With 3 weeks training under my belt, I was getting an idea of the kit and clothes I would need (and who doesn’t love more kit!) as well as the practicalities of packing. Storage space on the yacht is limited and more weight means less speed, and this is a race after all. So, we needed to learn to pack light & efficiently – not easy when the sailing outer waterproofs, jackets, boots and sleeping bags are so bulky, or when you need to have enough stuff to last you 5 weeks at sea without a washing machine or corner shop.
In addition to the race start itself, which this year was 1st September 2019 from St Katherine’s dock, London, the other major event in the Clipper calendar is crew allocation – the formal announcement of the 11 racing teams. In order to make the race as competitive as possible not only are the yachts all identical but Clipper also try and make each crew as equal as possible, balancing similar age range, gender split, professionals’ backgrounds, sailing experience, number of “leggers” compared to circumnavigators, etc. It seems a daunting task but with 10 races over the last 20 years Clipper have had plenty of practice.
The expectation gradually built across Clipper’s social media platforms as the day approached and the Campbell household was no different. It was the first significant Clipper occasion of our race and was a tangible sign that the long wait was nearly over. On the 11th May 2019 nearly 400 crew and 200 supporters descended onto the beautiful Guildhall in Portsmouth. The sun was shining, the place was packed, and the atmosphere was a heady mix of anxious anticipation and giddy excitement. After an opening welcome and introduction from Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, the first person to sail nonstop and single handed around the world in 1969, and the co-founder of the Clipper Race, we had an update on the race route, together with details about boat prep weeks, delivery and team building weekend, as well as the practicalities of crew changeover in between legs.
And then the big moment arrived. Each skipper was announced and welcomed onto the stage where they took their seat until all 11 were present. Whilst a hushed silence of anticipation descended on the audience, the skippers themselves looked increasingly nervous as they waited their turn to take centre stage. Many of them, though not all, had been involved with Clipper previously either as crew, first mate or training skippers, however irrespective of their Clipper experience, each of these men had extensive sailing experience and qualifications. Between them they had sailed hundreds of thousands of miles and covered most of the world’s oceans and seas – yet it appeared that this was the most uncomfortable event of their lives and that they’d much prefer to be out sea in a raging storm rather than the centre of media attention. One by one they stood and took their turn at the podium to announce the names of the crew they’d been allocated. Was I the only one with a lingering concern that no-one would read out my name and I’d been left out?!
I needn’t have worried. I didn’t have too long to wait as the third skipper up, Ben Keitch, read out my name and that was it. I was going to be part of Team Ben, whose yacht would be sponsored by the city of Seattle. This was a fantastic bonus as Seattle was my one full stop over host port. It had to be a good omen – it was going to a great experience.
In the afternoon the team who were present spent a few hours with Ben getting to know each other and giving him the opportunity to share his background, experience, aspirations, how he would be running the boat as well as the practicalities and expectations of how we as the team would be working together to help make sure that both boat and crew were as well prepared as they could be. Nicki also had the chance to meet other supporters at a dedicated session with the Clipper Supporters Team to share details of future communication, points of contact in addition to answering questions and addressing concerns about the impact of the race on partners and families. The day ended with a team meal and then inevitably further team “strategy discussions” in a local bar. It was a tremendous day of excitement and anticipation, capped off with a very sociable late night – the team bonding had already begun!
The next 3 months flew by. I was working hard as well as well as making sure I spend time with my mum, family and Nicki. Nicki & I had strategically booked 12 days in Mauritius at the end of June, where we had a fabulous self-indulgent time, before a hectic July with our team Seattle building weekend ( a glorious weekend camping in Marlow) and my final, Level 4, week training as well as ensuring that everything at home from email, finances, gardening, cover for patient queries was sorted and communicated. I hadn’t realised how much thought and planning needed to go into taking a couple of months off the grid. Before I knew it, it was 19 August and I was on the platform at York station waiting for my train to Portsmouth. As part of the delivery crew I would be sailing Seattle from Gosport to London and help with the final week’s preparation prior to race start on the 1 September – I would not return to York until 30 October!
And so, it begins. Almost 5 years after I first saw a Clipper poster, my own personal Clipper adventure was about to start for real. It was a surreal, almost detached feeling – this point in time had always been so far off – almost beyond the horizon – and there had been so much planning and thought that it was hard to believe it had actually arrived. I was certainly apprehensive as well as extremely grateful to all the wonderful support and encouragement I received especially from Nicki, who I knew would not only worry whilst I was away but would also have to hold the fort at home and make a number of sacrifices so I could follow my dream.
I was also very excited. As the train pulled out from York station and I waved to Nicki on the platform, I knew the next 12 months would almost certainly be the most challenging, exciting and rewarding year of our lives. Next stop Portsmouth, London, Portimao, Portugal, Punta del Este, Uruguay, Zhuhai and Quingdao, China, Seattle, Panama and New York!
A year of living differently lay ahead.
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!