Norfolk sailor and environmental journalist Laura Hampton
PUBLISHED: 15:05 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 15:05 12 June 2017
Norfolk sailor and environmental journalist Laura Hampton swapped a cosy job with the BBC for a life on the sometimes deadly ocean waves; here, she tells us why
“All hands on deck!” was the cry from my captain as he rushed around above my cabin. Soaked to the bone in freezing sea water, I pulled on my still sopping-wet foul weather gear and staggered out into the darkness.
The seedy red light of my head torch quickly illuminated three visibly worried crew members. Hunched against the driving sleet, they worked together in silence, struggling to re-attach three of the six shore lines severed by the 80-knot winds.
The remaining lines were the only thing keeping our custom-built expedition yacht from being smashed against the rocks. Having passed out from exhaustion just 40 minutes before, I looked over to the barometer to see it still falling sharply.
Clipping my lifejacket to the jackstays that snaked around the boat, I clung on to anything I knew wouldn’t move and cause me to fall. Exposure to Antarctic waters like these could be fatal, especially at night. Sleet stung my cheeks as I pulled on goggles to help me see.
My home had gone from being a safe space to a potential floating coffin. Our yellow survival bags lay ominously to the right of the pilot house door. Water, food, radios, medical kits and warm clothes; all vital supplies when abandoning ship.
I’d never expected that sailing in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica would be a walk in the park, but I hadn’t expected this. What on earth had led me to leave my comfortable job in TV news at the BBC in Tunbridge Wells?
That was over four years ago, and since then I have circled the globe reporting on a range of water-based issues.
I’ve covered the Volvo Ocean Race for BBC Sport, revealed the secrets of the Mariana Trench for the New Scientist, and reported first hand on the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef for BBC Radio 4.
My passion is to combine my experience of the oceans with the pressing realisation of our need to protect them. Think of the world without an ocean and you’ve got a planet much like Mars. No ocean. No us. Covering over 70% of the earth’s surface our oceans produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorb large amounts of the carbon we create from the burning of fossil fuels.
Over a billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein, yet despite this we are failing to see how significant a healthy ocean is to our future on this planet. We know more about the surface of Mars, for example, than we do about the deep ocean.
My next trip will be to the Bahamas with the National Oceanography Centre to look at how carbon is circulated in the north Atlantic. It is thought that, as the oceans warm, their ability to lock away carbon will decrease. This could have major implications for further global warming. We’ll be at sea for a total of 40 days with over 50 scientists and crew.
I’ll then be swapping my swimmers for a full body thermal survival suit as I head North once again, this time by yacht to report on the impact of climate change on the central Arctic Ocean with the polar explorer Pen Hadow.
Meanwhile back on the boat, my shipmates had begun to bring the situation back under control. The boat began to steady as a huge amber sun peeked its way over rocks which, just hours before, would have spelled certain death for us all.
Now they formed a beautiful Antarctic spectacle as I looked to see hundreds of Gentoo penguins gathered to survey us silly humans floundering around on our boat. I started to think that cosy studio in Tunbridge Wells didn’t seem so appealing after all.
Laura Hampton was born and raised in Norfolk. She spent a very happy childhood growing up on the North Norfolk Coast, first attended Kelling County Primary before going on to Sheringham High, Paston Sixth Form College (where her Grandfather taught classics) and ending up at the University of Westminster for both her degree and masters.
Laura remained in London, to work in PR, before deciding to return to journalism. She started her career at North Norfolk Radio before getting a job with the BBC, first in radio and then in TV.
After several years working in news at the BBC, Laura resigned to re-train as a professional yacht captain. She spent over two years sailing in Antarctica, and a further six months in the Arctic.
Now specialising in science and adventure, Laura writes for the New Scientist and produces multi-media content for the BBC.
Laura is currently looking into undertaking further study, this time at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University.
She enjoys tennis, horse riding, long country walks, Stiffkey beach and drinking pints with her friends at her local pub, The Earle in Heydon.