September 2018 – Rowena Verity and Paul Atwood — 2017/2018 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

As our Commodore said by way of introduction, this race is decidedly not for wimps. Although sailors in the audience are accustomed to the privations and discomforts of small boats, the experiences we heard about were, for most of us, something else. Rowena Verity had us enthralled by her account of her time aboard 70ft Garmin in the 2017/2018 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, sharing the lows and highs of this extreme kind of yachting. Helping her out during the evening was Paul Atwood – Relief Skipper, Clipper Training Skipper and Yachtmaster Ocean Instructor.

The Clipper Race is the longest ocean race there is – 40,000 miles and 11 months long. In the 2017/18 event over 700 crew participated – aged from 18 to 76, 30% of them women, with 40% having never sailed before. Rowena had been sailing for 4 years and already had 1500 miles under her belt.

It is, and this repeatedly stressed during the voyage, a race. Day after day, week after week, the boats crash on. At times heeling 40 degrees and more, decks awash, their crew (who’ve paid for the privilege!) living in wet weather gear, with day-to-day activities – cooking, sleeping, cleaning, visiting the heads – presenting challenges way beyond the usual meaning of the word. And that is fitted around helming, navigating, sail trim and changes, winch grinding, reefing and unreefing the mainsail, and hanging on in fear of one’s life. Crew share a cramped, constantly buffeted space, working a 48 hour rotating watch system with the days divided into two watches and the nights into three. Crew “hot-bunk” – dropping into a bunk just vacated by the crew going up onto watch. As Rowena told us, one gets used to sleeping despite everything, and one copes, day by day.

There were compensatory highs: glorious sunsets; shooting stars; dolphins; whales and seabirds. A swim, in water 3 miles deep, on a calm day. A shower, ashore, after 34 days (the longest leg) without one. The celebrations ashore, and elation after a good placing.

Crew receive 4 weeks of training, in 4 levels. On the race some duties are rostered into every watch (e.g. bilges, cleaner, heads (yuk!), deck, blog) while others are allocated (e.g. Safety Officer). As members of the crew get to know each other, having exhausted the usual banalities of small talk, they develop a rapport, become a close-knit team, and really do look after each other.

The dangers are real – one man was lost from another boat due to a freak twisted loading and failure of a tether hook, and another was wrecked having run aground.

After 140 days and over 25,000 nautical miles at sea in the “Clipper bubble” re-adjustment to so-called normal life was not easy. Asked about whether this pay-by-leg race is good value, she told us that at about £49,000 to do all 8 legs it’s not cheap but she had found Paul as a result!

The talk and videos were exhausting merely to hear and watch, the event itself must have been so emotional that one wondered how they adapted back to the real world after it. Rowena told us that preparing this talk had re-awakened her memories and led to her feeling very positive about the whole experience…..