My bow crashed into another wave, jolting my body from head to foot. I groaned, threw the tiller over and dived into the boat.
On the other side of the tack, I grabbed the hook, clipped on and jumped out onto the trapeze; tiller and mainsheet in hand. I looked behind – he was still there. I was determined to beat him to the finish.
Tack – tack – tack. Finish line in sight. I gritted my teeth and kept going. One last tack.
‘Starboard!’ I screamed. I had right of way and he had no choice but to duck behind my stern. I crossed the line ahead.
I swung back into the boat and unhooked; every muscle in my body was shaking. I was used to reservoir sailing; now I was on the Baltic in the strongest weather I had competed in at sea, and I was exhausted.
I looked behind, searching for more boats; there were none – I found out later that half the fleet had retired and I was the only woman to have finished the race – the last race of the 1995 Contender European Championships in Germany. I had done it; I was ladies champion.
Admittedly, there were not many of us competing (some would say daft enough to compete); the contender was an extreme boat. A single-handed trapeze dinghy with a large sail; it was hard work, often frustrating and very wet, but it was an exhilarating boat to sail.
I patted the deck of my boat, Ride of the Valkyrie. She was old, heavy and slow, but she was mine and my prized possession.
I managed to tack and head back to the sailing club, then laughed out loud – not caring about the other competitor’s look of alarm. A brass band had struck up on the shore – they were playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie!
I guided my own Valkyrie between the harbour walls to the slipway and jumped out. My feet hit the bottom but my legs could not hold me. I sat down heavily in the water, letting go of Valkyrie in surprise. She drifted away.
I shouted and a handful of fellow sailors ran in to the water to rescue the boat. They left me to get myself out of the brine.
I was twenty four years old and am proud of my achievement. I treasure the memories, even though the repercussions of that race still shape my life eighteen years later. I had seriously injured my back, and spent over a year searching for a diagnosis and answers. Whatever the original injury was, it triggered a condition called fibromyalgia – which is simply Latin for ‘pain in the muscle fibres’. Every muscle fibre. I lost my job as a financial advisor, was forced to stop sailing and became very isolated. The slightest touch from another person – even my mum – felt like a stab wound.
My search for answers took me to college, where I studied Anatomy & Physiology to understand how my body was supposed to work, then Counselling & Psychology to understand how the mind work. Part of this second course was regularly writing a personal journal – very honestly, and in depth. This somehow unlocked me, and one day I just started writing. And writing. And writing. By the time I had filled my third notebook I realised I was writing a book and started to take it seriously.
That book became Dead Reckoning, a story about pirates, love and adventure in the Caribbean – at least I was sailing in my imagination!
An awful lot of research later, and nearly a dozen rewrites, I published in 2013, along with a novella, Ill Wind, which explores further one of the main characters, Gabriella Berryngton. The third book in the Valkyrie series, Look Sharpe! will be published in early 2014, and there are many more to follow. Dead Reckoning honestly turned my life around and gave me back a future – a future of books. What could be better?
Karen Perkins, December 16, 2013