As we move into the second half of 2019, the countdown has started. No, not the number of shopping days until Christmas or until we leave the European Union (whenever that may be!), but the countdown to my big trip – leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Yikes!
The race starts on 1 September from Saint Katharine’s Dock, London and pits 11 identical 70 foot racing yachts, each with a professional skipper and 1st mate, but completely amateur crew, against each other in an 11 month epic circumnavigation of the globe. The race is split into several legs with stop-overs in South America, South Africa, Australia, China, North America (West Coast, Panama and East Coast) as well as Ireland. Each leg represents an individual race with points awarded in a Formula 1 style leading to a series of leg winners as well as an overall winner. But it’s an endeavour where I think the winning and points awarded is significantly less important than the experience itself – crossing an ocean, battling the elements (and my own perceived limitations!), sailing at night, working in a team, learning new skills – and not just the sailing, but baking bread, cooking for 20 crew whilst living at a 45 degree angle, sail and yacht repairs and working shifts whilst tired, cold and wet.
So what was it that prompted a quiet, reserved, mild-mannered orthopaedic surgeon, who’s old enough to qualify for SAGA insurance, to swap his scalpel for the seven seas? Well, it certainly wasn’t an upbringing centred around sailing, although having been brought up alongside the Mersey, the sea was never far away. But up until ten years ago, my only seafaring experience was summer windsurfing in the Mediterranean as a grumpy teenager and a couple of channel crossings.
Approximately ten years ago my wife, Nicki, and I met and became good friends with a couple with whom we shared a ski chalet. We had a lot in common and they were passionate about sailing – both skipper qualified, they had their own small sailing boat, moored on the south coast, and we jumped at the chance to spend a weekend exploring the Solent by water. And that was it… I was hooked! The fresh air and wind (and often rain) in my face. The feeling of space, perspective and the ease that work and other worries melted away. The feeling of freedom to be able to get from one place to another using predominately wind and tide only. And then, of course, there were all those maps, weather forecasting, navigation, not to mention new kit to invest in.
Over the years we have explored the south coast, Isle of Wight, Channel Islands and charted yachts in the Med. I also discovered that Nicki’s father had in the past sailed across the Southern Ocean as part of the BT Round the World Challenge – a seed had been planted.
That seed remained dormant until a wet winter’s morning in 2014. Travelling by train to London for a work meeting, we pulled up at Peterborough station. As the rain lashed against the window, I glanced outside and I was no longer half asleep on the east coast train line, but aboard a majestic sailing yacht, flying at full speed through the raging seas. My window was directly opposite my first sight of the iconic Clipper Round the World yacht race billboard poster – the bow of a Clipper yacht rising out of the sea with a bowman at the front as a wave crashed over him. With the rain beating against the window it was as if I was that crew member and I knew that there was only one option for me to take – I was going to sign up and race around the globe in a tin can!