Only Wind and Water ... Around the World with the Clipper Yacht Race

Thanks to Neil Harvey for coming to Aquamarine Medicals for his ENG1 medical and writing his blog 'Only Wind and Water'. Neil was a circumnavigator during the Clipper Round the World Race 2017-2018, on board 'Dare to Lead'. In this year with not much chance for adventure - worth a read of Neil's transglobal exploits!
Eat. Sleep. Sail. Repeat. ...so goes the Clipper organisation's description of their biennial Round-the-World yacht race
World Route

The Clipper Race is claimed by some to be one of the biggest challenges of the natural world and an endurance test like no other ...a record breaking 40,000 nautical mile race around the world on a fleet of eleven identical 70-foot ocean racing yachts, each with a fully qualified skipper to safely guide the crew of circa 20 people. The Clipper Race was devised by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world. Each edition of the Race is divided into eight legs, taking 11 months to complete the full circumnavigation with 'stop-overs'at key ports. Starting in the UK, the route heads down the Atlantic Ocean and across the equator to South America, then onwards to South Africa. From there, the fleet races down into the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean to Australia, before heading northwards again to China. Crossing the stormy North Pacific to North America is a highlight, after which the fleet heads south to traverse the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal and northwards again to the east coast of the USA. Crossing the North Atlantic brings the yachts back to their starting port, via Northern Ireland, and a tumultuous welcome home.

Normally the domain of seasoned professional sailors, this extreme nautical challenge is taken on by ordinary, everyday people. Having completed a rigorous set of training courses, participants are provided with the latest foul weather protection and safety gear to undertake 'the race of their lives'.

Clipper Race Management says: "An unparalleled challenge where taxi drivers rub shoulders with chief executives, vicars mix with housewives, students work alongside bankers, and engineers team up with rugby players. The sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices. There is nowhere to hide - if Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet, you must be ready to face the same challenges as the pro racer."

I joined the 2017-18 edition of the Race on board the yacht 'Dare to Lead', starting in Liverpool in August 2017. To take part in the Race, two key components are required: (i) Time, and (ii) Motivation. Earlier that year I had decided to retire from my job (after 30+ years working in the oil and gas industry), so the 'Time' bit was no problem. Dropping off my son at Plymouth Railway Station, I encountered the famous Clipper Race 'split personality' advertising poster and discovered my (ii) Motivation ...sailing around the world had always been a personal ambition of mine and now here was my opportunity!

LOGBOOK - Leg 6 - The Mighty North Pacific Ocean

"The 'white squall' arrives on cue with all the noise and drama of an express train. As the lightning flashes overhead, the wind begins to build in strength, backing as it does so, and the boat starts to drive faster through the rapidly rising waves, heeling dramatically. The crew swings into action ...the helmsman bears away and the Yankee 1 headsail is dropped swiftly to the deck by the foredeck team. Meanwhile, the first reef on the mainsail is being pulled down in the cockpit, thus reducing the sail area. As the wind strength continues to increase, the skipper decides that a second reef is required. The rain by this time is torrential and the lightning theatrical in its intensity. However, a few minutes later the job has been completed and the cockpit lines are being tidied away. Shortly thereafter, 'Dare to Lead' is on course and sailing fast downwind, hotly pursued by the big new wave pattern generated by the squall."

Imagine this typical daily scenario: 'Dare to Lead' is sailing across a sparkling sea under a blue sky peppered with the kind of friendly white clouds found only in Pixar CGI movies like 'Toy Story'. We are chatting amicably whilst tidying the cockpit, contemplating a nice day on the water and the prospect of a tasty lunch from the Galley shortly. STOP. The instruction arrives from the skipper: “Code 1 spinnaker on deck please, guys”. Without a moment to lose, said spinnaker is brought out, rigged and hoisted. STOP. The wind picks up. “OK, let's drop the Code 1 and get the Code 3 spinnaker up, please”. This action is completed. STOP. “OK guys, let's get the Code 3 down, Yankee 2 headsail up and pull down Reef 1”. STOP. “Prepare to tack, guys. Reef 1 out, bear away and hoist the Code 2, please”.

Imagine the crew on deck at night: There is a starry sky overhead and we can see that somebody on the distant Australian coast is enjoying a very major thunderstorm. Dinner has been recently consumed and there is some amicable chatting underway. STOP. The only cloud on the horizon ...is the bank of dark cloud on the horizon. (Famous last words from that night on deck - “No, it's not a problem ...that storm over there is definitely heading AWAY from us”).

CUE: Thunder...lightning...squall...and 70 knots of breeze!!

The crew of each yacht are jointly responsible for the maintenance and day-to-day operation of their vessel. Specific roles on board include Watch Leader, Helmsman, Engineer, Bosun, Victualler and Sail Maker, with sail handling, deck work and cleaning duties typically undertaken by two Watches working in traditional four / six hour shifts. Catering arrangements are taken care of by two 'Mothers' (supplied daily by each of the two Watches), so everyone gets their fair share of 'Galley duty' onboard.

LOGBOOK - Leg 3 - The Southern Ocean

"Team 'Dare to Lead' is enjoying the trials and tribulations of racing through the Southern Ocean... and what a load of trials there are! The hardships we are enduring are manifold. Living at a constant angle of 45 degrees to the rest of reality for the last week or so on starboard tack means that people with upper berths on the starboard side have pulled their bunk frames as high as possible to compensate for boat heel. As a result, getting into bed at the end of a watch is akin to climbing the great north face of Everest. A pair of willing Sherpas or Dare to Lead colleagues are required to make the precipitous ascent to the sleeping bag in safety, and the risk still exists that a vital piece of bedtime reading, or an iPad or some other end-of-watch luxury, will have been left unnoticed at floor level (and which requires an additional Sherpa to retrieve). Mountaineering into bed can be fun at first, but enough is enough."

Catering services in the ship's galley also inevitably suffer during periods of intense inclination of our Clipper 70 home such as we encounter in the Southern Ocean. The cooks discover that nothing will stay where it was put... sometimes, a complete bowl of food will leap across the galley into the laps of the unsuspecting off-duty watch. On other occasions, the bowl will stay in place, but the food it contains will leap independently. Serving and eating food becomes more like a scene from a slapstick movie. Despite the challenges, the standard of on-board catering remains extremely high – although any cakes baked 'on the slope' will have a thick end and a thin end, and the two Watches must choose their pieces carefully.

LOGBOOK - Leg 8 - 'Dare to Lead' heads across the North Atlantic to Londonderry

"Team 'Dare to Lead' is undertaking the 2932 nM transatlantic route to Northern Ireland and curious about the local weather systems we are encountering. We left New York in bright sunshine and initially the de rigueur kit for wear on deck was T-shirt and shorts. However, as we moved closer to the Grand Banks, the fog began to roll in and the temperature began to sink rapidly. Our red Clipper Race foul weather gear very quickly came out of hibernation ...and there has even been talk of dry suits amongst the colder-blooded crew members!"

Incidentally ...speaking of 'sinking rapidly', it is perhaps significant to note that 'Dare to Lead' passed only a mere 70 nautical miles north of the final resting place of the RMS Titanic. During various discussions on deck, some people were relieved to hear that the fatal iceberg was struck at the end of the Atlantic winter, in the month of April, and hence in July we would be quite safe. However, an 'iceberg watch' from the bowsprit still seemed like a pretty good precaution - although, in the event, we did not even spot enough ice to make a gin and tonic! The Atlantic Ocean offshore New York proved to be a wildlife theme park for the 'whale watchers' onboard and a fitting finale to all of the marine wildlife we had spotted during our circumnavigation. Dolphins followed the yacht on a frequent basis, riding the pressure wave at the bow when our boat speed was high. At night, the presence of phosphorescence in the water turned these friendly mammals into glowing torpedoes as they raced around the hull, diving dramatically under the keel to reappear on the other side at breakneck speed.

LOGBOOK - Leg 8 - 'Dare to Lead' heads up the Irish Sea back to Liverpool

"Team 'Dare To Lead' is currently off the SW corner of the Emerald Isle, facing the rising onslaught of wind and waves. Earlier we changed down from the Yankee 1 (our largest working headsail), via the Yankee 2, to our smallest working headsail, the Yankee 3. A reef has been pulled down in the mainsail, in readiness for the heavy weather that is surely coming. But we are now 'going home to Liverpool' and there is a special energy on board the boat: our long voyage will soon be over and life is certainly about to change."

Some observations from my Clipper Race:

- Some (lucky) people are extremely competent at almost ALL aspects of sailing and life onboard;

- Everybody is good at SOMETHING (you just need to search very hard, in some cases!);

- A POSITIVE attitude to life is contagious and can become an onboard epidemic;

- Even in the tough times, shared HUMOUR will lift the team!

During the stopover in Cape Town, a local newspaper reporter wrote an article about the Clipper Race yachts moored at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront with a number of glaring errors, including the 'fact' that our yacht was named 'Dare to Dream'. Perhaps, in reality, sailing around the world is ACTUALLY about Daring to Dream ...if that is indeed the case, then I would like to salute all my fellow Dreamers onboard 'Dare to Lead' with whom I shared my Circumnavigation!

Since the Race finished? The ENG1 medical was a key step in adding a Commercial Endorsement to my MCA Yachtmaster Offshore qualification, and I now spend some of my sailing time working as a freelance First Mate for the Clipper Training organisation, helping to prepare new crew members for the 2022-23 Race.


Neil Harvey