So who are the Clipper Race sailors, the people who take a year off to race around the world, and what inspired them?
In setting out to learn, the first revelation was there are more women than I expected, 40% of the fleet are female. And this is not something the organizer Clipper Ventures sets, it’s something that occurs naturally. Could this be another sign sailing is catching on with more women? I couldn’t be more pleased.
For Bay Area gal Sarah Lloyd, 54, US/UK, sailing around the world has been a dream since she was a little girl. Lloyd left her kitchen and bath design practice in Los Altos, CA – and her Ericson 32 in South Beach Harbor – to answer the round the world challenge on Henri Lloyd. How has it been for her thus far?
“It’s been scary, terrifying, fantastic… It’s everything,” she said. You can keep up with Sarah’s escapades on her sailing blog, 3sheets.us.
On OneDLL Lizzy Fitzsimmons, 27, UK, is following in her mother’s footsteps, who sailed two legs in the previous Clipper Race. Indeed, the Clipper 2013-14 edition is quite a family affair with Lizzy, her father and her mother all sailing various legs.
Lizzy’s most memorable Clipper experience thus far was sailing through a major storm in the Southern Ocean. There the racers endured 120-knot winds and went through two hurricanes, with two boats having to medevac off injured crew members.
“It felt like we were going to die… The storm arrived quietly, was quite brutal, then left quickly. After it passed, it was beautiful and we saw an albatross. The moment very special.”
Lizzy’s advice to those contemplating the Clipper Race is to “do it!” She advised not to be scared and to wait for the right time. The right time for her was after completing her master’s degree and before having children.
It’s fascinating to learn the diverse backgrounds of the racers; Lizzy is a marine biologist and her OneDLL teammate Catriona Savage, 33, UK, is an international civil servant, working for the United Nations.
Although sailing is a relatively new pastime for Catriona, she has been sailing three years, the round the world dream has been a long standing one. A tall ship captured her imagination as a child, and now she is living her dream on a modern tall ship. What’s her favorite part of the dream so far?
“Leaving South Africa. We had a great start, set the spinnaker well and raced past the other boats. I’ll always remember it.”
She shared arriving Australia was also special, “It hit me then, I’ve sailed half way around the world!”
Some Clipper Racers are quite experienced. Denise Oakley, 58, UK, also on OneDLL, raced Fireballs in college and Lasers after. Most recently she’s campaigned on her employer’s 32’ sailboat, racing the British Petroleum boat from the UK’s South Coast to France.
The communing with nature aspect of the race has been most memorable for Denise. She said there have been many special experiences, but the massive shape of a whale appearing alongside, classic tail in the back and dolphins dancing in the florescence of OneDLL’s wake at night stand out. “It was stunning, just incredible, she said.
Teamwork and possible business applications have also made an impression. “I’m amazed how quickly you get to know people in this environment, it’s very conducive to learning quickly. If someone could translate this to a business environment, they’d do very well. Perhaps some applications when she returns to her corporate life as an engineer?
Vicky’s favorite moment is every arrival. “We stop at some of the most incredible harbors in the world. It’s a big reveal moment, it’s magical,” she said. Indeed, with stops like Rio, Cape Town, Sydney, San Francisco and London the Clipper Race is quite the world tour.
The racing starts are most memorable for Rosie Gosling, 31, UK on OneDLL. She is particularly fond of the Cape Town one. “We had a great start, rounded the buoy and hoisted the spinnaker with Table Mountain behind us. It was an incredible feeling!”
Rosie, who works in sports marketing, has always wanted to sail across an ocean and the Clipper Race has always been in the back of her mind, especially after her sister sailed in the 2005-06 edition. The race is demanding, but she loves it.
“It’s bloody hard work, but it’s the most rewarding experience ever. A lot is expected of you, but people underestimate how resilient they can be.”
Vicky loves sailing, she actually teaches it and manages a sailing club back home in Qingdao. Her most memorable experience has been the challenging sea conditions.
“Waves, massive mountains of them, lasting 10 hours and strong wind gusts of 60 plus knots are really memorable, she said. “We reached some great boat speeds too, 28.7 knots!”
That Southern Ocean storm was also the greatest challenge for experienced sailor and software engineer Adam Byrtek, 31, Poland. Learning the force of nature firsthand has been his greatest Clipper Race experience.
“Everyone expected the North Pacific to be the worst, but the Southern Ocean surprised us; there were two hurricanes.” Adam helmed Jamaica Get Alright though constant winds of 60 knots and gust up to 120.
“We knew something was up when it turned so dark during the day, then the hail, then the wind instruments increasing, going past 99 – they say it can’t go past that but it can,” he said. He shared he lost control of the helm and they crash jibed.
“I felt shock after, a similar feeling to being in a car accident, but once winds got back to 50 knots it felt like calm.”
What drew Adam to the Clipper Race? He said simply, “Sailing around the world is the biggest challenge in sailing.”
Challenges abound. Qingdao’s mast was hit by lightning during their Pacific crossing. The crew sailed her for the next 5,000 miles without any electricity. Skipper Gareth Glover navigated the remainder of the leg to San Francisco with a handheld GPS and charts. He said that lighting strike is what stands out for him.
This is Gareth’s second Clipper Race, and he chose to do them back-to-back. He was anxious to try out the new bigger, faster Clipper 70s.
Some people take on the Clipper Race with no sailing experience, like Lawrence Lingard 47, UK also on Qingdao. Lingard decided to trade his life as a successful chef for a year of adventure on the sea.
“It’s been a bigger challenge than I’d even imagined and much tougher emotionally than physically… In the restaurant it’s my way of the highway; on board I’ve learned to be more diplomatic. We’re all very close here.”
It’s been an adjustment to say the least, he described his first two months as terrifying. The stress and seasickness did have benefits however, he’s lost 30 lbs. “I’m back to my boxing weight! Smiling he added it’s beginning to come back now that he’s more comfortable.
While the Clipper Race teaches many of a life lesson, sometime a life lesson leads to the race. Foreign Affairs Specialist Ryan Bates, 32, US sailing on Henri Lloyd, learned the importance of following your dreams during a 15-month stint in Afghanistan.
“I gained a new appreciation for what a blessing life is and knew it was time to follow my dream. I knew I needed to make a career change and decided to do this first.”
Like many I talked with, sailing around the world was a long-held ambition for Bates, ever since he fell in love with sailing at Indiana University.
I was so inspired talking with these people who are making their dreams come true. How could I not be?
Even if you can’t make the time for the full year-long Clipper Race, or even a leg or two, you can still catch a bit of the excitement by cheering the sailors when they arrive or depart.
The racers’ enthusiasm is contagious. I was there was there for some San Francisco arrivals and there was something in the air… Joy, passion, accomplishment, love of life… Whatever it is, it’s intoxicating.
On race day, there is a certain electricity. Festive flags, tearful goodbyes, the adrenaline prior to the start… It’s really not to be missed. I watched both festivities at the dock and the start from the water.
While the excitement is much like other high profile races, there is something else… Perhaps the fact the racers are not paid professionals but rather people pursing a life-long dream? There was a pang in my heart as I watched them sail under the Golden Gate to the adventure that awaits.
Third in a series on the Clipper Round Yacht Race, the one race where organizers supply the fleet of 12 identical, 70-ft, racing yachts, each sponsored by a brand, led by professional skippers and manned by sailors of all experience levels and walks of life.