Sail around the world — no experience required

How the Clipper Race trains ordinary people to sail the planet’s toughest seas.
Racing by San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. © Clipper Race
By Ed Chipperfield

The recently completed America's Cup may be one of the best sailing races of all time – but it's not the only boat race in the world. The biggest and baddest regattas take you around the circumference of the entire planet, tracing a trail through the treacherous oceans.

Even though there are several high-profile events that attract the world's top sailors, none are crewed by complete novices — except the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race.

Other races have to meet the same 15m swells. It’s the same doldrums they have to outwit, and the same freezing spray or searing heat. But with the Clipper Race, the yachts are crewed with absolute newbies, plucked from normality and sent to sea after just three weeks of training.

At the start in Brest, France. © Clipper Race

The race set sail in September from London and travels across the Atlantic to Brazil. The fleet then sails for the African Cape, surfing down the South Atlantic’s deadly swells at speeds of 20 knots. The next leg sails to Albany in Western Australia across the infamous Southern Ocean.

Then it's on to Indonesia, China and across the Pacific to California. Once through the Panama canal, the final 3,200km is a blast through Atlantic ice, fog and gales before arriving in Ireland in July 2014.

The daring nature of the race reflects the mindset of its founder, the legendary Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The first man to sail round the world non-stop and single-handed – he spent over 300 days alone on his boat – he wanted to create a race that inspired real people to excel.

Start line crowds give way to solo ocean sailing. © Clipper Race

“Bearing in mind that 40% of our crews have never stepped foot on a boat before they join us,” he said, “you can understand that the training has to be thorough to turn them into safe sailors before they start the race. Our accident record has been excellent.”

It’s hard to grasp the challenge that lies ahead for the team members. The entire course of 64,000km takes eleven months in the fleet of purpose-built 21m racing yachts. Each person will need around 5,000 calories a day to maintain equilibrium, living cheek-by-jowl with their companions – only one of whom, the skipper, would be considered a fully qualified and experienced seadog.

Boats line up to depart from Gosport, UK. © Clipper Race

The race attracts those with a hankering for adventure, and this year’s intake includes a 73-year old American, Sam Hagler, and an 18-year old Brit named Sam Gundry. From taxi drivers to bankers, all are trained to get to the finish.

Not all have to commit to the entire year of racing, however. Some take on single legs of the eight-leg race, each with its own particular challenges.

Rough seas in the southern hemisphere. © Clipper Race

“With the Asia-Pacific leg, you get almost every kind of sailing condition there is,” says Romanda Simpson, who secured her place through the Henri Lloyd GORE TEX® Experience Tour.

“It’s highly technical, with many islands, doldrums, fierce storms – and pirates. We sail through a zone of high pirate activity near Singapore, so we’ve been trained to maintain radio silence as we travel through in groups.”

A brisk breeze has the boat slightly keeled over. © Clipper Race

So far in this year’s race, no casualties are reported, but one boat, the Henri Lloyd, has set a new speed record of 30.7 knots. It’s a good omen that this year’s race will be the fiercest and fastest yet – the best news of all is that they’re taking applications for the next race now.

Follow the Clipper race and sign-up here.

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