Fringe Box



XX Notes: Travel in the Time of Corona

Published on: 16 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 19 Jan, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

I’ve been travelling around quite a bit lately. At the weekend I enjoyed a gastronomic retreat in Argentina, and now I’m hanging out deep in the Southern Ocean, somewhere south of Nemo Point, under sail, dodging icebergs and marvelling at dolphins.

You may be wondering, dear readers, at my intrepidness, doubting my sanity or perhaps just wondering where I got my vaccination certificate for travel. (Has that become a thing yet? One never knows how the rules will change by the time articles are published!) Well, none of the above. These are my latest wheezes to get through lockdown.

Back in October (or was it November?), anyway, the dark days of 2020, a member our sailing club WhatsApp group, let’s call him Bob, suggested following the Vendée Globe yacht race.

Approaching the depression of Lockdown 2, I suggested we make it more interesting by holding a sweepstake and roping in other family members of our group to cover the 33 competitor race card. 28 people were game, so a socially distanced draw was held (time-lapsed video proof), with a few boats left over for people to jump ship, in case of premature retirement.

And it’s been great fun. For land-lubbing Guildford types, the Vendée Globe was born from the Golden Globe Race of 1968, when nine solo competitors set off from Falmouth to sail around the three Capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn.

The eventual winner took 313 days to circumnavigate the Earth and became a household name – do you know it?* I say the winner, he was, in fact, the only participant to return to the Cornish port.

The Vendee Globe route map

In 1989, navigator Philippe Jeantot, suggested a new race: solo, circumnavigation and non-stop. Today’s race sets off from Les Sables d’Olonne, an Atlantic Port, and is more avidly followed in France than their famous cycle Tour. It is gruelling. Only half of the competitors in that first race finished, earning the title “Everest of the Seas”.

The start of the Vendee Globe race – Photo

And what a year to follow the race. Action-packed with the front runners currently ripping up the Brazilian coast, the race is more open than any previous. Six sailors are within 50km of the leader, and given that bad weather and worse tactical decisions, not to mention kit failure or injury, can alter the rankings within moments, the sweepstake potatoes are on the edge of their couches.

Alex Thompson’s boat in Hugo Boss colours – Photo

British favourite Alex Thompson, sailing in his 5th Globe with the distinctive black livery of Hugo Boss, was forced to retire from the race in November, passing the baton briefly to Samantha Davies before her boat was damaged in a storm. The current leading Brit is Pip Hare, and following her is nerve-wracking as she had to repair her rudder, the bit that steers a boat, a few days ago.

The Vendee Globe women

You’ll notice that this yacht race is open to both male and female sailors who compete on an equal basis. The six women have been amazing role models and footage of them climbing masts, being tossed about in huge waves, miles from another soul, undertaking repairs with basic equipment in treacherous conditions that would have many male engineers flummoxed is awe-inspiring.

When Kevin Escoffier’s boat sent a brief SOS signal before disappearing from radar screens, the perilous nature of the race was highlighted and our light-hearted Whatsapp banter felt voyeuristic and inappropriate. Looking back at our chatter in the days before he was rescued by another competitor reveals how emotionally involved we’d all become, cheering on our randomly chosen yachtsmen to the happy conclusion.

Maria’s Vendee Globe choice – Alexia Barrier – Photo

The closeness of our involvement has been possible because of technology. The women, in particular journalist Pip Hare, are proficient at harnessing social media, much to the delight of their sponsors and relief of their families, I suspect.

My boat, TSE – for my Planet, sailed by Alexia Barrier (see YouTube clip below – it is in French), is way back in 24th place and still to round notorious Cape Horn, but I loved the recent Instagram photo at Nemo Point (most watery place on Earth), cuddling her teddy bear in beautiful Southern Hemisphere sunshine: very uplifting. Thanks to Bob for introducing the idea.

Other trips

My second travel excursion is more prosaic. Once more contained within our four walls for Lockdown 3 (sorry, I was trying not to mention it), with not even the teenager allowed out for the daily relief of school, I really could not face another round of the Zoom quiz.

Reaching into the depths of the Land of Make Believe, I asked the family to put the names of three countries they’d like to visit into a straw hat. The idea was to think of places with interesting foods, drinks, films, cultures, language… anything we could delve into to make the weekend different from the monotony of the weekdays.

Did you know?

In Argentina, the eighth-largest country in the world, the national language is Spanish, although in one of the provinces (Chubut) 25k people speak Welsh – this compares to 861k speakers in Wales.


Ricardo Darin is widely accepted as the most popular Argentinian actor. Catch award-winning film The Secret in their Eyes – what an ending!

There is some very tasty Argentine food and drink, with a Mediterranean influence: empanadas, barbeque steak on the asado (grill), huevos rancheros, malbec.

Huevos rancheros light

Incidentally, thank you and Happy Birthday to Wikipedia – 20 years old this week – what did we do without you?

This weekend we are off to the US of A. My choice. With waffles, burgers, fritters, Tex-Mex, pizza pie, and Budweiser on the menu, I think the post-Christmas diet is on hold, as you’d expect with a ‘holiday’.

Where do we go for films: Singing in the Rain? Thelma and Louise? Something historically cringy with John Wayne or one of Stephen King’s smalltown tales, like Stand By Me? Or how about a Michael Moore documentary? Any suggestions please stick in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

My last line goes to American, Muhammad Ali: “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

*Answer: Robin Knox-Johnston

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test One Response to XX Notes: Travel in the Time of Corona

  1. Marie-Claire Wilson Reply

    January 17, 2021 at 10:12 pm


    Once upon a time in Hollywood?

    Wild West movie?

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