Death in the Clipper Race

10 Sep
This past weekend there was a tragic death aboard one of the boats competing in the Clipper Round the World Race. A crew member, Andrew Ashman, was struck on the head by either the mainsheet or the boom, or both, and died of his injuries. It was the first fatality in an around-the-world race in a long time and it begs the question “is it safe to race around the world with paying amateur crew?”  I am going to answer that right up front and say yes, but let’s take a look at the issue.

Crews competing in the Clipper Race pay a fairly substantial amount of money to participate. For the entire circumnavigation it’s a number north of $75K.
 In return you get trained, kitted out, and given the chance to forever change your life by sailing around the world. The Clipper Race, unlike the now defunct Global Challenge, sails downwind and therefore the boats carry spinnakers which add a bit more of a challenge to an amateur crew especially when sailing downwind in the Southern Ocean. The tragedy that occurred this past weekend had nothing to do with sailing downwind; they were going upwind off the coast of Portugal in a moderate breeze.

I am sure that there are going to be some who point out that taking paying passengers on a powerful 70-foot boat is unseamanlike, even dangerous, but let’s put this into context.  This is the tenth time that they have run the race – every two years for the past twenty years. More than 3,000 people have participated and until now there has not been a single fatality. A pretty good record by any measure when you consider that so many people are out there on the open ocean for such a long period of time going through diverse weather situations that will inevitably deal out some nasty weather.

There have been a total of six fatalities in the Whitbread Round the World Race, now the Volvo Ocean Race. Three crew were washed overboard from different boats in the very first race and two crew were washed overboard from the same boat in the 89/90 race. The most recent tragedy was in 2006 when Hans Horrevoets was lost overboard from ABN AMRO TWO. Each death is to be mourned but that’s life and even more so when you are living Life at the Extreme, as the VOR slogan emphasizes.

I would wager that the Clipper crews are probably better trained before they leave the dock than many who set sail around the world. And let’s not forget this; by the time the teams reach Rio de Janeiro at the end of the first leg they will have sailed more offshore miles than many who consider themselves seasoned sailors. For the next 30,000 plus miles they are no longer amateur paying crew; they are just paying crew and pretty experienced ones at that.
Ichorcoal, the boat that Andrew Ashman was racing on

This article was syndicated from All About Sails Blog


  1. William Bolger

    The participants in sailboat racing at all but the highest levels are still Corinthians. From round the bouys dinghy races to long distance open water contests my crew and I have competed with some of the best sailors in the world; amateurs all. I take pride in this.

  2. Romanda Simpson

    A quick reply to Lorn H Olsen. The Clipper Race does mandate harnesses and crew are always clipped on. When talking about man overboard deaths the article was referring to Volvo Ocean Races in which PAID professionals race – they often choose not to clip on for ease of movement.

    Second, most Clipper crew who spend $75,000 to circumnavigate DO buy an EPIRB. This is exactly what saved a crew member in a previous Clipper Race.

    As a past crew member on Clipper I can vouch for the incredible training, especially around safety, that they require ALL crew to undertake – even those who are experienced. Now that I am continuing in my sail experiences I have often taught seasoned sailors safer ways to handle the boat and run sail changes.

  3. Go Clipper!

    I sailed last weekend here in Sydney with a woman. Third time this year I have sailed with her, two different boats – one of which is one of Australia’s top IRC boats in a flat-out offshore race. She sailed from San Francisco to NYC via Panama and onto Ireland in a previous edition of the Clipper race. That carries a lot of street cred here. She’s feels a little underdone as she has not yet competed in a Rolex Sydney to Hobart race. My point is there’s nothing this person can’t do on a boat. She’s ‘Ms No problem’ offshore…the training for the Clipper race is superlative. Long may they run

  4. Norris Larson

    When people ask me “Isn’t it dangerous to go to sea in a small sailboat?”, I respond, not as dangerous as riding a motorcycle, especially without a helmet. That usually ends the conversation on sailing safety. US drivers kill almost 40,000 people a year on our streets and roads. Public health officials recognize that any attempt to treat highway mayhem as a public health problem is a non-starter. The only news coverage sailing gets is when there is an incident so public image is conditioned to think of it as dangerous.

  5. Mike Allison

    This is not about going overboard. It’s about being hit in the head by a boom (or mainsheet). As a veteran of both (and a spinnaker pole that was loaded up, as mentioned in the comments, as well), all in racing, I can tell you that it did not have anything to do with my pro/amateur status. Rather, they were the result of poor communication and coordination among helmsman, tactician, and crew that translated into an unexpected maneuver. As we all know, nearly all maneuvers on a racing sailboat are inherently dangerous. When you hit your head on a boom, you get a big knot on your head. It’s the booms in motion that kill you.

    I have nothing but respect and admiration for those “amateurs” willing to put their safety, comfort, and resources on the line -and in the hands of an experienced, competent captain and crew – for the experience of not just sailing, but racing all out, around the clock, around the world.

    Truth be told, I envy them. They may go into it inexperienced, but they certainly don’t do so blindly. All the facts, supporting material, images, and counsel they need to make an infomed decision to go ahead are available to them. All that’s missing is the guts and commitment., which only they provide – and to a man or woman, they do.

    Truth be told again, I could find a way to do it if I worked hard enough at it. Hell, with them as my inspiration, I just may do it.

    How I do love this sport!

  6. Lorn H Olsen

    Not being an ocean racer,I don’t understand 1) Why were crews that were washed overboard not have safety harnesses? and 2) If I were paying $75,000 to crew, Why would I not buy a $500 EPERB?
    When I sailed the Atlantic and Gulf in any kind of weather, I required all of my crew to wear safety harnesses.

  7. firstlast

    Once, I was hit, in the head by a swinging non-loaded spinnaker pole. Fortunately I had the presence of mind, to fall straight down to my knees.
    I wish good fortune to the rest of the crews.
    “The best you can do, is to go out and come back.

  8. firstlast

    Once, I was hit, in the head by a swinging non-loaded spinnaker pole. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind, to fall straight down to my knees.

    I wish good fortune to the rest of the crews.

    “The best you can do, is to go out and come back. It is what happens in between that determines and defines your seamanship.”

  9. Robert

    I fully agree with your article. I have spent many long days at sea and among the family of cruising yachties. The families aboard these vessel have just as good a safety record as the offshore racers. The only problem we have is the lack of lookouts on the commercials and the possible consequences of being run down by them. Here on Ice Maiden we avoid shipping lanes at all costs but we are constantly on the lookout to help our fellows sailors.



  11. Dave Reinhart

    Accidents happen–no matter how experienced and prepared one is. And death is part of life–it happens as well. One able and blessed to participate in an event such as this can certainly said to be living life to the max! Blessings to Ashman and his family–and the rest of the crew!!

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