The night that changed the World

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This is my beloved boat that belongs to my charity Autism on the Water (AOTW). This is a Hunter 707 that has given me so much joy and most importantly freedom over the last couple of years. Here it is pictured in its winter quarters in a shed, in a field somewhere in Fife. It has sat there since November. Around late February, my thoughts were slowly starting to turn towards thinking about the preparations to bring the boat out the shed, back down to Port Edgar Marina and start putting it back together ready for a very busy and exciting season with so many wonderful regattas, delivery trips and cruises to look forward too and of course the all-important job of raising awareness of the Autistic spectrum.

In 2019, we had enjoyed our most successful season to date, we took a break from doing too many One-Design events and enjoyed doing more relaxed, fun and community-run regattas on the West Coast of Scotland which actually provided me more opportunity to get to know the boat, it’s set up and how I could make it go faster. It was also the year that for the first time ever, we won races! We took a spectacular win in the opening weekend of West Highland Week especially on the feeder race from Oban to Craobh after making a bold decision to short tack around the back of Fladda Island in the Sound of Luing that allowed me to maintain an average speed and the worse of the tide and it resulted in AOTW sailing across the shortened finish line off the Ardluing buoy to the welcome sound of a gun and leaving the 19 boats behind us well and truly behind us that included boats from a J122 and First 31.7 to a Contessa 25 and a Shipman 28. AOTW took the win by a clear 4 mins on corrected time as well as taking line honours. Following this victory, we went on to take 4 back to back wins at the 707 Sprints Slam with David Witt on board and then a clear and outright race win in the first race of the 707 Scottish Championships. So with me now knowing and able to make the boat go fast, I was ready to get some more for 2020. This was going to be the year! Until one night in March that changed everything.

Around a week or so after I had returned from a business trip for AOTW in both London and Cowes where I gave presentations to yacht clubs as well as making a series of different and interesting new contacts, the United Kingdom was starting to get gravely concerned for the increasing number of cases of the “Coronavirus” (COVID-19) that had sadly resulted in a number of deaths across the world. In response to this, businesses decided to shut up shop for a limited time to see how this situation would pan out, travel also was becoming affected and strong advice was being given to people to wash their hands more frequently than ever. For me personally, I was not too worried, I had so much to look forward too, loads of sailing, AOTW was doing extremely well, my brother and cousin are both due to be married, I was getting out on my bike more doing Uber Eats and Deliveroo deliveries which was keeping me fit, life for me personally could not be better. Its what happened next when you realise how much you take for granted.

As time went on, the news was starting to report daily all day on the Coronavirus outbreak which by now was starting to concern many. It was during this period that the famous Six Nations Rugby matches were being held across the country. The Scotland vs France game was held at Murrayfield Stadium which was packed to full capacity of 60,000 plus and whilst many had a wonderful day out, there was also uproar that the game had gone ahead during what was looking like a very possible upcoming pandemic. A few days after this match was the Scotland vs Wales game which was to take place in Cardiff. Many travelling Scots were concerned that the game could be cancelled because of the virus but rugby officials fully reassured everyone even on the eve of the match that the game would not be cancelled. As everyone from Scotland got out of their trains, their flights, their cars etc. the match was cancelled! It was after this that the UK and Scottish Government decided to ban all planned and upcoming sporting events and gatherings which involved over 5,000 people, this was done so as to ease pressure on front line health services such as Police and Paramedic workers etc. which are required for these events to run. I then started to worry and get anxious, would this affect sailing events? No, surely not. Sailing events don’t require frontline health services 99% of the time, we should be ok! But some friends of mine started to be very negative and pretty much insist that events like the Scottish Series, Bangor Week etc. WOULD be cancelled, I said “no of-course they won’t”. How very wrong I was. I kept myself busy though, I built a page on Facebook for autistic people in Scotland to join for support during this time, I also started cooking homemade soups for the elderly and donating certain items such as pasta to families with autistic children who only ate pasta. It felt really good to be out and helping people – until things began to change drastically.

As time went on, the news got grim, officials were advising people to work from home and not attend social gathering etc. Schools though were still running but they were under close review by the government and after a few days, the first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement that schools would be closing for the foreseeable future. Now people started to panic, schoolchildren themselves started to panic and many young children were very confused as to what was going on. Parents were very concerned at this sudden news, what on earth was going to happen? This announcement had forced parents to make some important decisions in their working lives to ensure that their children stayed educated and had a structured plan. I started to realise as I cycled or walked around Edinburgh a very uneasy calm around the place, shops were emptier, transport was less frequent and many rumours were circulating about what was going to happen. A few days after the announcement of the school closures on a cold Friday evening, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston announced to the nation that all pubs, clubs, cinemas and diners were to close and not reopen until further notice although diners could still operate as takeaway services. I started feeling very worried when this was announced, I started to realise then that something serious really was going on. Nicola Sturgeon also repeated Boris Johnston’s words of the closure of establishments and heavily advised people against going out to the pub that evening, however despite these words, many people went out to the pub knowing that this would be the last time to go out for a few beers for who knows how long, I am sad to say I was one of these people who ventured to my little local pub for one last pint and to support the bar staff who now faced an uncertain future of their jobs.

The weekend then started and Edinburgh awoke to what was the start of worse to come. Pretty much all pubs and establishments as advised by the government had closed, but the presence of so many people was very much evident, the streets were packed with walkers and local people trying to carry on as normal, people were also flocking to the parks and beaches as it was a very nice day to be out. This caused a great deal of anger across social media and on the news and many trolls who followed the Facebook pages of papers such as The Guardian, The Sun etc. were cracking down big time on their opinions of the actions of others.

On the Monday evening following that weekend since the closing of establishments, it was 8:30pm at night, all normal programming on the television had been suspended to make way for a very important announcement from the Prime Minister. The announcement was very simple and the inevitable had now become reality – the UK had now been put into lockdown. The main rule was “you must stay at home”, you were now only allowed out for shopping for essential supplies, one form of exercise a day such as a walk, run or cycle and travel to work but only if it was essential otherwise working from home was very much clearly advised and people were also highly encouraged to use food delivery services. Social distancing had come into place, you could now not go and visit your friends or family or stick to any upcoming social activities that were planned. All of these rules had been put into place to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, save lives and to protect the NHS.

And this night – has now changed the world. At first once again, I tried to take a light- hearted approch to all of it and say to myself “it will be over by the end of April and we will start getting boats ready”. But as I mentioned earlier, I was very wrong. Over the course of the next few days as we started to settle into lockdown life, the 707 Edinburgh Cup, the Scottish Series, Kip Regatta, Mudhook Regatta, Bangor Week, the Round Mull Race, 707 UK Nationals and Cork Week have all been cancelled. Launching of boats had now all been suspended or postponed, club racing was postponed etc. This was all happening before the season had even begun! My anxiety went through the roof, after such a cold, long and depressing winter, this horror of all horrors, a killer virus was halting everyone’s life. From a selfish point for me, sailing is my life, AOTW is my life but I then started to watch the news and read the papers every day to then realise just how bad this really was. As the weeks went on, the number of those infected with the virus grew and worse of all, the death toll grew. The news seemed to get more grim and grim each day. The country had changed, everything had changed in just the space of a few weeks and as the days started to get lighter with the arrival of spring, in actual fact, it really was becoming more darker than a winter had ever been.

Here is a photograph of Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main and busiest street – now completely deserted. Shops, hotels, bars, diners etc. all boarded up. The odd bus rolling along the street carrying one or maybe two passengers on each one. All tourists attractions were shut, the Edinburgh Festival announced that the month-long event, the biggest arts festival in the world and a festival that brings Edinburgh over £300 million to the economy in August had been cancelled! Many locals jumped for joy at this news relishing the fact that they’d have a peaceful city in August without the festival, but my heart went out to the many hundreds of performers who were one of 5000 people who had lost their job in August because of this.

Then more news started to come out – both worrying and angering. The good weather that the country is facing both a few weeks ago and today was encouraging reckless people to leave the safety of their homes and pack out the many beautiful public parks and beaches that were on offer to the locals of Edinburgh. Now the government announced that they really meant business and passed on new laws for the police to start giving out warning and eventually fines for anyone breaking the social distancing rules. To cap it off, the Cheif medical officer of Scotland, Catherine Calderwood who had heavily urged and demanded that everyone stayed home, the woman who Nicola Sturgeon relayed on especially during this pandemic had been photographed by the Sun newspaper visiting her second home in Fife with her family – she had completely broken her own rules, her own advice and when this happened, the entire Scottish population and indeed the entire United Kingdom became furious! And no one, not even Nicola Sturgeon could blame anyone for being angry with her and whilst I fully agree that she completely was stupid and really betrayed the public trust, she said sorry, she publically stood up to the country on live television and apologised for her terrible and disgusting actions. I could tell by watching that press conference that Nicola Sturgeon really wanted to be anywhere but there that day and how I felt so sorry for her and I also really admired her loyalty to Calderwood – but so many people do not and you know what, rightfully so, we can’t have someone like Calderwood acting for this country in the medical profession if that’s the actions she takes. But what I saw on social media as the couch trolls and complete arseholes took to Facebook, Twitter etc. to express their opinion really disgusted me! Some comments were very fair and of course people are fully entitled to their opinion, but I draw a line personally when I read things like “go catch the virus yourself Catherine and die, because you deserve it” – Sorry guys, but that is sick, pure sick! It makes me so angry that you waste your time and energy completely and cruelly expressing your opinions on someone else’s when in actual fact, you should take a good long hard look at yourselves first. Dr Calderwood made a stupid, a very stupid and reckless mistake and she apologised, she also resigned because the social media trolls decided to rally together and really ruin her even more which deep down yes she probably deserved and yes she had to resign. But I personally feel that you should not focus your efforts on the stupid actions of one person – your families, your friends need you now, some of them could be dying or become very ill with this virus so you should focus on yourselves before committing your energy to the actions of others.

You all know that I am autistic. I may be a 27 year-old running my own highly international charity, doing food deliveries on a bike and living independently, but I am still autistic and along with all people with autism across the world, we are finding this pandemic like for everyone else too – a real traumatic and distressing experience and a massive CHANGE to our routines and our ways of life. A few days before Easter at about 8:15pm on a quiet Friday evening, I was out doing food deliveries on my bike as usual and decided to stop and have a short sit down on a bench in The Meadows park. It was completely deserted as shown in the above photograph, it was a beautiful evening with a lovely sunset, apart from the odd jogger or walker out, I was completely alone – just killing time until a very strict looking Policewoman walked up to me. This was our conversation –

Policewoman “move on”

Me “I am actually working”

Policewoman “well why aren’t you working”

Me “I’m just killing some time in between jobs”

Policewoman “well you’re breaking the social distance rules, so move on”

Me “but I am not doing anything wrong”

Policewoman “you are breaking the government rules”

Me “I am not breaking any rules, the closest person to me right now is you – I am also autistic and not used to dealing with the police”

Policewoman “Autistic or not, you are clearly breaking the rules and I am not going to ask you again, move on now”

Me “but I am seriously not breaking any rules, there is no one around apart from me and you and I am also working as a food delivery courier helping out the government to encourage others to use food delivery services”

Policewoman “Okay sir I have warned you, you have completely disregarded the rules set out by the Scottish Government, I am issuing you with a fine”

I honestly sat there in shock at her final sentence to all that as she took my details and issued me a ticket of £60 which she then informed me would be £30 if I paid within 28 days of being issued. It was fair to say that after this experience, I went home completely furious and crying my eyes out. What the hell has happened to my life, our lives!! How has it become a total crime to sit on a park bench in between jobs! I spoke to many of my friends about this experience with the police, a small number of them said I had broken the rules of social distancing – which upset me even more because I knew I had not! And the vast majority of my friends knew that too and all protested that I should not pay the fine and appeal it – but I knew that would take months to try and appeal so I accepted myself to pull up the online page to pay the fine and put it to bed, until I started to speak to a friend of mine I knew in London who happened to work for the National Autistic Society. I told her about the whole episode and she asked me to send the ticket I got from the police to her and assured me that she would get it written off as I was not breaking the rules and that there was government documents that had been released giving the amount of allowances on certain restrictions for autistic people during this time and that my situation with the police fitted in with it. A couple of days after I sent the ticket away, I got the phone call from my friend that it had been written off and to forget it ever happened. I will not forget though as it was a stressful and upsetting experience and whilst I understand that the Police are facing possibly the most toughest time in their careers, a tad of understanding and being more friendly and polite would not hurt. I would heavily encourage all my autistic friends to ensure that they take advantage of the allowances laid out by the government for people with autism during this time which should make the pandemic that little bit easier to deal with.

Yes, this is a photo of a boat! A Flying Fifteen to be exact. And just why have I decided to place a photograph of a Flying Fifteen in my Coronavirus story? The reason is because this Flying Fifteen is a Flying Fifteen that I have just purchased for myself! And why am I buying a boat during a pandemic? The reason is simple – once we eventually come out of this, we all need to really must think and feel so grateful that many of us will survive this but many others have died because of this. We all need to reflect and also enjoy our lives whilst we can because we just do not know what is going to happen – we did not know we’d be facing a pandemic that has shut down the world and turned our lives upside down. So for me, I decided when the lockdown is lifted, I want to be more busier on weeknights rather than just deliver food or go to the pub – so I have bought myself this Flying Fifteen to race on weeknights and weekends at the Royal Forth Yacht Club at Granton – it is not for AOTW, it is for me! I have called it The “KimsWitt” named of course after my dear friends Kim and David Witt. The random thing about this sale is also the now previous owner was a friend of my Dad! I am so excited to bring this boat home and start racing it and simply enjoying my life. It is an investment, but really worth it. It should also now be noted that I am now sort of a 3 boat owner! A Hunter 707, A Flying Fifteen and a Streaker Dinghy! Sorry Mum!

Back to the present day – whilst my new purchase of a Flying Fifteen has cheered me up no end – we are still continuing with the pandemic and I now come to the hardest bit of all this for me and that is being alone. I really am alone, I cannot go and visit any of my friends or family, I cannot shake their hands or give them a hug and tell them it will all be fine. Thankfully we now live in a world where technology makes it easier to still communicate on a regular basis so I am able to speak to my family and a couple of close friends daily on FaceTime or Houseparty – but it is just not the same. This past weekend, I felt so sad and more alone than ever as the bright sunshine shone through the country and a fantastic sailing breeze of 20-25kts from the east with some big waves was blowing down the Firth of Forth on what should have been our first 707 regatta of the season and the first sail of the year for AOTW. Such is a cruel world that we live in just now with all this – the sailing would have been so epic and I bet we could have been well up there with the results and get a suntan! But as my friend Witty said to me “it is just not to be” but he said something more important which is “Never Give Up”. And as so very hard as it is to not give up, I intend to stay on a high and get through this. It will come to an end and I am praying that by July, our boats will be back in the water and we will be preparing for West Highland Week which is still scheduled to go ahead. But sadly, I have had several arguments and disagreements with my friends because so many are convinced that events will not go ahead at all and there are some people out there who think I have so much support and will get through all this easily and that I do not fully understand the seriousness of this situation.

Let me be clear with you right now – I know exactly how serious this situation is, I have watched and read how many people have died – I have seen the damage this pandemic is causing our world economy especially in the hospitality and self-employed sector, but when I argue with people about how serious it is if this lockdown continues for longer their words are “at least their alive” and you know what, you’re right, to survive this is of absolute priority but people will have no homes let alone no jobs if this lockdown carries on. Even if lockdown restrictions are eased, the government are still expecting some people especially elders to self isolate for up to 12-18 months until a vaccine is found. Seriously how can we be expected to not see our friends or family and especially our grandparents for over a year? People will not accept that – I get the reasons why, but there has to be another way. My Nana lives on her own in North Berwick and I feel bad enough that I have not seen her for so long as it is, but it breaks my heart that she could be expected to stay indoors away from her family for a year or more! There will also come a time where the government will just not be able to fully fund everyone who’s businesses have closed down because of the Coronavirus and whilst they are doing their best to keep some businesses afloat, there are many self-employed people out there who risk having nothing left because they are not entitled to any government funding and in that category includes some very close friends of mine.

I am very blessed that I am fit and well and I am able to get out and do my bit for the community in terms of doing food deliveries, helping autistic people during this time etc. But guys, just remember we are ALL in this together – both me and you, there is no exceptions. I do not have piles of support – I have to deal with a lot of this on my own and it really is excuse my language SHIT! I love my own space, don’t get me wrong but I have not seen any of my friends or family for 4 weeks now, I am one of many other people who live alone and are dealing with this. But I have to keep going and keep following the guidelines set out by the government and most importantly – we all have to stay positive. Many of my friends and family are, but there are some who are not positive and are even getting angry at people for being positive. We will come out of this everyone, we will come out of this together – better or worse off than before. I certainly hope by the end of the next 3 weeks, we will see some restrictions eased gradually and by July, we should be able to start enjoying our summer and a piece of our lives again. But we can only do that if we stay at home, social distance and protect the NHS.

That concludes my story so far of my experiences as an Autistic individual in the Coronavirus pandemic – and I will say now, I love you all, I think of you all and I never forget you – as Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh “Even if we are apart – I will always be with you” and I stand by Christopher’s words, I am still here and not going anywhere. I am here for you.

Stay Safe and see you at the other end of this xxx

 

“No matter how much violence, you will never stop me coming to Hong Kong”

HK

In 2008, I first landed on the soil of Hong Kong International Airport early one morning in July and it was pouring with rain. It had been a long flight from first Edinburgh then Paris, Charles De Galle to Hong Kong, the longest I had ever done alongside my older brother. We were in Hong Kong as part of our journey to go and visit our Mother and Stepfather who had moved to Zhuhai in China that year but as we had arrived fairly early in the morning and taking into account jetlag etc. we were put up by distant relatives who had lived in Hong Kong all their lives.

From that day onwards, Hong Kong became my most favourite city in the entire world. Many people have asked me why? Why do I like visiting such a polluted and expensive and democratic city like Hong Kong? Why I honestly did not know! I guess in a way, Hong Kong was a safe city, a city full of future and a city full of potential. I have been coming to this city ever since that wet July in 2008 and every time I come, I fall in love with this city! Everything from the Ham and Corn wraps in 7Eleven to the Gurkha bar in Lan Kwai Fong and the spectacular views of The Peak! You name it I love it all!

One thing about Hong Kong to me is the friendships. In January 2018 I spent an entire month in the city volunteering for the Volvo Ocean Race which was being hosted in Hong Kong for the first time. I am also autistic and through the years I have struggled to make friends within my life, do not get me wrong I have friends, but friends who were keen to spend time with me, do things with me, that in my life I did not have a lot at the time.

In 2016, I set up a campaign called Autism on the Water designed to raise awareness of autism through the sport of sailing which is now a fully registered Scottish Charity. It has grown significantly over the last three years and part of this is thanks to my time in Hong Kong during the Volvo Ocean Race where I presented at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club about the charity and also one of the competitors of the race who had actually one the leg to Hong Kong has become an ambassador of the charity as well as a close friend.

So in a way, Hong Kong has changed and saved my life!

 

But what has happened to this city?

In June this year, Hong Kong started up a series of protests because of a bill to allow extradition back to mainland China. The critics who were opposed to the bill felt that judicial independence could be undermined as well as endanger dissidents. Many will know that Hong Kong was once a United Kingdom city until 1997 when it was handed back to China. However because of the “one country, two systems” the city has more autonomy than the mainland and its people more rights. So the bill would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances and be trialled and this has started off a series of violent protests between obviously the protesters and the police. Although the bill was withdrawn in September, protesters feared that the bill could be revived so demonstrations continued calling for the bill to be withdrawn completely but by then clashes between the police and protesters have become frequent and violent. Police have fired live bullets and protesters have been attacking officers with petrol bombs.

This week, I arrived back at my favourite city in the world, I landed at Hong Kong International Airport at 9pm, honestly, I thought at first “you would not think anything was wrong” until I boarded the Airport Express and arrived into the city centre and started walking to my hotel on Connaught Road. What was once a city that was always full of life even until 11pm at night was this spooky and rather scary silence with the once busy streets now completely deserted apart from the odd couple of locals walking past. I had arrived right into the thick of now daily protests in the city. Before I left Edinburgh close friends of mine kept me informed of the going-on’s in the city and on Monday, two close friends of mine were at the bank in the Central district when protesters marched in right in the middle of lunchtime and clashed with the police who then fired off tear gas which unfortuenly my friends were caught in the thick of it and were gassed themselves. It was so upsetting to hear. It was also awful to watch the horrific video of a man arguing with a protester who was against them and their answer to their argument with this innocent man was to throw liquid on him and set him on fire! He is currently in hospital suffering from severe burns and is in critical condition.

The day after my arrival, my mother and I walked from our hotel to Pacific Place via Central and enjoyed a lovely lunch with our long distant relative who works in the city and expressed that it was “the beginning of the end” with the way things currently were. As we got up to leave, I received messages from several friends on Whatsapp warning me not to go through Central and to avoid it at all costs and as we looked out onto the road, there was the riot police all geared up and preparing themselves for the next line of protesters. We ended up walking the long way back to our hotel via Soho, thankfully not seeing anything and the next day we headed for Zhuhai and thank goodness we left when we did as Central once again was hit by violent protests.

I am not a political person, I do not vote or get involved with political discussions or arguments. Because quite frankly one I do not really get any of it and two, the arguments it causes becomes so ridiculous sometimes. But with the Hong Kong protests, I feel the need to write this article because of this entire series of violence in the city has become way out of hand. This week, two people have died, a student protester who died whilst encountering problems with the police and an innocent bystander who simply was taking photos of the incident happening during his lunchtime break when he was hit on the head with a brick thrown by a protester from the top of a bridge.

In the little understanding, I have of politics and the reasoning of why people are protesting in Hong Kong, I support the protesters for the reason why they are protesting but I DO NOT support the violence that they are causing and the disruption and distress it is causing to the city and its people and the sad thing is that many of the protesters are Hong Kong people and they seem quite happy to block roads, throw petrol bombs, destroy the city’s transport system, scare away tourism and the people who work there, school there and live there. The protesters have a right to protest but they do not have a right to destroy their own city and this is what the protesters, the police and the Government are all doing. This violence has to stop.

The University of Hong Kong has now ended its term and will now not start again until 2020. Exams and assessments have to be done online and international students have to return to their home countries all because an army of protesters started destroying the campus and building barricades to prevent the police from stopping them. Not only these tunnels have been blocked and more and more disruption is happening to this city, YOUR CITY every day and the sad thing is, it also does not seem to be stopping anytime soon.

So I write this article as a person with autism and also a person who deeply loves Hong Kong to the people of the city whether your a resident, a protester, a police officer,  government official or a student. Please stop all this violence. By all means, carry on protesting for your rights, you’re the people of Hong Kong, as people of the city you are fully entitled to fight for your rights but please not like this. People’s businesses, transport, homes, schools and lives have all been horribly affected by all this carnage over the past few months, two innocent people have been killed now! I mean seriously surely you do not want to see people getting hurt and if these protests continue and more violence continue then more people, innocent people are going to get hurt or even worse killed.

Hong Kong is a city for all the world. It is a city of finance, opportunity and dreams. You all should be calling a truce and working together to work out a compromise on the current situation, not fighting with each other or destroying the city that you all live and work in. So I once again ask, please stop the violence, stop the hurting and stop the arguing, because it never gets anyone anywhere.

And no matter what you decide, your protests, your violence, your strikes. I know the words of a autistic person like me cannot force you all to stop this crisis, but know this. No matter what you decide, I still will come to Hong Kong for my final weekend before I fly home, I will go and visit these good friends of mine, I will relax in my favourite Yacht Club, I will climb the peak and I will enjoy my time in Hong Kong. And forever I will enjoy my time in this wonderful city.

 

I just hope that you as the people of Hong Kong no matter a protester, a government official or a police officer will find a solution and end this current crisis. 

 

 

Winter means Change and Change is Not Easy

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It has been a while since I last sat down and wrote a blog. Like many of my previous blogs, it contains some emotional content so I apologize in advance if this blog upsets you. I promised myself a while back that I would not divulge too much personal stuff into the open world again but I feel that for this one, this is important to share because I am reaching a time in the year that is always hard for me which is the Winter and winter means change!

Many people who either work with autistic people, who are autism experts or parents etc. will know full well that change for anyone on the spectrum is a very hard and difficult process. People who know me will read this and probably think “hey come on Murray does change every day” and you know what your right about that, I do. I mean for goodness sake look at everything Autism on the Water has achieved this past year, a hell of a lot of change from that cold, wet and windy night in November 2016 when I first started to build it all. But all the hard change happens behind the scenes!

Behind the Scenes of Autism on the Water is not like The Appendices Documentaries of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings where Peter Jackson takes the audiencies on his filmmaker’s journey on how the movies came to life, its nothing like that at all for my charity. No Behind the Scenes work is ever easy. For Autism on the Water to grow continuously, it requires almost round the clockwork which is mainly done by me with input from friends, family, companies, and organizations who generously give up their time to help me on the journey to bring autism awareness through sailing to life like Peter did to bring Tolkien’s world to life, he had much help to make his films but the bulk of the responsibility lied on him.

Being a Director, Founder and Trustee of a Charity is a very important job and there are so many guidelines and procedures to follow, some of which especially if your a first timer is actually quite scary! Recently I and a friend have been working tirelessly on #ProjectWales. This project was to exhibit Autism on the Water at The Autism Directory at Cardiff in Wales which was held at the end of September. We decided only 4 weeks before the show to take on this project, ambitious but my friend and I knew we could make it work. And it worked! We had a very successful day in Cardiff City Stadium where I spoke to many parents, professionals, and people on the spectrum, but one thing really niggled in my brain that day. Yes, the day was fantastic and my two friends who came down and helped me and spent huge amounts of time both financially and personally I am very grateful too should be very very proud of themselves and indeed I was especially proud. But inside my brain, I did not recognize Autism on the Water anymore. It had gone through so much change in these past few weeks like the logo colors, the wording on leaflets, etc. It was all things that happened in such a short space of time and in between that people were giving and sometimes insisting on new ideas about how the charity should be run.

STOP STOP STOP!!! My head was swirling and buzzing around and this is where my autism is more evident to the world, I can only process big change or even little suggested changes one at a time, yes sometimes I have to process lots quickly but there are also sometimes I just cannot cope with it. Once the show in Wales was over, I breathed a little that it was over. I thanked my friend most sincerely for all her help in getting me started up on this and I returned home to Edinburgh with all the equipment for the next show. And all too soon, the next show was booked which is Scotland’s Boat Show in a week’s time! And that was me who booked it and straight after I was like “what am I doing to myself?”. Aside from Autism on the Water work, I have also taken on the role of yacht racing captain for the Edinburgh University Sailing Club, a fantastic student sailing club who have been so good to the charity that I really wanted to give something back and graciously I had the honor of being elected onto the club committee for the 2019/2020 season. This new role is also a big responsibility, I am in charge of sending student teams away to compete in yacht racing events, organize boats for them to use, sort out transport, etc. And overall I am enjoying the role and receiving fantastic support from the rest of the committee but I am also so brand new to a role like this, again another pile of “change”. Change, change, CHANGE! I just need to get on and grin and bear it as they say.

But this week it all got too much, I had piles and piles of admin work to do for Autism on the Water and various bits and bobs to do for the Uni Sailing Club. Aside from that, all the kit that we got couriered back from Wales after the show arrived which I spent some time sorting through and I just cried. Why was I crying? I don’t know, this should all be good stuff, the charity was growing and here was all the equipment to continue its growth! Then more things happened and more things happened then more things! I finally just exploded and could not take it anymore.

I spent a miserable evening at home feeling so down and depressed, I actually did not really know what I was doing half the time or really register the world around me, it was like swirling away into nothingness. I was saying some random things to close friends on Facebook messenger whilst I slowly scratched my hand with a sharp piece of metal, people started to worry and get scared. Soon they contacted my family to express their concerns and soon they knew what was happening and I was soon getting phone calls and as that happened before I realized it, I was bleeding pretty badly. My close friend Lee came over to see me as one of those concerned people and cleaned my hand up. He stayed with me and talked to me until I was ready to be left alone.

The next morning, I woke up and the first thing I felt was pure guilt. My Mum and my Brothers all phoned me up and I talked and explained my feelings and they also expressed their feelings and also gently explained that I had seriously worried my friends who I had communicated with the night before especially when I was not replying to their messages. And that guilt became even more real, how so bloody stupid and selfish I had been to put these kind-hearted and down to earth friends through that worry and fright when their going through their own issues in life. I apologized to them and again publically if you read this guys I am sorry again for frightening you, it was stupid, reckless and selfish of me to put you through that especially telling you what I was doing to hand. It is very important to open up to people you trust but sometimes and I have had plenty of time to think about this over the weekend, you have to be careful how much you tell others when it is actually happening, speak to your friends and family but especially speak to the ones who are there to actually help you and can help you.

And that is where I need to learn to speak to my own family more, we are now all pretty spread out across the country and abroad at the moment, but no matter the distance we are still a family and I am going to try my very best to open up more to my Mum and my brothers more about my mental health when its really bad. I want to tell them personally now how sorry I am to them also for worrying them, I promise as mentioned to make every effort to be a better person in situations like this.

And the improvements are now beginning, my Mum and I will be working on a good solid future document of plans for Autism on the Water. The charity also now has a full delegate of trustees who come from some excellent backgrounds and walks of life who I’m sure will contribute in any way they can to the success of Autism on the Water and give me a tiny break from some of the responsibilities.

As for me personally, I have taken this weekend to just shut down and catch up on some much-needed sleep. My hand is quite painful but it is heeling thanks to the cream my brother bought for it. And on Monday I will start again. I have returned back to the gym 2-3 times a week to do spin and burn it classes on the early mornings. I have also devised a plan to compromise both Autism on the Water and Edinburgh University Sailing Club work to strike a balance and ensure it is done efficiently. I am looking forward to getting more involved in the club, make some new friends within the club and build a strong yacht racing program up especially in the 707 class.

Finally, I want to say as always a huge thank you for all your support, guidance and friendship in my life and sorry if I have brought some of you to tears the past week. I know I am too honest in these blogs and I do not plan to write another one of these anytime soon because I want and need to focus on myself for a while. The winter is coming and with the recent coldness we are having its very close to coming and with the final racing event of the year for Autism on the Water just two weeks away with the 707 Scottish Championships, I am looking forward to a final blast and seeing if we can keep up our good results from our last event and end the racing season with a bang! Then the boat will be packed up and put to bed for the winter where I will start another long winter but this time there will be plenty to do, places to go and people to see. I anticipate it to be a much more positive winter than the last.

Change is Hard, but in someways facing the hard stuff is the most worthwhile challenge ever. Lets go give it a go!

Thank you for reading 🙂

How do I get there?

Image may contain: ocean, boat, sky, outdoor and waterHow do I begin? Where do I begin? I had done a Facebook Live on the Autism on the Water page but Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram etc. all seem to be having technical hitches so no videos are getting uploaded. So I decided to do what I do best out of everything I do and that is writing.

The last few days, ever since I got back from Hartlepool on Monday afternoon, I have been sitting alone in my little flat, thinking, trying to plan, trying to improve. Improve what may you ask? Last week we attended the Hunter 707 UK Nationals which this year were hosted by Tees & Hartlepool YC in Hartlepool. They did an outstanding job hosting 17 one-design boats from across the country. We made a special effort to transport AOTW back to the Forth from the West Coast ready to be transported down to Hartlepool in time for the event. But this year, the event was different for me, the entire crew was the entire family! Joining me for the event was my older brother Michael, his partner Brooke (who joined for Days 1 and 2) my cousin Robin, my other brother Martin who did Days 3 and 4 and last but not least my amazing and beautiful Mum Julie. We were very generously sponsored for the event by Mark Cameron of Mark Cameron Yachts and we ensured he was recognised throughout the whole event by flying his business flag.

But the racing whilst the sun shone, the racing for us was not good. I went into the event with no high hopes of taking a top 5 position as I knew we would have to be a top team to be able to be capable of that but a top 10 has always been my goal at every event I do. But this time, I just could not understand it, I could not find any pace on the boat. The crew work was very exceptional so it was not that, the boat’s sails are in reasonable condition and we also had a brand new spinnaker so it could not have been that. The rig settings?? Yes that is a big possibility especially when I tightened the rig back to front with the inner stays on higher numbers and the cap shrouds on lower numbers but could that really slow the pace of the boat down?? My answer, I honestly do not know? On Saturday, Martin came for his stint of racing, he out of the three brothers is the most experienced and a very good tactician, I even let him helm a race to see if he could get the boat going but it was to no avail, we still finished last. I was so depressed after racing, I felt so low and so many things were going through my head like selling the boat, giving up, I honestly did not know what to do. Loads of people tried to advise but some of their perception of advice was pointing out what I was doing wrong and I was offended by some comments and some even said I needed a helmsman, that made me feel like they were saying I was not good enough.

On Sunday, racing got abandoned so we set about packing away the boat and preparing for lifting out, but not before making small notes on various things like rig numbers and small repairs etc. Then a disaster happened, as we started the craning out procedure, myself, Mum and Robin were helping another boat by pushing their trailer, because people were in a rush to get home, things were moving too quickly and by accident, Mum’s foot got rolled over by the wheel of the trailer with the boat on it! Seeing that happen was horrible, poor Mum was shaking and crying and was on the brink of almost passing out. As in the spirit of the 707 class, people rallied round to see if there was anything they could do and Mark of the boat “Valhalla” who is one of my best Valhalla friends and is a qualified doctor came over and assessed her and advised us to take her to the Urgent Care Clinic. Robin went and brought the car around and took her up to the hospital whilst I went and prepared the boat to be lifted out the water, again the spirit of the 707 fleet was perfect, they all rallied once again, bringing the box of straps and helping strap the boat to the trailer and then assisted in attaching the boat to the van that was towing the boat home to Edinburgh.

After the boat left, I then headed up to be by my Mum’s side whilst they took her in for an X-ray, she thankfully got off very lightly with a broken big toe in two places and a fractured Vulcan. But by now with some painkillers in her system, she was in good spirits. I posted a photo of her on the 707 Group chat thanking the class for all their efforts on her behalf and mine for helping out and also made a suggestion about maybe being less rushed when lifting out next time. But unfortuenly the suggestion was taken the wrong way as an insult and so I removed it and for the record, no one is to blame, it was entirely an accident but I was so worried about Mum and just wanted to ensure that it does not happen again to anyone. No one was being criticised.

But now I am back home where I have been for the past three days, sitting in the house trying to think. I have felt so low and so tired. Again I have had several thoughts to just sell the boat and not go back out again. Then I realised just how stupid I was being, I cannot give up. Things have not helped with people from Tarbert complaining to me about the accommodation we stayed in this year during the Scottish Series and saying that we “stained a towel and a duvet” which I spent a considerable amount of money replacing and I am still getting my head nipped at so we have now lost our digs for Scottish Series 2020 😦

Where do I go from here? I guess the answer is to move forward. I have now made a list of what to replace and fix on AOTW, what rig settings we can choose and what bits I can add on to help improve the boat. For goodness sake why am I being like this? I should not be down, I should be happy, happy that everything is going so well, in a time of trouble I sit and watch the Scallywag videos from the Volvo Ocean Race and seeing Witty’s words of encouragement to his crew and his attitude of never giving up makes me a stronger person and want to carry on. I will carry on, I will not give up. We will get the boat sorted out and get back on the water.

I am sorry to those who I have let down, I am sorry to those I have ignored, I am sorry in general for being me. I promise to make things better and keep on going and who knows if we work hard, maybe we can bring a trophy home one day, but as long as we continue raising the awareness of autism, not just of my autism but for the world of autism, then that in itself to me is a true Race win.

 

“The Road goes ever on”

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Currently, the Irish have invaded Edinburgh for another edition of the 6 Nations against Scotland at Murrayfield. I sit here at home remembering the times when I used to Rickshaw during the 6 Nations. It was always a busy weekend then the Irish, English and Welsh came to Edinburgh for the rugby. The long 12pm-6am shifts cycling half a tonne of rickshaw with 3 people in the back is a painful yet fond memory. I have spent today wondering if it is time to come out of retirement and go back to it?! Who knows? It is not hard to go and renew my license! Maybe one day!

The last few weeks have really gone by quick and I cannot believe that we are now into February, oh lord the month of the Valentine, who will send me one this year? I am actually still waiting to receive my first! But in all seriousness, things are now on the up, the days are getting lighter, the weather is getting a tad warmer (when the wind is not here) and Autism on the Water is finally a registered charity! The day when I received the email was a real lift for me, it made me realise that I had accomplished something very big and exciting and reminded me of the very long road I now have to create and fulfil the needs of OSCR the charity registration. I have so many exciting plans and ambitions for the year, for the moment I am concentrating on introducing myself to the sailing centre world and I will be attending the RYA Conference later this month where they actually have a workshop in Autism and Boating! I was in Oban this week and had the pleasure of meeting a young man with autism from Glencoe Boat Club. He really deserves an award for his amazing commitment and dedication to sailing and I am going to make sure that he one day gets that award. I have also invited a group of autistic adults to help me take the Hunter 707 through the Crinan Canal in June, this will be of huge benefit to them and I hope I can put some further smiles on their faces.

But overall, I have to thank one of my best friends who really was there for me during those difficult few weeks in January despite currently in Malaysia studying and feeding elephants and that is Kirsty! Kirsty has been nothing but a true friend ever since she came into my life last summer when she joined AOTW for the 707 Sprints, her and her amazing and kind-hearted sister Kate have always been there when I have needed a chat, felt down, or just a good pint and a good laugh. Despite being a long way from home at the moment, Kirsty has been a real godsend just sitting there whilst she should be studying and enjoying her abroad experience and listening to me moan and groan about my own problem and she just comes back with simple yet strong words of advice and encouragement. She really is one of the greatest friends I have could have in my life just now along with the many others, so I dedicate this blog to you Kirsty, I won’t have been able to pull myself back up as quickly as I have done without you. Forever a friend!

Right, the rugby is finished, looks like Ireland has won!! Until next time folks!

“If you need a Hug, I am here”

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Well, it has been quite sometime since I have made a appearance in the blogging world. Alot has happened since I last posted, whilst much of it has been so so good, January has brought a real mixture of feelings.

Last week, I received a phone call to be informed that a very dear friend of mine I knew for over 12 years had suddenly died. I am not going to mention names or anything purely for respect and privacy for his family and friends. The shock on receiving this news was beyond belief. It just totally floored me, my whole day at that point just stopped. I spent that Monday morning in the house feeling absolutely devastated, however deep in my thoughts my friend was, but also deep in my thoughts was myself. There was a time two years ago when I nearly did something that would have not seen me here today but after a good kicking and also the realisation that I had so much in life, I continued on achieving all I could, especially with AOTW. It is times like this whilst you feel so terribly upset and devastated losing someone that you knew, loved and respected, I also felt so grateful to still be here in this world backed up by an amazing family and strong network of friends and supporters. Basically, my main point here is, if you feel down, if you need a friend, if you need just a hug, please just ask. Because I will always be there no matter what.

Aside from that tragic news, I have been very busy further building my amazing campaign which is Autism on the Water which is now so huge that pretty much 80% of my life has been devoted to its growth. Myself and a lawyer from Edinburgh have been working really close together to further develop AOTW by registering it as a charity. Becoming registered as a charity is not a simple process. Since October me and the lawyer have had many meetings, many exchanged emails to OSCR the Scottish Charity registers with the application. OSCR understandably have to scrutinise every charity that is set up etc. But the last couple of weeks have seen me and the lawyer have to deal with a number of difficult questions from OSCR of how AOTW and also the warnings of what would happen if I do not deliver. Basically if in a situation that AOTW did not deliver what I promise to OSCR, they have the power to stop the charity and sell all of its assets such as the boat and its name etc. This warning really shook me a little. AOTW is my creation, its a project that I have built over the last two years pretty much single handed, I know we have been so lucky to have sponsors and supporters etc. But the real work behind it has been done by me and before you say “Murray is boasting”, I am not! I gave up everything to run AOTW, such as college, university and even my little part time job with Uber Eats to build AOTW to what it is now. I had a meeting with the lawyer both before Christmas and last week as we both worked to answer the questions OSCR wanted to clarify from us. I felt this huge sense of relief that I was able to be fully honest with the lawyer and tell him exactly what I wanted to get out of the charity rather then what others were advising I should do with it. I have so so many plans, projects, races etc. planned for this year with the main priority being autistic involvement. But for a while I felt OSCR were trying to take all my two years worth of work away from me. I told a friend recently, that if AOTW ever died, I’d die with it. I know that sounds awfully stupid, but my campaign has given me such a zest for life, something to feel proud and something to feel privileged of building.

I personally feel that I have made a difference in the world in terms of raising awareness of autism. You will all know that I am autistic myself. High functioning I maybe, but behind the scenes, outside the sailing world, cycling world, public speaking world etc. There is a Murray that only close friends and family know. Being autistic I struggle every single day with things from little things like what position my Mickey Mouse teddy should sit to big things like knowing what crew are coming to a sailing event. People have emailed and called me through the last two years thanking me for teaching and showing them that if I as an autistic person can skipper a boat in a big sailing event, other autistic people can and if you follow me on the AOTW FB Page, you will see that a young man with autism aged just 11 finished 18th out of 64 boats in a world championships in New Zealand and he has just been sailing 18 months!!!

I am so proud that I have been able to share my story with all of you, I am not ashamed to admit how difficult my autism can be despite how hard it can be for you all to either witness or see. My clients within AOTW even see parts of my autism for example “real life Murray” and “Social Media Murray”. There is a massive difference between the two. If you are confused at this, go have a read through my many posts and remind yourselves of the real life conversations we have both had.

So this week, with all the stress of losing my friend and the AOTW stuff, I decided at the drop of a hat to pay Samaritans a visit. And before anyone thinks otherwise, I was not feeling depressed, but I was feeling sad and I just felt like talking to a complete stranger, so I bravely returned to the office I once visited before when I was in a really dark place. It was 9pm on a Tuesday and the volunteer Robyn warmly invited me into their welcoming building and made me a nice hot coffee. We had a real good chat and I told her about all my stresses, it felt so nice and I so admire everything they give up their time for. This person had no pressure to run off quickly or put off talking to me, she just sat there with her mug (a Noddy mug actually) and listened, she did not advise, she just gave me a hug and said thank you so much for coming to see us. Sometimes, all my close friends are too busy or I do not want to put them under strain listening to me about my problems. Guys this charity is not for just depressed people, its there if you just need a simple chat. It is high time I filled out my volunteer application form for them. They really do great stuff.

So after chatting to Robyn, I felt so much better. Happy Murray came back again and I completely focussed on myself such as getting full time back into cycling, progressing AOTW etc. The last couple of months, I have been so grateful for the treasured friendship of world recognised sailor David Witt and his partner Kim. Witty and Kim are huge supporters of AOTW and have been nothing but generous and kind since I first met them over a year ago in Hong Kong. What they are doing to support AOTW is beyond my wildest dreams and the opportunities they are personally giving me is just so overwhelming. When I visited Hong Kong recently, they both came to my talk at Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club alongside my Mummy and Stepdad Pete, having these four people there for a international presentation really felt so special and gave me so much confidence and Witty and Kim both gave me a hug before they left and told me I should be proud. I am a modest person at heart, but I am proud. There is a long and wonderful journey to go on with these guys and I cannot be more grateful for their support. Love you both Witty and Kim!

So Monday will be a tough day as I attend the funeral of my dearly departed friend. It is going to be a hard day, but I hope that I will have the courage to be strong alongside all the other friends there to give him the send off he deserves and the knowledge that wherever he is in the world, he will be much much loved and missed by all of us. RIP my dear friend x

Finally, although we will not have an answer until the end of the month. I received an email from the lawyer informing me that all being well and subject to final checks, AOTW should have a charity number by the end of this month. Of the many achievements in my life, to build a charity must be the biggest.

So now its time for me to hit the hay for a good nights sleep, so I wish you all fair winds, goodnight and once again a reminder as of the title of this blog “If you ever need a hug, please just ask”.

Love you all and goodnight xxx

Nothing Beyond our Reach

2018 West Highland Yachting Week

“Nothing Beyond our Reach”

For many years, a lot of people believed that Autistic Sailor Murray MacDonald would be unable to skipper his own yacht in West Highland Yachting Week. In 2010 at the age of 18 he sailed his little Hunter 19 Michelle Dawn from Oban to Craobh and back again in the restricted sail class. Despite this being a big achievement, many people were still not convinced about his sailing ability so eventually Michelle Dawn was sold, but Murray vowed to return one day at the helm of his own boat for West Highland Week and set everyone straight. Thanks to the huge success of his awareness campaign Autism on the Water, Murray was sponsored his own Hunter 707 yacht this year to continue his journey to raise awareness of autism through sailing and remembering the promise he made himself all these years ago, West Highland Week was entered! Here is an account of Autism on the Water’s week in his own words.

 

Friday 27th July – Delivery to Oban

After spending the last week loading the boat with various supplies, getting new halyards fitted and our sponsors stickers installed, AOTW were ready to set off. Ken Pritchard one of our sponsors very generously towed me and the boat to Dunstaffnage from South Queensferry, Ken has been a hero to us this past year as he also towed us to Kip Regatta and the Scottish Series. I would like to again thank him for all his assistance with this as towing a boat on these narrow roads on the west coast can be a challenge. We are also extremely grateful to our new main sponsors Octopi Engineering ltd who started our partnership together by sponsoring us for West Highland Week.

We arrived into Dunstaffnage just before 3pm to be greeted by fellow 707s Rammie and Partial Pressure. One of my crew Matty Thomas very kindly came out to help me get the boat all set up and tuned ready for the week ahead. It was a strange feeling seeing my boat in my old home waters, it was also a great feeling as the plan was working, people were seeing that I was there and ready to prove those who were concerned wrong. But there was still 7 days of racing ahead! After finishing all of the tuning, Matty and me hoisted the sails and departed Dunstaffnage heading for Oban, we had a lovely wee sail in a light wind with the sun shining in the Firth of Lorne. The refreshments were popped open and we settled down to a relaxed sail eventually docking into the new transit marina in Oban at 20:00hrs where we enjoyed a few refreshments ashore and met up with the remainder of our crew before turning in early for the early rise in the morning.

 

Saturday 28th July – Oban to Craobh Feeder Race

Arose at 6am ready for the 8am start in the feeder race from Oban to Craobh. My two brothers Michael and Martin both arrived. It was wonderful to have them on board as it had been so long since we had all sailed together so along with Andy and Laura our fellow crew, we departed the marina and headed for the start just slightly south off Oban Sailing Club. It was a warm and grey morning with little wind, so the committee took us down the Sound of Kerrera which gave us a chance to give the engine a good run and refuel it! South of Cutter Rock, a steady south easterly crept in and the committee soon had us started. With 20 boats, this was going to be a busy start line but brother Martin calmly guided me in the start sequence and at the one minute gun, we headed for the pin end of the line slowly luffing up Prime Cut, we could have been more mean and properly push them over the line early but we decided to be friendly, spinnaker pole on, BANG, up goes the spinnaker and with clear wind we got a superb start. We were lead boat in the fleet briefly before some of the faster boats passed us but it did not matter, we were side by side with Shadowfax which is usually hard to achieve with Steven Fortieth at the helm and best of all we were well ahead of the other two 707s! We carried the spinnaker for quite sometime, occasionally surfing in the gusts, my head was spinning it was a wonderful feeling, the boat was going fast, the crew were happy, I was happy!

By Inch Island, the wind started to turn more on the nose and eventually the spinnaker fun was over and after seeing our friends on Lucky Ned Pepper starting to struggle, we decided to douse the kite before we got in any problems. A good smooth drop was done and we soon hardened up for the beat down the Sound of Luing. By now the rain was on and whilst it was warm, it was miserable! All of us soaked to the skin but really enjoying the sail especially short tacking down the sound still well ahead of most of the competition. Eventually we found our orange turning mark south of Ardluing buoy and once round that the kite was back up for the final broad reach to the finish of Craobh Haven, more dark clouds came in which brought some good brisk winds that saw us again sometimes surfing with speeds in the excess of 9kts.

Crossing the finish line after just over 3 hours of racing, we got a round of applause from Amber Haze who were just ahead of us and we entered the marina to our berth with a sense of achievement as it was the longest sail AOTW had taken part in. Hunter 707’s are usually round the cans racers and we had just done a 20 miles passage! Eventually the sunshine came out and we were able to dry out our gear and managed to pass the safety inspection! The results were soon in and we found out we were 5th overall on handicap with Marisca winning followed by Taz and Shadowfax with Warrior only beating us by 20 seconds! Close stuff indeed! It was a relief that we had arrived at Craobh when we did for a big storm was on its way and by nightfall gusts had reached 50knots which caused havoc to those who were camping including us! But whatever it was the feeling of “I am finally here on my own boat at WHYW” and that kept me smiling even when trying to hammer the tent pegs back in at 3am!

 

 

Sunday 29th July – Craobh Races

The first day of the official racing for West Highland Week, the previous nights storm had thankfully gone and a light to medium breeze was blowing with even some sunshine that was not to last with the rain once again coming towards us! Racing got under way at 10:25, the first of two windward leeward races with the fast boats off first. We were in Class 7 with our other 707 friends and up against the well sailed Moody 336’s of Salamander, Cool Bandit, Piecemaker and Katrina and the Westerly Storm Sorr of Appin. We had a bit of a dodgy start but managed to get away in clear wind which saw us 4th round the windward mark with Rammie and Partial Pressure leading the fleet with Farr Out the Laser 28 on their heels. The wind lightened as the race progressed and we eventually had to settle for a 6th place which by no means was a bad result.

Race 2 got underway in a still dying breeze and a big windshift which turned the course inside out with the beat becoming a reach and the run becoming a tight reach/fetch! Tricky stuff indeed. We got a good start but the boats who were set up for light wind sailing were away and unfortuenly we got stuck in a puddle of boats at the mark which gave us rubbish air. By the second lap, the wind was pretty much glass calm and with Partial Pressure a lap ahead of us and Rammie retiring from the race we started to think about retiring too. I am not one to give up a race but with the tide turning and us drifting towards an exposed rock, the decision was made and on went the engine. We congratulate Emily Smith though on Partial Pressure on taking a well deserved win for this was one of Emily’s first times at the helm in a big event and her performance was flawless.

We returned to the marina as the sun came back out and we were greeted by Matty who had come to sail Monday and Tuesday with us as Martin was going home early the next morning. We invited our friends from Lucky Ned Pepper on board to sample our special Garden Shed Gin courtesy of our sponsors Octopi. Now this small gathering soon turned into a gathering way beyond what I expected. More and more people came over to see us and more gin was dispensed! Soon we had 37 people on our boat which is built to fit 5 people! It was insane, all those people had come to support me and Autism on the Water with even Boyd Tunnock the main sponsor of the whole event joining us for a drink! I panicked a little when I saw how low in the water the boat was sitting with all the guests on board. The evening continued with much fun and laughter whilst watching an absolute stunning sunset over the marina that lasted until past midnight.

 

 

Monday 30th July – Craobh to Oban Passage Race

Monday morning came with a few tired heads but thankfully it was a lunchtime start which allowed us to be relaxed like have a large breakfast etc. Martin had left very early in the morning to return to Glasgow to catch his flight back to Brighton, so as previously mentioned Matty had stepped in to join us until Tuesday. This was the first time I had sailed with Matty, for he is a very popular international sailor, but he loved being back in home waters for West Highland Week where his career pretty much began. He had us working hard by ensuring any unnecessary weight was removed such as various bits of string, cushions etc. All not legally required was taken ashore and stored in the tent which Michael would drive down and collect later on. The wind was back and fairly fresh with gusts of 20-25kts but bright sunshine and a favourable wind direction which would mean a fast race. As our friends on Lucky Ned Pepper were shorthanded, we lent Laura to them for the day, so myself, Michael, Matty and Andy set out of the marina ready for an exciting race.

Big breeze it was with quite choppy waves, we hoisted the mainsail so Matty could do some tweaking to the rig so it was right for the wind strength. We had a bit of a scare when we gybed the mainsail and the spinnaker pole went overboard as it was not tied on! However, some sharp reaction from Michael and Andy very soon had it back on board and quickly tied on securely. The race started and we had a cracking start flying in at the committee boat end of the start line and straight away overhauling both Partial Pressure and Rammie upwind. It was a classic beat all the way to the orange mark off Ardluing with AOTW absolutely flying with the crew all hiked out on the rail. Round the orange mark and up went the spinnaker and the rest they say is history! We had a spectacular run all the way up the Sound of Luing with the tide moving with us and bringing more wind from behind. By the time we were passing Easdale the wind strengthened considerably and soon Michael and Andy were standing at the back of the boat as Autism on the Water took off like a rocket, plaining down the waves with Matty controlling the spinnaker with incredible ease.

As we passed Inch Island, we passed one of the Restricted Sail boats then Michael said “Murray look behind you”. I looked behind and almost dropped the helm in shock. 87 Boats were racing in WHYW this year, 83 boats were sailing behind us, 3 were in front and we were 4th! What a feeling it was, it was magic with all those spinnakers way behind us! So with that in mind, my competitiveness soon had returned and I was headstrong on catching the three boats ahead which of course were the Moody 336’s of Salamander, Cool Bandit and Piecemaker. We approached the orange mark just off the Isle of Kerrera slowly catching the three Moody’s then frustratingly the wind dropped a bit which slowed us down a bit. We decided to do a wee gybe away from the Kerrera shore thinking we could get fresher breeze however it was the other round as the gusts were actually coming from the Kerrera hills and not open sea. Hey ho! You don’t know these things unless you try it!

We gybed back inshore and aimed for the finish line just south west of the northern entrance to Oban bay. The breeze started to come back a little and we started to speed up again, we crossed the finish line as 4th boat in the entire fleet with a round of applause from the committee boat as well as the Class 1 boats who were just behind us. Despite not taking line honours, it was the best performance I had ever done helming a boat. Being ahead of a whole 707 fleet is great but being ahead of 83 boats is a magical feeling, it gives you a sense of achievement. Boats that overtook us as we motored into Oban bay clapped and cheered us as they past, some of these people who once upon a time had said “Murray is not capable” took their caps off in deep respect and gave me a thumbs up!

Once tied up in the marina in Oban, Matty very kindly did some small repairs to the boom as well as ensuring that the boat was all looking clean and fresh for Adam Mills our sponsors from Octopi along with his wife Ashley, baby son Finlay and another of our sponsors Dave Sturrock were coming to the boat for a small drinks reception. The results were in and we ended up 5th on handicap and 5th overall in the whole fleet on corrected time. Happy Murray I was! The evening was very much enjoyed with our sponsors enjoying the little reception I held for them and Adam absolutely delighted with how well the week was going so far.

 

Tuesday 31st July – Firth of Lorne Races

Tuesday dawned bright and once again breezy. We again lent Laura to Lucky Ned Pepper and then sailed out of Oban bay in a building wind ready for the first of two round the cans races. We decided to head out early and have a couple of practice gybes with the spinnaker up as again with only 4 of us instead of the usual 5 we sail with at 707 events. The wind was a strong but steady 25kts. It was very beneficial for me to learn the skills I learnt that day from Matty, he talked me through every single gybe such as comfortable seating angles, how hard to move the tiller through the gybe etc. and importantly to remain calm in the breeze for I was getting quite panicky in the breeze but Matty just told me to focus and not to worry.

The race started and the winds were now big! We did a cheeky move at the start by barging in at the start which saw our friends Emily, Andy and crew Partial Pressure luffing us up but they kindly did not luff us up as much that they could push us over the line but we made a quick tack away from the fleet whilst mouthing my apologises to them (I bought them a drink later!) The beat upwind was lumpy which was mainly caused by two large red tankers which were berthed pretty much in the middle of the race course but we pushed on, many boats were reefed but we held full main and jib and AOTW was punching through the waves touching over 5-6kts boat speed on the beat but the fun part was meant to come! We approached the windward mark, 6th boat on the water in our class, the spinnaker pole was set and the kite was hoisted as we rounded the mark. Seriously this was both amazing and scary, we were going faster then the previous day and Matty was controlling the kite like holding a skipping rope for a excited child on the beach! AOTW was in full element and we were catching both Sorr of Appin, Katrina and Farr Out who were running dead downwind whilst we sailed wide angles to avoid rolling to windward in the waves. We approached the leeward mark at full speed as the other three boats were about to round, Matty shouted no water and both Sorr and Farr Out gave us room as we rounded up back on the beat overhauling the three boats. The crew were working so hard and so well in the conditions and I started to relax a little as I knew my team were confident and all were helping me raise the autism message. Skippering a competitive boat for anyone with autism in such an open big sailing event is such an achievement and those boys were helping me do exactly that, I was feeling so grateful.

The wind continued to build as we beated back upwind on the second lap, the other two 707’s had been left for dead and with the other three boats now overtaken, the battle was on to catch those Moody’s who were storming upwind with their masthead rigs! The Class 1 boats were coming back downwind with the majority not flying spinnakers and the Corby 37 Aurora had a mega Chinese gybe to windward! The breeze gusted to at least 37kts on the beat and here we were thrashing through it with no problems! Approaching the mark and now seeing the Class 3 boats not flying kites, I was about to ask Matty if we were worth flying it but the call of “POLE ON” was called and I said to myself “well we will soon find out if this becomes a disaster”…..How wrong I was! Spinnaker up and we roared off!! Michael and Andy were both leaning at the back of the boat, I had both hands on the tiller as Matty again with no turns on the winch controlled the spinnaker, we were plaining faster then I had ever been on a 707!

We passed boats who were heading back upwind who either clapped and cheered us or looked at us in awe! We had a GPS recording boat speed and as we went through a rather huge gust where I really expected us to broach, instead we hit 21 KNOTS!! Then as the gust still ran through, we had to gybe to head into the finish line, this was the point I got scared as this was serious winds, but Matty again told me to remain calm and the boys got into position, through the gybe, out the other side and off we went again to the finish! Over the finish line to another cheer from the committee boat, wipes of sweat from us and a team handshake! What a day that was! We came 4th which we were delighted with and the other 707s way back who chose like the other boats to run deep downwind.

Once the last boat had finished, the wind built even more and the visibility became tricky to see through and the committee took the decision to abandon the second race which was a bit of a disappointment as we would like to have had another go! We sailed back into Oban feeling immensely pleased with ourselves and enjoying some excellent banter with many old stories of strong wind sailing and we had a great night in Oban and prepared for the next days early start for the race to Tobermory!

 

Wednesday 1st August – Oban to Tobermory Passage Race

Alarm went off at 5:30am, we got on the boat very tired but in good spirits ready for the passage up to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. We now had Laura back with us as Matty now had to head back to work. We left Oban and sailed out to the starting area of the Gregg Islands. The breeze was up again but not as strong as yesterday and in the right direction too. With Michael guiding me, we ran down the start line with 20seconds to go on course for a excellent pin end start in clear wind but at the committee boat end, the rest of our class were gunning at each other trying to get room and everyone was over the line which saw the race officer call a general recall and send us to the back of the queue until after everyone else had set off! It was a bit gut wrenching watching everyone get a head start but hey ho that’s sailing!

We started after Class 1 had gone, but mucked up our start heading for the line a bit early, so had to burl round quickly to avoid being Black Flagged and we ended up doing a port end flyer and ducking a load of starboard boats. But to our amazement, we actually got out of it rather nicely and managed to fetch to Lismore Lighthouse and were on good course for a pole set up and were the first 707 to hoist the spinnaker and soon we were trucking up the Sound of Mull catching the fleet. As usual in the Sound of Mull, the winds become fluky in certain places such as the Green Isles buoy where we hit some tricky little light patches and got dirty wind from fellow boats that were ahead of us. It was a nerve wrecking half an hour as the other 707’s crept further up towards us, but in the nick of time we caught the stead strengthening breeze and off we went and as we approached the final turning mark off Calve Island, the wind was gusty enough we started plaining again and passing boats much faster then us and ones that I had been racing against for so many years like Tangle O’ the Isles and Amber Haze.

Round that turning mark we went after a smooth spinnaker drop and we blasted into Tobermory bay and the finish line, it had been a quick race of just over 3hrs and we were getting close and still not close enough to the Moody’s! Once over the finish line, we threw the engine on and scrambled into Tobermory harbour for that famous game of “get the pontoon berth”. Jim Traynor in his rib came out to us with his usual warm welcome and smile, the berths were all pretty full but he knew that he would help us secure a good spot to park! After a bit of shuffling around, we managed to squeeze into a nice spot in the far corner next to Polaris and Marisca. It was a nice feeling having my boat here in Tobermory, a place I had sailed too so many times in my childhood with my Dad on our old boat Highpointer as well as many other friends boats and here I was now many years later with my own boat after a superb sail! The results soon came in and we got another fantastic 4th place! The midweek results were released, and we saw we were lying 6th overall! As we had arrived early, the crew took time to explore Tobermory as well as enjoy the delights of the famous watering hole that is The Mishnish!

 

Thursday 2nd August – Sound of Mull Races

A wee lie in was most welcome and we were able to have a relaxed start and a nice breakfast ready for a day of round the cans of Tobermory. Damp and miserable it was, but we were excited for another good day on the water! It was a bit of a motor to the race area located in Kilcohan Bay which required us to refuel the outboard engine at one point. It was a bit of a delayed start to the racing with light and shifting winds and the Class 1 and 3 boats who had started had to be called back and the racing was postponed whilst the race officer relayed the whole course. Thankfully we did not have to wait too long and off we went. I started to notice that I perform much better upwind in strong winds then light winds and the Moody’s seem to take off, Rammie and Partial Pressure too were back on form for they are well drilled crews and were well used to round the cans racing so Emily once again took a well deserved win in race 1, this was fantastic to see as previously mentioned it was the first time she was helming in a big event. Our results were rather poor in both races for this day as the light and fluky winds really did not suit us and we were involved in a incident when we t-boned a boat in our class that was on Port Tack and us on starboard which we were unable to protest as the boat retired. Thankfully we had very minimal damage that we were able to fix.

By the end of the day our two results had dropped us from 6th to 8th out of 9, but I had to reflect on the fact we had had a great week with some excellent sailing and the positive though that the final day was coming which was a chance to get into a final piece of glory. We arrived back into Tobermory to a absolutely choca block marina with many of the Restricted Sail boats taking up the berths and the spinnaker boats having to pick up moorings or drop anchors but we thankfully again thanks to Jim managed to actually secure our own little finger berth! We enjoyed a 707 party on board Rammie and Partial Pressure’s mothership Shindig and then a fantastic crew dinner with Lucky Ned Pepper ashore in MacGochans before enjoying a fantastic evening in the Mishnish with the popular Mad Ferret Band playing to a packed crowd of sailors!

 

Friday 3rd August – Tobermory to Oban Passage Race

The final day of WHYW dawned damp! Well it’s the West Coast after all! Got to the boat via the bakery to pick up some pies for lunch and I told myself that the aim of the last day was to finish on a high with a good result. We motored out into Tobermory Bay and the wind was in the right direction! It was going to be a spinnaker start! Whoopee! Michael who had come back to WHYW for the first time in 6 years and had loved every second of being back decided to finish the week in style by wearing a lifejacket and a pair of bungy smugglers!! And that’s it!! He certainly got a few laughs and also odd looks from most of the fleet, some who were on deck preparing spinnaker bags dropped their sheets and guys in pure moments of awe at the sight of this inspirational older brother of mine! The hungover crew became not hungover anymore upon seeing Michael in his attire! Very funny indeed! Now back to the racing!

It was going to be a spinnaker start so we had what could had been a reasonable start if the spinnaker had not being hoisted in a giant knot! A knotted spinnaker especially in light winds just stops the boat and others with filled kites sail past you! Andy and Laura both worked to untwist the knot out and when it popped out, a large amount of dead fish fell onto the deck! The culprit was identified later, I will not mention names but he sails on the boat with the clue of LNP! Despite this delay, we sailed slowly out of Tobermory bay. The wind was very fluky as we stayed on the lee of Calve Island and everyone else headed for the Mull shore, by now the wind had turned into a very shy reach and as hard as we could, we could not carry the spinnaker so it was dropped and we went back to headsail which was frustrating as both Rammie and Partial Pressure had managed to carry their kites longer then us, PP did drop their for a while but Rammie with Emily and the girls held it all the way and thus took a huge gain out on pretty much the whole fleet!

We eventually put the kite back up and settled down to a nice run down the Sound of Mull and started to catch up on some of our class until disaster struck at the Yule Rock buoy as we got completely shadowed by the Mylne Ketch Glenafton. As beautiful a boat as she is, sitting in her lee and no way to get away from her is just awful and our spinnaker sat limply and the other boats we were steadily catching up with sailed away again. Once we eventually passed, the damage was done, the wind lightened and it was a frustrating crawl through very patchy holes to the shortened finish line of Lismore just slightly west of the lighthouse. We crossed the finish line in a solitary last place alongside several other boats which was a disappointment. Had we had been able to carry the kite from the start we could have been better place but it was really the light winds at the end that killed it for us.

Once finished, we put the motor on and straight away started rolling away the sails, disconnecting the boom and taping up the halyards around the mast and securing the kicker ready to dismast the boat. We motored back into Dunstaffnage where we unloaded our gear, took the mast down, secured it all and then headed back to Oban where we freshened up and then returned to the marina for the final prizegiving. It was nice to see both Rammie and Partial Pressure win prizes, someone has to take the glory for the 707s and our congratulations to Salamander for a excellent class win. The evening was enjoyable but I sneaked away for a while and sat on board AOTW which was now ready for lift out in the morning and had some quiet time thinking fondly of a fantastic week before I returned back to Oban for a early night.

 

Saturday 4th August – Lifting out at Dunstaffnage and home to Edinburgh

Awoke early and headed back to Dunstaffnage to get AOTW lifted back onto her trailer and secured down. The marina were delayed in lifting the three 707s so I was invited for a nice leisurely breakfast on Shindig before packing away the boat and then Michael and I headed back home to Edinburgh where I tumbled into bed very early absolutely exhausted!

 

Overview

West Highland Week has been my top event of the season. Not because it was nice to be back in home waters and seeing many good friends again, but because a mission had been completed and a point had been proven! As mentioned at the beginning of this story, everyone thought because of my autism I could never do West Highland Week at the helm of my own boat. Even despite me taking my old boat Michelle Dawn from Oban to Craobh and back, everyone else was still not convinced, so I vowed to one day get back on my own boat and prove to everyone who thought negatively of my sailing ability and prove them wrong and more importantly prove that autistic people like me can benefit from sailing. And now I have done it! I kept the promise I made myself all those years ago and even showed people who just before I started the first race of this years WHYW that I could do it.

But it was not done alone, it was a team effort and I have to sincerely thank both Andy and Laura for crewing but biggest thanks of all to my wonderful brothers Michael and Martin for giving up their time to sail with me, it was so special having them there and to Matty who out of everyone on the crew taught me so much and big time improved my confidence with strong wind sailing. Thank you to David Smith and Emily Smith and Andy McKeown (who are now very good friends) and the rest of the 707 crews for encouraging me to still take part when even myself at times had doubts about going and last but certainly not least, a massive thank you to Adam Mills and Octopi Engineering Ltd for sponsoring us for the event and all their further sponsorship they have given to AOTW.

AOTW has grown so much this past year thanks to obviously getting our boat thanks to again our sponsors Octopi Engineering Ltd along with David Sturrock Yachting, Pritchard Property Consultants, The Foggy Pear Craft Company, Riggerous, Mainsail Marine and Marlow Ropes for without them all the sailing I have done this year would not be possible and I have been able to get that message out that autism and sailing is such a perfect connection to help autistic people improve confidence, problem solving and social skills. As the title of this story and also the words of Adam from Octopi “Nothing beyond our Reach”. We did not let anything get in our way, we went the distance and we did it and its safe to say that Autism on the Water will be back at West Highland Yachting Week in 2019.

 

THANK YOU FOR MAKING MY DREAM OF COMPETING AT THIS EVENT AT LAST COME TRUE 😊

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