The Clipper Race: A Mobile Village

28 May
The elated crew of Derry~Londonderry~Doire finishes second in Race 7 of the Clipper Race in Brisbane, Australia

The elated crew of Derry~Londonderry~Doire finishes second in Race 7 of the Clipper Race in Brisbane, Australia

By Kimball Livingston Posted May 28, 2014

The Clipper Round the World Race has 55 “back office” people to manage every aspect of getting 12 boats and 260 sailors at a time around the world. And it keeps all 55 busy. There is a race office team of 4, with 5 maintenance specialists waiting at every stop. Two containers leapfrog each other, stop to stop. Communications are managed 24 X 7. Customs needs are researched and anticipated, and the word for that is “huge.”

Race Director Justin Taylor says, “Each yacht, I liken to a business. The professional skipper is responsible for his boat’s needs, and he delegates to the crew. Each boat will have ten ’rounders [crew paying for a full circumnavigation]. The rest are leggers. We run the races under the Royal Ocean Racing Club auspice. That’s straightforward, and the sponsors want in-port corporate sailing, so that adds the stopover aspects.

“When a boat breaks, we have to figure out how to repair it and get it back into the race with a chance to compete, and it’s not as though we have an unlimited budget for that.”

And it’s not as though the crew who are paying for this are coddled. They cook, they clean, they scrub, they service winches. If they tear a sail, they lose points, and yes, they care about those points. They may not be pros racing the Volvo, but remember the principle that any two boats will always race? These are 12 boats crewed by people who have each made a commitment. They’re living an adventure. Compared to most of us, they’re living large, and when they walk off the boat at the end of a leg, much less the end of a circumnavigation, they will walk away with experiences and skills that many a lifetime sailor can’t match.

“This is a competitive one-design fleet,” Taylor says. “I’ve done the race twice as skipper, and I remember a 4400 mile race that was decided by 19 seconds.

“It becomes a marathon, and we have crew from all walks. This time around they’re 18 to 74. We train them to be competent. That’s what makes this great. We’re training ordinary people to do extraordinary things. How often do you find that? And some of our people would have found it difficult to get out on the water at all. You hear the phrase, life changing. I’ve lost count of the number of people who did not go back to their regular jobs.”

It should come as no surprise that stories also come out of the skipper who had to be replaced, or the crew that factionalized. I write that because it’s true, and I don’t want to sound like a sappy Pollyanna, but the positives outweigh the negatives, and that’s that.

How does one become a Clipper Race skipper?

“It’s 10 percent about sailing, 90 percent about interacting with people,” Tayor says. “We get about 200 applicants per cycle, and I know that 100 of those can be dumped straight into the bin. Maybe there are 50 people worth interviewing. Those who pass go on to a 3-day trial on the water where we test them to destruction. They come away thinking they don’t know how to sail at all.

“For this race, 36 would-be skippers made it to the 3-day trial on the water. Twelve were selected for the race, and 15 more were invited into our training program to see if we can nurture then to become Clipper Race skippers.”

Leaders of the current leg of the Clipper Round the World Race, Jamaica to New York City, are likely to arrive over the coming weekend.

This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES


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