Voyage of a lifetime

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People from all walks of life are racing around the world in the ultimate sailing adventure. RACHEL JONES reports.

In the Southern Ocean he has faced winds in excess of 50 knots and waves as big as houses. And while sailing up the coast of New Zealand Ian Geraghty was lifted off the yacht deck by waves crashing over the bow.

But the Southsea event manager has managed to get some rest and relaxation during his first ever round-the-world voyage – of sorts.

‘We are on watch for 12 hours a day, which in theory leaves 12 for eating and sleeping. But it can be interrupted by rough weather or helping with a sail change, or getting thrown out of your bunk when the boat hits a big wave,’ says the 52-year-old.

‘It happened to me off the coast of Western Australia. One minute I was dreaming of flying through the air, the next I hit the deck with a big thud. Luckily I was just a bit dazed and confused.’

Ian is on board a 68-foot racing yacht, now somewhere between the Philippines and Indonesia having sailed four legs of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. He is sailing with a group of ordinary people from different countries and backgrounds and experienced skipper Juan Coetzer who together form the Geraldton Western Australia team. Crew members for the different legs of the trip include pensioners, housewives, students, accountants, doctors, nurses, a winemaker and a composer.

The Clipper race is renowned for giving ordinary people, from novice sailors to enthusiasts, the chance to compete in an adventure of a lifetime.

The brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston – the first man to sail solo and non-stop around the world – the race covers 40,000 miles and takes 11 months to complete. Ten yachts set off from Southampton in July and are due back in the summer. The route has so far taken them to Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The event is divided into eight legs and 15 races and crew members can sign up for one or a combination of legs. But Ian is doing the whole thing. He says: ‘I have sailed for a number of years both locally and overseas and it has always been my dream to sail around the world.’

Almost half of the crew members of the 10 teams had never sailed before embarking on the voyage. But Ian had some idea of what he was letting himself in for. ‘I had the sailing experience and I also spent 12 years in the Royal Navy, so being away from land is not unfamiliar. The biggest challenge for me was always going to be spending a lot of time in our sardine can with people I did not know.’

Conditions on board are sparse. ‘In cold weather it gets extremely damp below deck and in the tropical conditions we are experiencing now it’s like a sauna,’ says Ian but adds. ‘We eat well and after a five-hour watch on deck, an aluminium framed cot with a damp mattress feels like heaven.’

And anyway it’s all about the adventure, he says. ‘We had two big storms in the Southern Ocean and helming the boat in those conditions demands complete concentration for hours on end. We were surfing down waves at speeds in excess of 20 knots, and on occasions a large roller would just pick the boat up and toss it sideways. A 50-ton, 68-foot boat going sideways down a wave is not something you need to experience on a regular basis, but it was exhilarating and I wouldn’t wanted to have missed out on doing it.’

But there has also been time to enjoy the wonders of nature. ‘It has become very commonplace to see dolphins, flying fish and the odd whale, and it is easy to take it for granted, but the sight of a pod of dolphins playing off the bow is something I never grow tired of watching,’ says Ian

One of his highlights has been seeing the majestic albatrosses of the Southern Ocean. ‘They have a huge wing span, easily three metres, and to see them glide about and seem to almost touch the waves as they dive and swoop back up into the air is something I will miss seeing.’

But the Clipper crews need to look forward as they have new challenges to face. This week they were heading for the Celebes and Sulu Seas of South East Asia, an area where there is a risk of piracy. ‘The piracy in this part of the world should in no way be linked to the piracy that you hear of on the TV near Somalia which is on an almost industrial scale,’ says race director Joff Bailey. ‘The risk can be better described as a mugging at sea, but it is still a risk that we take seriously. In conjunction with the regional Navy forces and the Royal Navy liaison in Singapore mitigating plans have been put in place.’

Yesterday Geraldton Western Australia was in fourth position for this race and currently stands at ninth overall. But there’s still half the world to cover and no matter what happens many goals and dreams will have been realised.

‘More people have climbed Mount Everest than have raced around the world in a yacht,’ says Ian. ‘It is an endurance event of mammoth proportions, taxing both physically and mentally. To have come this far is a huge achievement, and to cross the finish line back in the Solent having circumnavigated the planet is going to be very special.’

HOW TO TAKE PART

Recruitment is starting for the Clipper race of 2013-14 so those interested in taking part should think about signing up now.

Complete novices can join the adventure but Clipper crews need to be ready to face exactly the same challenges as those experienced by professional racers and living on a yacht with 20 other people while being battered by the elements is a tough task. So there are group and one-to-one interviews and those successful in this selection process must then pass three training courses.

Racers must be aged 18 or over. A round-the-world berth for Clipper 11-12 costs £39,500 while each leg varies from £4,300 to £5,300 with £3,600 for training. For information visit clipperroundtheworld.com

THE YACHTS

Recruitment is starting for the Clipper race of 2013-14 so those interested in taking part should think about signing up now.

Complete novices can join the adventure but Clipper crews need to be ready to face exactly the same challenges as those experienced by professional racers and living on a yacht with 20 other people while being battered by the elements is a tough task. So there are group and one-to-one interviews and those successful in this selection process must then pass three training courses.

Racers must be aged 18 or over. A round-the-world berth for Clipper 11-12 costs £39,500 while each leg varies from £4,300 to £5,300 with £3,600 for training. For information visit clipperroundtheworld.com

LIFE ON BOARD

The crews taking part in the Clipper Round the World race have experienced everything from monster waves and vicious winds to sandwich-stealing flying fish.

And as skipper of team Geraldton Western Australia, Juan Coetzer seems to have relished the highs, the lows, the challenges and the wonders of nature.

Juan recalls the moment one of his crew had quite a surprise during snack-time. ‘She was on watch at night, sitting at the back of the boat, just about to eat her peanut butter sandwich, when out of the dark a flying fish came along an snatched it out of her hands.’

Juan had a good idea what his race highlight might be before he even started. The 33-year-old sailor lives in Southsea but hails from South Africa and was excited about sailing into Cape Town at the end of the second leg of the trip.

But seeing the familiar shape of Table Mountain in the distance and being greeted by familiar faces has to vie with plenty of other experiences for Juan’s top Clipper race experience.

‘On this leg, crossing the Equator and being accompanied by dolphins as we crossed was pretty cool,’ says Juan, who is currently sailing between Australia’s Gold Coast and Singapore in the event’s seventh race.

But lest is should sound like plain sailing, there has been challenge on top of challenge for Juan, who has been sailing since childhood, has won regattas and is fulfilling a lifelong dream of sailing around the world.

He says: ‘We have crossed some of the feistiest oceans and coastlines in gale force winds, coming out the other side smiling.’

As an experienced sailor Juan takes the living conditions in his stride, but they wouldn’t be for everyone. ‘At the moment it is boiling hot. I have two fans in my cabin, a hatch open and I still wake up in a pool of sweat.’ And despite the fact that as skipper he is on call 24/7 and there are plenty of difficulties ahead Juan is loving the whole experience. ‘I have always wanted to sail around the world, and being a skipper, I am taking ordinary people on an extraordinary race’

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