Home / Steve's Journey
The Clipper RTW comprises a fleet of 12 seventy foot ocean going racing yachts, each with a professional skipper and a 22 person crew of ordinary people who race 40 000 nautical miles circumnavigating the planet.
Around 40% of the crew, like me, have never sailed before. But we're trusting that the comprehensive four weeks of training will give us the skills to face whatever Mother Nature dishes up as we cross the World's great oceans!
The full race takes 11 months, but I've opted to do half the race, around 18000 nm, or 33 000km. Starting on 20th of August from Liverpool, the race will take me from the UK to Uruguay in South America, Uruguay to Cape Town, Cape Town to Western Australia, then to Sydney and on Boxing Day 2017 we take part in the iconic Sydney Hobart race.
Conditions will be extreme, from violent storms in the Southern Ocean through the exhaustion of racing 24 x 7 with 4 hour shifts for weeks on end, cooped up in a boat with 22 people I don't yet know. I can't wait!
For more information and real time updates (once the race has started) view the clipper web site
After the festive atmosphere of the pre-race week in Liverpool, followed by the big crowds and fanfare on race start day, we are now heading down the mid atlantic on our pink boat, Liverpool 2018, toward the dreaded doldrums and the equator. We've covered around 2600 nautical miles (nm) over 14 days. Leg 1 (Liverpool to Punta Del Este in Uruguay) is the longest in the history of the Cipper race at 6363 nm (that's around 11500km!!) and expected to take around 35 days.
Conditions have been varied, from rough seas a week ago to several instances of absolutely no wind, with the boat bobbing around and going nowhere. Efforts are focussed on fine tuning the sails to catch the slightest breeze. However in spite of being frustrating because we're making no progress they are a great opportunity to have a bucket shower on the back deck. A bit like the ice bucket challenge, pouring refreshing sea water over your head, a good wash / shampoo and then rinse in a smidge of fresh water. (As with many other things on board supply of fresh water is limited so there is no normal showering.)
Life on board has settled into a repeating cycle of sail, eat, sleep, sail, eat, sleep and so on. The phrase 'groundhog day' is regularly mumbled, especially when getting ready for a 4am shift!
Because we're racing 24 x 7 the crew are split into two 'watches', each taking turns. While one sails the other rests. On our boat the basic pattern is based around 4hr shifts, meaning we never get more than 3 1/2 hours of continuous sleep. The hardest shifts are overnight, especially when doing the 8pm to midnight shift followed by 4am to 8am.
Of course being a race we are intensly interested in how the other yachts in the fleet are doing & trying to glean what their race strategies are. A snapshot of boat positions, speed and direction is received 6 hourly via satellite download. These are a key part of our daily 6pm skipper's catch up meeting with the whole crew where the positions are eagerly discussed.
After taking a bit of a 'scenic' route at the start leaving us at the back of the pack we've slowly clawed our way back. Good choices and favourable conditions have seen us work our way to 5th using a strategy of 'steady wins the race' - sailing consistently without taking risks that might result in equipment damange. While other boats have pushed harder several of them have had damage to their sails which will impede them going forward.
Also downloaded daily are updated weather files. These are our main tool for planning our route. Do we go west to get better winds, or do we go directly south to take the shortest route even if the winds are weaker and we will therefore travel slower? Of particular interest are any incoming weather systems, big storms to avoid or 'wind holes' that will leave us standing still.
Talking of weather, it has been extremely warm over the last few days. We spend most of the time looking like soggy loo paper, sweating profusely. Up on deck the breeze makes things more bearable but below deck it is sweltering, making sleeping difficult. Luckily we have small battery powered fans which help. The bad news is that the doldrums are likely to be hotter still!
Although we've all had four weeks of training the race itself is where we really learn to sail. As such our skills are improving daily. Personally I've found the learning curve quite steep with a whole host of new terminology (who would have thought a rope could be called so many things? It can be a halyard, a sheet, a painter etc.) However the different steps to be carried out to put up or take down any of the sails, tacking and gybing are slowly becoming more natural and the crew is becoming more competent. I've spent a bit of time helming (driving the boat in laymen's terms) over the last few days and starting to feel more confident.
In spite of the difficulties of lack of sleep, living at a constant angle and being in confined quarters with 22 others, they are far outweighed by the beauty of the wide open sea, the frequent pods of dolphin that swim next to the boat and the georgeous sunrise and sunsets. Plus getting to know our fellow crew members, a really neat bunch of people.
We're incredibly lucky to be able to be part of this great adventure, it's something that few of us will get to experience. I'm very grateful to be part of it.