Heaven and hell on the high seas: The inside story of the Clipper Round the World Race

Picture by:  Malcolm Wells (150811-0581)
Picture by: Malcolm Wells (150811-0581)
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PACKING up your life and setting sail around the world seems like the ultimate adventure.

But for 700 novice sailors from 44 countries it is about to become everyday reality as the Clipper Round the World Race begins.

The 11-month race will leave St Katharine Docks on August 30 and will see a dozen 70ft ocean racing yachts travel 40,000 nautical miles, crossing some of the toughest oceans and tackling some of the biggest challenges of the natural world.

It was set up 20 years ago by legendary sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, from Old Portsmouth, who was the first to sail single-handedly non-stop around the world.

Second in command to Sir Robin is race director Justin Taylor, from Gosport.

He says: ‘As race director, I manage the race in its entirety. The core of what we do is the around-the-world race, but I’m responsible for hiring and firing the skippers, the yachts, planning the route, flying to each of the stopovers, running the maintenance department, crew department and the training departments.

‘We have to remember we are running a world-class event and it has to be run to certain standards. I’m in charge of making sure those standards are maintained to ensure the race has scrutiny and integrity.’

Anyone can take part in the biennial race as long as they are over 18. No previous sailing experience is necessary and the crews are managed by one experienced skipper per yacht.

It’s a test of physical and emotional endurance as cramped living conditions, separation from friends and family and exhaustion all play heavily on the participants.

That’s something Justin knows only too well, having competed twice in the race as a skipper.

‘The first time I took part was in 2002. The second was in 2009,’ he says.

‘They were the fourth and seventh editions of the race. We are now on the 10th. It’s in its 20th year. I have professionally sailed for 20 years starting off as crew and working my way up.

‘Sometimes the crew are very highly charged, emotionally, stressed and there’s danger. Dealing with that alone is a huge ask.

‘If you can get the teamwork element right then you will have a happy crew and then as a result the boat will go fast.’

The race is split into eight legs, with 16 individual races. The challenge is not for the faint-hearted crossing the world’s most challenging oceans and facing unbelievable weather conditions.

Justin adds: ‘I have been in three hurricanes and the crews will also experience hurricane force winds particularly in the Southern Ocean. Hurricane winds are normally 64 knots plus, waves the size of blocks of flats. They are going into the harshest environments in the world and they will experience the full force that the planet has to throw at them. They’ll be experiencing dead calms, beautiful sunsets, the whole galaxy as there is no light pollution. You do literally see a whole blanket of stars. It is a life-changing experience for anyone.’

All the participants have to pay to join the race and many fund-raise for their places and for chosen charities.

They all undergo intensive training and have been preparing for months. Some even signed up at the start of the last race in 2013.

Justin says: ‘The youngest is 18, the oldest 74. There’s no upper age limit. As long as you can pass a medical then we are more than happy to consider you. ‘For a skipper there is a minimum qualifcation of 30,000 nautical miles of sailing. But we don’t just say here’s the boat and crew, see you in 11 months. It is a continual development. The skippers are responsible for the lives of 20 people in the harshest conditions.’

Taking part from The News area this year are Charlotte Morton-Haworth, from Alverstoke, Ali Hudson, from Lee-on-the-Solent, Dawn Miller, from Gosport, and Mel Thompson, from North End, Portsmouth.

Skippers Max Stunnell, from Southsea, Greg Miller and Jim Prendergast, both from Gosport, will each be in charge of a yacht.

They sailed from Gosport Marina, home to Clipper Ventures, on Tuesday, and are now at St Katharine Docks, London, where they’ll remain until the race starts next Sunday. They depart at 11am on the first leg of the voyage covering 5,200 nautical miles to cross the Atlantic in 30 days finishing in South America. From there they will visit 15 other ports before finally returning to London next June.

For more on the race go to clipperroundtheworld.com.

How it works

The series is divided into 16 individual races and points are accumulated in a Formula 1-style scoring system.

The winner of each stage is awarded 12 points, the second 11 points and so on down to one point for 12th. The yacht with the highest cumulative points wins the Clipper Race Trophy.

Teams can also gain bonus points at strategically placed scoring gates or by winning ocean sprints. Points can be lost by infringing the racing rules, sailing instructions or by damaging boat equipment or sails.

With all boats identical and budgets equal, no one has a head start. It’s the ultimate long distance match race and the winners are those who keep their focus the longest.

Greg Miller

FORMER staff sergeant Greg Miller is adjusting to civvy street by sailing around the world.

The 40-year-old, from Bridgemary, Gosport, left the army in May after 24 years in the Royal Corps of Signals.

Greg will be putting his life-long sailing skills to use as the skipper on board Mission Performance.

The dad-of-three will have responsibility for 57 crew over the 11 months.

He says: ‘I am feeling a little bit nervous but I am excited and I am looking forward to the various challenges that will happen during the race

‘I don’t need to motivate the team, they are fairly well-motivated. They want to do well. ‘

Greg’s sailing career began as a sea scout in Gosport and between leaving secondary school and joining the Army, he worked as a sailing and watersports instructor in Portsmouth.

He says: ‘A boat has to be run on discipline. I am not going to take them into the army but we need to have discipline on board. One of the big things that happens on a boat is that molehills become mountains, little gripes turn into massive things, and we don’t want that to happen. It’s about nipping it in the bud.’

Greg’s wife Dawn, who also works for Clipper, will be joining another crew to take in one of the legs. His daughters Jemma, 17, and Jessica, 19, and son AJ, 18, will join them for Christmas in Sydney.

But the determined skipper has his eyes on the prize.

‘We have definitely got it in us for a podium finish,’ he says.

‘But I can only do so . Ultimately it is down to the crew to work hard and to be trimming the sails constantly - that will show how much they really want to win.’

Mel Thompson

BRAVE Mel Thompson is about to undertake her next life challenge by taking on two legs of the Clipper Race.

The remarkable woman is in remission from breast cancer and shows no sign of taking her foot off the gas as she throws herself into her next adventure.

The 45-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and is now in remission after treatment.

She took part in a three-week sailing trip with Atlantic Rally for Cruises (ARC), sailing from Gran Canaria to St Lucia in 2013.

And it was there that Mel discovered her passion for sailing.

The ARC race was supposed to be Mel’s one big adventure but she had discovered the sailing bug and signed up for the Clipper race.

Mrs Thompson, of Randolph Rd, North End, says: ‘I’ve always seen the Clipper boats going in and out and doing their training. I looked at them and thought that’s big boy sailing, I never thought I would get the opportunity to sail around the world.

“I needed something big to look forward to.’

She says her family, including her two children, think she’s mad to be going off on another sailing adventure.

‘They think I’m absolutely crazy,’ she says. ‘They are very supportive, however they do think I have lost a few nuts and bolts on the way.’

This will be the longest time she will have been away, spending four months at sea. But she plans to have fun on the way.

‘I’m going to have a few days either end to enjoy the stopovers,‘ she says.

Mel is a teacher and has given up her full-time job to take part in the race.

Meanwhile she has been doing some part-time work, teaching adults with learning difficulties.

She said: ‘Everyone’s really excited and I am slightly nervous because you don’t quite know how it’s going to pan out but I am confident we’ll have fun along the way as well as some tough days, but that’s sailing for you.’

She will be sailing aboard GREAT Britain, skippered by Peter Thornton, from Cornwall.

Tracie Appleby

Mother-of-three Tracie Appleby is due to set off on a transatlantic voyage despite having only ‘a couple of weekends here and there’ sailing experience.

Tracie, from Boyatt Wood, near Eastleigh, will join team Unicef for the final leg of the Clipper Round the World race between New York and London.

Her five-week mission across the Atlantic, which starts on June 20, is a world away from her current job as a paralegal but there is method in her madness.

The 48-year-old says: ‘I want my children to be able to say “my mum did that.” ‘I have two sons and they think it’s awesome.’

Tracie’s 11-year old daughter Immie, and her sons Thomas, 20, and Sam, 17, will be at the dockside in London to see her return .

While this little jaunt may sound lovely, there is no doubt it takes serious guts to undertake such a huge challenge.

But in all honesty Tracie doesn’t quite know what is coming her way.

‘I don’t know what it’s going to throw at me until I get there,’ she says.

‘It’s going to be big, it’s going to be scary – it’s going to be fabulously awesome!’.

To donate to her fundraising go to justgiving.com/Tracie-Appleby/ .

Alison Hudson

AMBULANCE care assistant Alison Hudson is hoping that her experience of dealing with emergencies pays off when she’s in the thick of it.

The 44-year-old, from Lee-on-the-Solent, saw the beginning of the 2011/12 race in Southampton and was inspired to sign up.

She has some previous sailing experience, but has never done anything like Clipper before.

Alison, of Wessex Close, hopes she’ll leave an inspiring legacy for her children and grandchildren by taking part in the first leg of the prestigious race.

She said: ‘I’m really excited. There are no nerves whatsoever. I’m apprehensive about being away from my family, that’s the only thing, but we are going to work hard as a team and the team are like family. It’s going to be good fun.

‘I’ve never done anything so extreme in my life and this is something that will last a lifetime.

And she’s not afraid of keeping up with the men onboard her yacht Mission Performance.

She says: ‘I’m a game-player. I’m used to working as part of a team because of my job with South Central Ambulance Service. We have to work as a team and that’s how we will be working out on the boat. I can’t wait to start sailing and racing.’

Also onboard Mission Performance is banker James Shepherd. He has wanted to take part in the race ever since he heard about it at secondary school.

The 30-year-old remembers a presentation being given to his school 15 years ago.

He says: ‘It has always been on my bucket list and I can now finally tick it off.’

He will be taking part in the full 11-month circumnavigation leaving the UK on August 30.

He said: ‘I don’t have nerves at the moment, however I think there will be plenty in the days immediately beofre we leave.

‘We were out in the boats in gale force winds and the boats were leaning over 45 degrees but they’re are really strong and stable.

James, from Alresford, particularly looks forward to seeing Rio and sees it as a good opportunity to recharge his batteries before he sets sail and takes on the harsh conditions out at sea.

He says: ‘We have time at the ports, however the time we have is limited and we may still have to do jobs such as cleaning the boats. I have done a number of extreme events up to eight days maximum, but I have never done anything on this scale before.’

James was so committed to taking part he has taken a year out of his job in London as a banker and has even re-mortgaged his house to fund the trip.

He said: ‘I have been saving for a good couple of years and have re-mortgaged my house. You cannot go out to nice restaurants and spend money, but it is a commitment you make.’