What happens when you combine crews who have never sailed before, performance-oriented 70-foot raceboats, seasoned skippers, and a 40,000-mile route around the world? You get the epic adventure called the Clipper Around The World Race.
The 5,768 nautical mile Qingdao, China to Seattle leg of the Clipper Around The World Race began on Sunday, March 20 and will end later this month off of Seattle. The event’s fleet of 12 identical racing sailboats will be in town for a pit stop before they cast off to sea again on Thursday, April 28, this time with their bows aimed at the Panama Canal and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The Clipper Around the World Race is the biggest sailboat racing event the Sound has seen in years. Avid sailors and intrigued landlubbers alike will get an opportunity to see the boats and the sailors up close in Bell Harbor for a week of festivities starting on April 20 before the fleet blasts off for Panama and eventually New York City. Race 12 (New York City to Derry/Londonderry, North Ireland) is the final transoceanic sprint back to the starting point of London, UK where the winners will rise and
all will celebrate the conclusion of a life changing journey across the wild blue.
The Clipper Around The World Race 2015/2016 is the race’s tenth edition and started from St. Katharine Docks, London on August 30, 2015. The 14 races of the route make the event similar to an epic relay complete with points earned per individual race to be added up at the final finish line to determine podium wins.
Obviously a 40,000-mile around-the-world race is hardly a standard sailing regatta, but the Clipper Around The World Race has a few twists that truly set it apart. For example, one would think the crews are picked among the elite sailors, each with a long pedigree and many podium wins to their names, right? Wrong.
The Clipper Around The World Race was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968/1969 (during the famous Sunday Times Golden Globe Yacht Race), with the aim of offering the shot at an epic around-the-world adventure to anyone, regardless of their sailing experience. The only requirements to apply as crew are a good level of fitness, age greater than 18, a thirst for adventure, and a willingness to attend several training seminars, and the ability to pay for this privilege. Some of the crew are aboard for a single leg while others stick around and girdle the whole globe. Impressively, a sizeable 40 percent of the crews are complete novices who have never sailed before they applied to the race. The age record among the over 3,300 total participants is 74 (for now), and 44 different nationalities are being represented aboard the 12 different teams that are participating in the event this year. Even a few of our locals are aboard trimming sails and standing watch. Seattle-based real estate developer Yuki Kikuchi, 41, is sailing on the Pacific Ocean at the time of this writing and Larry
Garner, a retired director from Seattle, will be aboard from Seattle to New York. Although many of the crews start out with no or minimal experience, all must pass a rigorous training program once accepted into the Clipper program. This intense training regimen is hosted both on the Solent out of Hampshire, UK and Sydney, Australia where the shiny-eyed students learn skills ranging from basic seafaring competency to asymmetrical spinnaker trimming and team tactics. Prospective Clipper sailors need every day of training they can get as they rise from sailing zeroes to heroes. Cue the montage.
To add to the challenge, the dynamic nature of crewmembers coming and going from the boats after (and before) each race, as well as the timing of the training courses means that crewmembers rarely meet each other before the race. Imagine the chaos of your first day at a new job in a workplace with all new employees. Now picture working 24/7 in enclosed quarters for weeks at a time. Without any ability to go home and be with your friends and family in the evenings or on weekends. Soaking wet. At sea.
Fortunately, the crews are in good hands. The Clipper skippers are all seasoned pros up to the task, however they report having their hands full with new experiences—and breaking in new sailors—as well. But how do seasoned skippers squeeze solid racing performances out of crews who have never set foot aboard a sailboat until a few months before the event’s starting line? A patient teaching style and expertise at maintaining high crew morale regularly prove to be more important to overall success than any other sailing skill set.