Having invested the time at the end of 2017 to sort out my head, my priorities and find the balance between a personal adventure and the realities of family and work life, I was excited with my new personal Clipper plan. Rather than spending 11 moths sailing around the world, I would sail three of the longer legs – 1, 6 and 7, which would give me everything I hoped to experience and in total would still amount to almost half of the circumference of the globe. I would leave the UK Leg 1 and race to South America, after which I would come home, regroup, go back to work and enjoy time with family and friends over Christmas. I would then go to China at the end of February 2020 to rejoin the team as we cross the huge mighty Pacific to Seattle. Having stayed with the crew for their stopover, help clean, repair and replenish our boat and Clipper home, we would then race down to Panama, through the famous canal and finish in New York. It was Pete’s Personal Clipper Adventure – UK race start, sail across the Atlantic, equator, Pacific and Panama Canal, visit South America, China, North and Central America, finishing in New York. I could now look forward to getting fully involved in the Clipper experience and couldn’t wait for the first of our four weeks training to start.
My first week was in early March 2018. We were the first training week after winter and the “Beast from the East” had not yet fully subsided. I took the interesting, snowy and slow car journey from York to Gosport involving detours, snow drifts and hold ups behind stuck lorries – a sign of the adventure to come? After meeting the rest of my Level 1 crew mates – 12 of us in total – at Clipper Training HQ we headed down the icy pontoon with our training skipper and two mates, to the 68ft Clipper training yacht – our home for the next week.
It was like stepping into a fridge. Small (68 feet sounds large enough except when you’ve got 15 people and eight sails on board), compact and extremely cold. No one had been into the boat for four months and the decks were covered in ice and snow!! As I climbed into my old camping sleeping bag that night wearing my thermal base layers, fleece, woolly hat and buff I seriously questioned what I had let myself in for.
What followed was an incredible week of learning and camaraderie. Whilst some crew had a lot of previous sailing experience many had, like me, very little or even none at all. Apart from the cold nights, the biggest challenge for me was dealing with my frustration at being a novice again. The learning curve for any new skill somehow seems more fraught as we get older – maybe we just get more inpatient and less tolerant with ourselves. My first Clipper lesson was that we can all learn new skills – and will grow and develop ourselves if we continue to do so, but we must first learn to be patient, to accept the frustration of being consciously incompetent, be open to advice and guidance and be prepared to stick with it – all things that are not always easy when you reach a certain age!
But by the end of the week we had all grasped the basics of sailing and how to live aboard a racing yacht. We knew our bowlines from our rolling hitches, cleaned the bilges and heads, had lifted, hanked, hoisted and repacked the sails, tacked and gybed our way up and down the Solent as well as taken turns to cook and cater for the whole crew. My Clipper experience was well and truly underway – and I loved it!!
The next two weeks of training followed a similar pattern. Embedding basic sailing techniques both on deck and below, learning the different roles on board and how to adapt to living with so many people in such a confined space often bouncing through waves whilst the boat tilts at a 30 degree angle. My fellow crew mates were different every training week as was our training skipper, which only added to the richness of the experience, not only listening and learning from the skippers as they recounted their yachting yarns, but also hearing from crew mates about their backgrounds, personal stories and own motivation for embarking on the race of their lives.
After the first three weeks I was left with a number of thoughts and reflections. Firstly, Clipper take safety on board very seriously – it is their number one priority. Crossing an ocean in a yacht is exposing yourself to all the elements that Mother Nature can throw at you. It can be very dangerous place and three deaths in last two Clipper races emphasises that point. We drilled on safety procedures nonstop until they had become second nature.
Secondly was the quality of the training and the lessons you could take into your wider life. The importance of teamwork in achieving success and what makes a good team work – having a shared purpose, trust, clarity of roles, mutual support. The principles of successful leadership as exemplified by all the skippers and mates – clear unambiguous communication, consistency of behaviour, humility and a gentle humour. Lastly, I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to share so many experiences with some great people many of whom have become good friends and would be joining me as part of the clipper family.
And finally, it was that I was loving the whole experience – the outdoor, water borne life, the learning, the challenges, the friendships. I couldn’t wait for our race to begin!
You can follow the race and learn more about the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race at www.clipperroundtheworld.com but be warned – you might find yourself signing up for a leg or two!
Thank you for reading my blog. If you are able to support and encourage me on my way by sharing my adventure or contributing to my fund raising for UNICEF UK, it was be a great help and much appreciated.
Look out for the next episode – And so it begins!