How often do you think about icebergs?
Here’s the thing though, and Richard Lett will tell you, icebergs? Definitely still a thing, and yes, he thinks about them. He does this because when you’re sailing across the Atlantic alone, with the sea on all sides, the things you begin to worry about become a bit more primal in nature.
“Basically, there’s just a lot of different ways to get into trouble out there,” Lett says. “Storms, icebergs, whales, and you’re alone, so you really have time to contemplate the fragility of your own existence. I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is, but in the beginning, it’s a lot like a low-level feeling of dread and anxiety, underscored by occasional moments of terror.”
If you’re beginning to wonder why anyone would do this, you would be asking a valid question.
However, if you also want to know how a former guard to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (some call them William and Kate) wound up racing his sailboat to help Minnesota children who have disabilities, follow along below.
A Tiny Speck in a Vast Sea
Before we get too far along, go to Google Maps. Now zoom all the way out. Better yet, here:
Briefly look at the two markers: Plymouth in the United Kingdom and Newport, Rhode Island in the United States.
Now look at the big blue thing in the middle, and for a moment imagine being out in the middle of it, on a boat that’s slightly larger than your body.
You’re only sleeping in 20-minute increments because you’re constantly checking the ship, sails, and variable conditions. You’ve been doing this for days. You’re exhausted, seasick, cold and hungry. Oh, and also, you’re not just trying to survive the voyage. You’re racing a cadre of individuals doing the exact same thing.
This experience is called the OSTAR, or the Original Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race. It’s the oldest race of its kind in the world.
To Richard Lett, it’s fun.
“I’ve been sailing all my life. It’s natural to me,” Lett says. “There’s just something about being out there. You’re totally vulnerable, completely free, and the rest of life, all the day-to-day worries and stress just fades away.”
A Life Rooted In Service
It’s safe to say that Lett is an adventurous guy, but to him, it’s not all just fun and games.
Whether it’s taking a troop of kids on a scuba expedition in Belize, or leading a camping trip in Mozambique, he always tries to find the right blend of service in his enterprise.
It was the search for this winning combination that led Lett into a career in law enforcement, and eventually propelled him into the Royalty Protection Department, a division of Scotland Yard that is specifically trained to protect British royalty and foreign dignitaries.
Lett was assigned as the personal protection detail for Princes William and Harry, a post that he would serve in for the next 14 years.
Chance Encounter Leads to Minnesota Migration
While Lett will tell you that he was thrilled and honored to serve his country, he’ll also acknowledge the high demands of the post.
“When you’re guarding the princes, you’re their person. It’s 24/7, you’re with them everywhere they go,” Lett says. “Don’t get me wrong, I had a great life. But my work didn’t really allow for much of a family life.”
Fate had other plans, for it was on a trip to Mumbai with relatives of the royal family that Lett met Margaret LeClair of Lake Elmo, Minnesota. The two got to talking, and a budding relationship began. Two years later, Lett was charged with coordinating the security of Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton. It was fitting, as marriage was also a relevant subject in Lett’s life.
“It was becoming clear that I needed to make a choice,”Lett says. “I had been asked to take over Lady Catherine’s security detail after the wedding. So, in essence, I had to choose between the Duchess of Cambridge and Lady Margaret of Minnesota. I chose Lady Margaret.”
A Different Way Home
Lett officially retired from his post in 2012, and had one more thing to do before making the move to Minnesota. Remember the OSTAR from earlier? It was set for 2013 and Lett figured, “Why fly to Minnesota when you can sail?”
He won the race.
Racing for Kids
Lett and Margaret married and now live in Minneapolis. When asked about what he thinks about Minnesota (as well as the weather), Lett reports, “I really love it here. The people are so warm and welcoming. In regards to the weather, let’s just say the summers are great.”
That said, don’t think he’s done sailing.
Lett is currently preparing for the Bermuda One-Two, which is a yacht race in June that starts on the east coast and heads to Bermuda and back. He’s also gearing up for the next OSTAR in 2020.
In conjunction with the race, and in keeping with Lett’s tradition of uniting his endeavors with a larger cause, Lett is working to raise funds and awareness for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. He recently has spent time volunteering at the hospital, and says that he’s been humbled by the patients and families he’s met so far.
“When you’re out at sea, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the brevity of life, and how quickly things can change,” Lett says. “When I’m with the patients and their families, I feel this in a similar way. The bustle of life can be a distraction, but what constantly amazes me about these families is just how much they appreciate the little things; the small victories. Their journey makes anything I try to do pale by comparison.”
As the race approaches we will be providing updates on Richard’s Journey on our website.
To follow along, as well as donate to help our kids complete their own personal journeys, visit: gillettechildrens.org/giving/.