Where better to start when you write about yourself than at the beginning, I suppose?
I was born in 1981 into a very hardworking family and grew up in a little village in the south east of England. It was a sleepy little village with only a handful of kids in it, surrounded by forest in every direction. These were still the days when kids were allowed to venture out on their own somewhat and my brother and I had an exceptional amount of freedom from a very young age. Dad worked two jobs, day and night, Mum also worked a lot, so my brother and I essentially grew up exploring, and adventuring in the epic forest that surrounded the village.
To this day I still remember the first time that my brother and I ventured to the forest on our own to play. It was 1988, I was 7 years old and my little brother was 5. I remember this time so vividly because the night before, I had been up all evening, staring out of my bedroom window as the remnants of Hurricane Gilbert tore through our garden, violently throwing the garden furniture around as if it was weightless. In the Caribbean the storm was a category 5 tropical cyclone, by the time the aftermath hit England, it would have calmed down considerably, yet the whole village was without power and telephone communication for what seemed the longest time. So many trees had come down all over the forest, many had come down across the roads, tearing down the phone lines, too.
Amongst all of the chaos we were surrounded by, I still remember feeling a huge sense of excitement, as my brother and I - along with a couple of similar aged kids in the village - got to venture out and explore a forest that now resembled a huge adventure play park. For years we enjoyed climbing the trees that lay collapsed on top of each other, venturing further and further into the woods as we got older and braver, until one day, we knew every square inch of the woodland.
Add to that a movie diet the likes of the Goonies or Indiana Jones, and a longing for adventure was born.
My old man showed me the world
Growing up, our family was really lucky in many ways. We didn't really want for anything, we always felt quite well off, despite being very working class, the old man worked all day EVERY DAY, getting his own business up and running and then to keep the wolves from the door in the financially tough days of 18% interest rates, as other peoples homes were being repossessed around us, Dad would come home after a long, gruelling day on the tools before heading back out to work nights too. His day light hours consisted of looking at jobs, pricing them up, then organising and doing the work himself, after which he'd come home, eat some food, and then head off to the airport, where he worked for British Airways, pulling the graveyard shift. It was only as I got older that I began to really appreciate just how hard that man worked, I don't think I've ever met another man (myself included) who works as hard as my Dad did.
(Hawaii 1990 - Me, my brother and the Old Man)
One of the major perks of his time for British Airways back then was the fact that once a year he got free tickets for him and his immediate family to fly anywhere in the world. Now even though we didn't have huge amounts of money back then, Dad never wasted these tickets, in fact not only did he never waste them, but he actually made the most out of them. Rather than heading somewhere local, like the Mediterranean, seeing as it was free regardless of our destination, Dad would take us off to the most far flung and exotic locations, all of which would of otherwise been so far above our means.
By the time I was 14 years old I had stood at the foot of Victoria falls, been on Safari several times and come unbelievably close to the most dangerous and wild of animals. I remember vividly on one trip that my brother and I had a hippo only inches away from us, eating a patch of grass outside our mud hut one evening, as we tried to sleep in the middle of a mosquito raging, Ugandan evening. Growing up we'd travelled to the Far East, to the likes of India and Malaysia. We'd been lucky enough to venture all over America, from the big cities such as Chicago to sleepy little Texan towns, down to the south of America to Mexico, where someone tried to actually buy my brother for cash, in Mexico City.
Our lives were rich with travel and experiences that no-one I knew could even remotely relate to. When my time came to leave home, I knew that I very much wanted to continue to explore this amazing planet, my Dad had only added to my longing for adventure. I'll forever be grateful to my father for making sure we could see and do all of the things that he wished he could have done himself growing up.
My first adventure - Martial arts journey to the Far East.
As I got into my teen years, my social circle expanded beyond just the village. On the other side of the road to our humble village lay a notorious army base which was perpetually in the news for soldiers dying 'mysteriously'. It's odd, looking back, just what we normalised. Heading up onto the living quarters on the barracks to visit friends often involved being searched by armed guards amidst the constant IRA threat at the time. Soldiers being killed on the barracks stopped being shocking and the TV news crews outside the gates of the working barracks became fairly normal after a while.
The other thing that became fairly normal at the same time was how often I'd get into fights with many of the military children. They were a tough bunch and more often than not I'd end up getting my backside kicked when a fight broke out.
When I look back, there was a lot going on, firstly most of the kids on the camp had a father who was either in a conflict or war zone, or who had just come back from one. My friends dads had been to the Falklands war, Iraq, Northern Ireland etc. The drinking culture was huge in the army and the kids that lived on the camp very seldom lived in one place for more than a couple of years at a time, before they were picked up and shipped off somewhere new. It's only when I reflect as an adult that I can begin to imagine what home life must have been like for many of these kids, fathers who had seen war, heavy drinking, all the mental health issues that likely come with this, losing friends in the conflicts, mothers and children waiting nervously for their fathers to return home safely, and never being allowed to settle somewhere properly and develop the kinds of relationships that most of us take for granted. Now, looking back, it's no real surprise that they were wild and punchy teenagers, they had every right to be.
Sadly for me however, relatively speaking, I was a rich (we owned our house and Mums ten year old Ford Escort was a convertible, so that alone meant we were rich), civilian, southern (most of these kids were from northern regions, not all, but many), red headed kid, on a housing estate full of less well off, military, northern kids. I was a walking bullseye from day one 😆.
I only mention this for some context, as to exactly why I ended up dedicating over 25 years of my life to the martial arts. We are all products of our environment, all the many events that touch our lives go on to shape the people we become and play a part in directing our path.
After coming home from school (which was also on said army base), looking like I got beaten up one too many times, my parents enrolled me in Karate classes. Over the years I moved over to train in various styles where I eventually discovered an art called 'Muay Thai' (the national sport of Thailand). After training and competing in the UK for a number of years, I moved to Thailand in 2005, where I immersed myself into the culture and began to train with the locals. I eventually developed to a level where I could compete against the Thai's, which was entirely down to the belief and hard work of the only Thai instructor who believed in me, a stern man of little patience if he felt you weren't giving him 100%, his name was 'Rung Chai'. Rung took me under his wing, and even when I struggled to get up at 6am some mornings to go for my 10km run, before we started that days 'actual training' (which we did every day, six days a week, twice a day), he would relentlessly hammer the door of my hut, to make sure I never slacked off training for even a moment, understanding the potential consequences of failing to be fully prepared when you enter a ring in Thailand.
My martial arts career concluded a few years ago now as my body started falling apart. I'll always remember the amazing adventures that path took me on, the epic highs, as well as some devastating lows, but mostly epic highs (luckily for me).
Yet even as my body refuses to allow me to compete or even train as hard as I used to, my mind and heart still long for the excitement that comes with a new adventure.
Sailing, for me, is like being a white belt in something all over again, I'm right back at the beginning. I'm not an expert anymore, and that's both humbling and exciting. We've already had the most amazing story in the very little time that we've been 'sailors' for and I'm excited about the future, for the new characters who will come into our lives, the places we'll go, the challenges we'll face, the smells of the food, the changes in cultures, all of it.
I feel very lucky and blessed by so much incredible good fortune in my life. I somehow managed to avoid getting myself killed whilst running around the world, trying to be a ginger Bruce Lee. I have my health, I'm still clutching onto a few years yet of youth, I have a partner in crime who's as up for the adventure as I am, and we have a means to do it.