachts compete in 16 races over some 11 months, ending in London this July.

Song was an assistant trainer of sailors in the Optimist class in Qingdao and eventually conducted youth sailing programmes there, before becoming a sports presenter.

Her journey is about to be brightened a little.

Departing Singapore on Wednesday, the next leg will be like racing to the end of the rainbow for her. The boats will travel 2,450 nautical miles to Qingdao, where Song's mother will be waiting at the Olympic Sailing Harbour.

"We are both supposed to keep our promise to each other and I'm sure tears will flow when I see her, I won't be able to help it," she said, smiling just a little wider.

"And I'm not sure what I'll do when I get off the boat: go for a drink or take a shower first."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


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