Sailing Around the World – modern adventurers seek challenge on the seas

Posted: 07/24/2011 in all marine news

Mary-Ann Ochota –

The Clipper Round the World yacht race is a strange and special 11-month event. At 40,000 miles, it’s the longest yacht race in the world and, crucially, the only Round the World race open to sailing novices.

In fact, half the people who sign up to the Clipper challenge have never sailed before.  This year the youngest competitor is 18, the oldest is 72.

The 2011-2012 race starts in one week, on the 31st July, in Southampton.  The fleet only return to home waters the week before the London Olympics begin.

I’m one of the 500 who will be taking on the challenge, and I’m one of the sailing rookies – I’d never stepped foot on a yacht before my first training session. Half the crew will earn membership to the elite club of Round the World racing yachtsmen and women, a feat fewer people have achieved than have climbed Everest.  The rest of us will share just a portion of the odyssey, sailing one or more race legs.

Clipper sailors may set off wet behind the ears, but when we return our bodies and our abilities will bear testament to our achievement. Deep ocean racing sailors normally have years of experience before embarking on voyages of this magnitude.  We get four weeks.

The pace that we’re trained at is the first challenge – a combination of theoretical knowledge, physical competence and memory, packed into long days of drills and hours on the water in the 68 foot racing yachts.

Half of us (including myself) have lost our breakfast to the gentle swell of the Solent.  We are slow, clumsy; we put our thumbs in the wrong places and struggle to manhandle ropes into messy half-remembered knots.  The reality is that we must improve – when your life depends on that knot, you must know it instinctively.  And as the glossy Crew recruitment brochure gleefully points out, no one has told the oceans that we’re amateurs.

My brain rumbles through helpful acronyms to make sure I ease the vang before I haul down on the topping lift, to make sure I remember what a broad reach is, to make sure I tie a bowline correctly.  For real sailors this is about as basic as remembering to pull your trousers down before sitting on the toilet.

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