No holiday, but a real sense of achievement


How do you give 6 wannabe ocean racers a taste of what it’s like sailing 30,000 miles around the world?

The Clipper race is the only Round the World race open to amateurs. ‘No
Experience required’, says the website. By the time I joined Black Adder, one of Clipper’s 60ft training yachts for their Part A training on Wednesday evening, the six, mainly novice crew had already spent three long, exhausting days learning to hand, reef and steer.

Skipper Brendan Hall had been responsible for their training. “Now we’re heading offshore for three days – you’ll get a taste of life offshore and see if it’s for you”, he said.

We slipped out into the Channel to be met by a fresh south-westerly, which slowly died as we got into the westbound shipping lane. But most of the crew had little time to worry about the weather. “There’s so much to take in”, commented Nigel Kellow, a 46-yr old surgeon. Learning to helm at night, trim sails, and get used to the 3-hour watch system takes a lot of concentration.

Even off watch, it’s a new experience. “Sleeping’s a real challenge”, yawns Howard Dray, a 50 yr old consultant. “And so is getting dressed at forty-five degrees!”

Certainly, if anyone had been expecting an easy ride, they were quickly re-educated. Instead, after a brief four hour stopover in Alderney on Thursday we hoisted the sails once more, beating out towards the western approaches. On Friday evening we tacked and romped home with the wind on the beam. “It’s been great – though I was expecting more of a holiday!” said Steph Robertson, 52, from Glasgow. “But there’s a real sense of achievement having completed the week.”

A sense of adventure led many people to try it out. Steph signed up for the training because “I was talking about it with a friend – she told me to stop talking and just do it!” For Ian Cartwright (42), an offshore surveyor, it’s part of a lifetime dream. He’s climbing Cho Oyu in the Himalayas later this year, and signed up for three legs of the next clipper race to fulfil a lifelong dream of sailing in the Southern Ocean.

First Mate Juan Coetcer says that many people change jobs after competing in the race. Contacts are made, friendships are formed and skills learned. “It’s also been called the world’s most expensive dating agency” he laughs.

It’s certainly not an easy way to see the world, and at around £5k per leg, neither is it cheap. After a week, are the crew still keen to do more? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. “I’m definitely still doing a leg”, says Nigel. “I can’t believe how much we’ve come on in a week”.