When I got the phone call to say I had a sponsored place on Leg 6 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race from China to Seattle, I was speechless. The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) had run a competition, in conjunction with Elliot Brown watches, in Firefighter magazine, offering eight firefighters the opportunity to take part in Level 1 Clipper Race training. I’d done a little dingy sailing as a teenager and crewed on a 40ft yacht before, but not much else.
I was then shortlisted for the race. Two of the guys on the shortlist were world record holders, so I thought I didn’t have a chance. ‘Being a firefighter massively helped me with the Clipper Race – I’m used to working as part of a team who looks out for each other, and knew that when things go wrong, you just get on with it. But I was worried before I left. Leg 6 (which goes across the North Pacific Ocean) is cold, wet and rough – two years ago, someone died on this leg. It’s very remote – at times you’re 2,000 miles from land and the nearest people are in a space station!’
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Photo Gallery
A SERIOUS STORM
‘Initially, it was really tiring. It felt like going to work and not leaving for a month! Your sleep is all over the place as you do a four-hour shift, then sleep for four hours. There’s no shower, the toilets are pretty basic and if you’re not in your bunk, someone else is! There were so many noises that kept me awake the first week – the sounds of the rigging, the sails – I kept thinking, “Oh, my god, what’s that?”, but the guy in the bunk beneath me was snoring his head off and he’s a “round-the-worlder” – so I thought it must be OK. ‘My hairiest moment was during a two-day storm. We had the highest possible category of sea state, known as phenomenal waves – over 14m, about the height of a four-story building – and force 12 winds.
On the first day of the storm, I was below decks cooking and the boat kept slamming down on waves, and people came down absolutely shattered and soaking wet. Ordinarily we’d bake bread daily and have spaghetti Bolognese or curry for tea, but during the storm, I prepared freeze-dried meals. Even then, I had to be careful not to get burnt. I could see people being thrown about above deck, which made me really nervous about having to get out there the following day. ‘The next day, the weather hadn’t improved, but now I saw why the boat was making those movements, and it all made sense. When you don’t know where the next wave is coming from, it’s much scarier. The water had turned white from where the waves had been breaking and it was like a gorgeous mountain range. The boat made horrendous noises like it was breaking, but the skipper wasn’t worried, so neither was I.’
‘Strangely, my best moment was probably when it all went wrong! One night, the wind shifted very quickly and caused a crash gibe [forced the sail onto the wrong side of the boat], and we had to spend the next two hours trying to repair the damage and get the boat into the right direction. Once again, the skipper was calm and that made me calm too. We pulled this, eased that, followed her instructions and sorted the boat out and everyone was fine. I loved the sense of achievement. ‘Reaching the finish line was a long time coming – we were at sea 31 days and sailed 5,900 miles – but when we crossed the virtual finish line, we all cheered and hugged each other. When we reached Seattle the following morning, there were loads of people cheering for us and the real celebrations began! ‘Since finishing, I’ve bought a globe, and if you look at the North Pacific, it stretches a third of the way around the world, which puts it into perspective for me. The race is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I enjoyed it and got so much out of it.’ Go to page 20 for your chance to win an Elliot Brown Kimmeridge watch!
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