‘My perspective on life has changed’

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The sea is like glass, the sky is streaked with blues and yellows and 16 hard-pressed sailors stop what they’re doing to take in the breathtaking Caribbean sunset.

Other yachts gradually become silhouettes in a scene so peaceful that Ed Collison, sitting side by side with his crewmates en route to Jamaica, will always carry this moment with him.

Ed Collison

Ed Collison

It’s just one of the special memories the Westbourne teenager treasures after competing in the Clipper Round the World Race.

‘It was so cool, hard to describe really. We all had to stop and just stare at it for a while,’ says Ed.

In stark contrast, the young yachtsman also recalls nightmarish scenes of 200mph winds and waves the height of three or four houses.

But it’s all part of the Clipper experience – as dramatic and varied as that Jamaican sunset.

Safely back at home with his family, Ed is surprisingly modest and matter-of-fact about his round-the-world sailing adventure.

Although he does admit: ‘I think you have to be a little bit crazy to do it. But the journey has been incredible and I’d do it again.’

Dad Rob and stepmum Becky look delighted to have him back – and they’re obviously incredibly proud.

‘I don’t think it’s something that would be right for everyone, but it was definitely right for Ed,’ says Rob.

‘It has been really tough. There were a few times when he didn’t want to carry on. It’s a really hard thing to do and he did get homsesick.

‘But we encouraged him to carry on, because with every leg of the race you could see the personal development.’

Taking part in the race – which sees 12 yachts facing the extreme challenges of the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans – has been an incredible achievement for Ed.

Clipper – designed to turn novice and amateur sailors into ocean racers – is a 10-month, 44,000-mile challenge that sees participants either taking on the full race or completing different legs of the journey.

Just 18 when he set sail on 70ft yacht Invest Africa last September, Ed was the youngest person to sign up for the entire circumnavigation.

Since then he has experienced the ups and downs of hurricanes, life-and-death decisions, freezing temperatures, intense heat, glorious sunsets, amazing wildlife encounters, heart-warming homecomings, sickness bugs at sea and lively on-shore parties, not to mention the peaks and troughs of those huge Southern seas.

He says: ‘You grow up very quickly doing this and quickly realise what matters and what doesn’t.’

Ed was just 15 when he decided to sign up for the 2013/14 race.

Rob, who also enjoys sailing and worked on submarines in the navy, fully supported his son.

But he admits with a chuckle: ‘I didn’t think he was going to get in. I just humoured him because I thought he had no chance. I was horrified when I realised the implications.’

Ed managed to get through four hours of interviews to beat 20,000 other applicants for a place.

And the family raised £43,000 for the trip through company sponsorship, Ed’s university fund, his savings and a lot of hard work.

The teenager explains why it was worth it. ‘I’ve never been academic and instead of going to university and coming out with a bog standard degree, I wanted to do this – learn all these life skills and people skills and see a bit of the world.’

Waving farewell at London’s St Katharine Dock last September were Rob and Becky, Ed’s sisters Lizzie, 10, and Ellie, eight, and his mum and stepdad Sally and Michael.

The teenager was emotional but excited to be embarking on a journey that would take in Brazil, South Africa, Australia, China, the US, the Caribbean and Ireland.

But soon reality would hit the young sailor and his family as the yachts faced a hurricane in the notorious Southern Ocean.

Sailors’ updates to the website ceased for a few days as the boats battled through 200mph winds and rode 100ft swells, dipping into the troughs in between.

‘It was insane,’ says Ed. ‘I didn’t think we were going to get through it to be honest and I was mentally saying my goodbyes. You suddenly realise what’s important and grow up there and then.’

Then there was the period when the whole crew caught a sickness bug – about the same time that the huge spinnaker sail fell in the water and had to be dragged in.

It was all hands to the deck – no matter how awful people felt.

But he also has wonderful memories of swimming with dolphins at sunset in the mid Atlantic.

His family were tense but had every faith in Ed’s skills on a yacht

A keen sailor since he was eight, he had far more experience than many of the adults taking part in the race and was made a watch leader, taking responsibility and issuing orders to a team of people.

Ed says one of the biggest challenges was life on board and that was what his family worried about most.

‘It’s all these people crammed in a sardine can, having to work and get on together every day. We thought that would be stressful,’ says Becky.

And then there were the conditions. Crew members could only wash properly every 10 days to conserve water. In between they would use wet wipes. Add to that the intense heat of the equator and things got a little smelly.

‘It was a case of sleeping in the shallow or deep end of our bunks because we sweated so much,’ says Ed. ‘Our clothes were mouldy, we all stank. It was beyond roughing it, it was like going back to the Stone Age. But after a while we didn’t care.’

He was able to see family members at a couple of points on the journey. Rob and Becky were waiting for him in China and his sister Alice, 23, was travelling around Australia and welcomed Ed in Sydney.

‘She had a banner saying Welcome IVA, I love you Ed’. It was awesome,’ says the young sailor who was able to spend Christmas with his sister.

Despite the hardships of the trip, the lowest point came when Ed slipped and broke his foot on shore in Jamaica.

He had to miss 24 days of the journey but rejoined the crew in Derry and was there for the homecoming.

Invest Africa finished 11th out of 12 yachts although the crew won one leg and came third in others. But Ed explains it’s not all about winning. A lot of time was spent training and giving everyone, including the total beginners, the best experience possible.

And it was also about making friends and growing up. ‘You become very tolerant and don’t worry about silly things any more,’ says Ed. ‘Something like this changes your whole perspective on life.’