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Clipper Race: Grandmother, 74, Sails Around the World

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A 74-year-old grandmother who was the first female violinist in the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra is completing the last leg of the world's longest ocean race.

Gill Sharp, of Prince's Road, Wimbledon, joined the race last November after just a month's training but has now sailed more than 12,000 miles during four months at sea as the oldest crew member on board Great Britain entry in the international Clipper Race.

She said: "I've always wanted to learn to sail and about 10 years ago I spoke to a friend who has sailed around the world and it took me 10 years to realise if I didn't do it now I might be in the grave. So I quickly phoned up Clipper and enrolled on the course."

Ms Sharp is currently racing to Den Nelder in the Netherlands, having set sail from Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland last week after a 2,800-mile voyage from New York across the North Atlantic.

The grandmother-of-five said the toughest part of her journey was November to January, charting rough seas between South Africa and Western Australia.

She flew back to the UK on January 2 to see her family, before re-joining the crew in New York on June 7 to set off for the last leg.

She said: "Nothing can prepare you for the real thing. The most challenging part was being down below when it was incredibly rough and hanging on and not knowing when the next wave was going to hit and you could break your rib.

"We had one horrible experience when three of us were sitting on the side of the deck chatting and just as a wave came over I took hold of one of the ballasts but the other two were thrown onto the boat and one of them broke his rib."

Despite being the oldest crew member and one of only four females Ms Sharp said she's always been very fit and hasn't struggled to keep up with the team.

But, she said: "It's a big learning curve, getting used to sharing your bunk, having nowhere to put your stuff because it's very cramped down below."

"I have learnt a hell of a lot, lots of personal things like getting on with people you wouldn't normally meet and I think you really have to create a good atmosphere on the boat.

"I have learnt a hell of a lot about sailing and I would like to sail more - not racing, but in the Mediterranean, that would be fantastic."

Great Britain's 70-foot yacht is currently in fifth place out of 12 boats which include teams from Jamaica, Africa and Switzerland.

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Ms Sharp said: "It's getting very competitive as this is the first time we have been able to see other boats and we can see one another and they are desperately trying to trim the sails to have that extra speed or be in better wind."

The race will finish when the boats sail into St Katharine's Docks, London, on July 12, followed by a parade up the River Thames.

Ms Sharp said: "I can't wait to see all my grandchildren and children. I've got two 17-month-old twin grandchildren so it's been hard being away from them."

Asked if she has any advice to give to women her age, she said: "If there's anything that you want to do, for goodness sake do it before you regret."

The Clipper Race is the only event which allows people from all walks of life, regardless of sailing ability, to race around the world under sail.

*Original story:Your Local Guardian via Google News (search term: sailing)
*Image credits: Flickr/Rob Faulkner, Flickr/Garry Knight

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