Most people probably wouldn’t use their holiday or sabbatical from work to go sailing around the world.
But that’s exactly what Poulton woman Maria Smale did.
The 37-year-old, who works as business manager at McDonalds Bank Hey Street restaurant in Blackpool, took part in the gruelling Clipper Round the World Yacht Race over three months earlier this year.
She was part of the Liverpool 2018 team, who began their 11,432 nautical mile journey from the Whitsundays in Australia, before sailing on to Qingdao, China and then across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle.
Maria – who has worked for McDonalds for more than 13 years – took a 10-week sabbatical and was granted a further two months of leave by franchisee Nigel Dunnington. McDonalds offers all salaried employees the chance to take a sabbatical once they reach 10 years service.
Maria said: “I’m grateful McDonalds and Nigel were so supportive. I just wanted to do something different, to meet like-minded people. I wanted to be able to look back when I’m older and be able to say I did something amazing.”
Having little sailing experience prior to the race, other than a few trips with her father as a teenager, Maria undertook a crash-course in preparation for the competition. There was four weeks training, learning how to sail the boat and before that, Maria had personal training sessions at T12 Body Transformations, in Blackpool, to help improve her endurance and upper body strength.
Among the highlights of the trip was one night in the Pacific, when dolphins swam alongside the boat for about 45 minutes – with the phosphorescence of shoals of fish glowing in the darkness.
Maria said: “Another highlight was when they asked me to be in charge of the cockpit. That was a big responsibility, to make sure everyone was in the right place at the right time.”
Her favourite of the places the crew visited en route was Seattle, in the USA. And she enjoyed the camaraderie and teamwork involved in life at sea.
“Everybody got sea sickness at various points, so people would help each other and cover for each other.
“I did not want to come back to real life, although I was glad to get a good night’s sleep. On board, it’s always four hours on, four hours off.
“If I won the lottery, I would do it all again. I’m hoping to do some off-shore racing next year. It was the most amazing experience and it will always be a part of me.”
Maria hopes to carry on sailing with a yacht club.