Clipper Round the World race training takes place over four weeks, with each week representing a different training module. The training progressively gets more intense and in the last week you do a two day race with your skipper, crew, and boat against the other teams. If you are new to the blog you can check out my post on Level 1 training here.
Level 2 training starts out at a local school with an indoor pool. The focus is safety at sea. This consists of a few hours of classroom work and a few hours in the pool doing practical training. It’s very similar to the STCW95 safety training that I went through 10 years prior when I was just getting into the megayacht industry.
We learnt about how to properly put on our lifejackets, jump into the water, ensure our lifejacket is inflated properly and how to place the spray hood (that is integrated in the lifejacket) over our head. If we weren’t quick enough the instructor would throw buckets of water on our face. This was funny at the time but the drill is serious as it mimics the importance of putting the spray hood on quickly so you don’t get a wave of water hitting your face and potentially drowning you. I was actually surprised how claustrophobic I felt with the spray hood on. We also learnt how to properly swim to a liferaft and climb inside.
The yellow coveralls we are wearing simulates in the pool what it will feel like having our foul weather gear on in the ocean.
The main lesson learnt during the day was you do not want to abandon your yacht unless you absolutely have to. It’s much easier for search and rescue to spot a 70’ yacht than a 12’ wide liferaft. Twelve crew in a liferaft bobbing around in the middle of the ocean is probably the most unpleasant thing anyone can go through.
With the pool training complete we head back to Clipper Race Training HQ in Gosport to report for level 2 crew assignment. I’m assigned to CV7, another Clipper 68. This will be the last week of training on a Clipper 68 before we move to training on a Clipper 70, which are the actual boats we will be racing on. CV7 has two race skippers and two AQP’s (additionally qualified person, aka First Mate). We have race skipper Mike Surridge (acting Skipper for level 2 training) and his AQP Sam Cooper along with race skipper Mark Burkes (acting first mate for level 2 training) and his AQP Dan Jones. Mark and Dan are my actual race skipper and AQP. How awesome is this that I get to spend some time on the water with them! Super stoked!
Sailing Terms 101 – A Crash Course
Some of you reading this blog are not sailors so I will provide a brief description of what terms I will be using to describe the training. A mainsail is the large sail behind the mast leading towards the back or stern of the boat. During the race it is raised and kept up for the entire race leg. However, depending on how strong the wind is the sail may be lowered partially, this is called reefing. On a Clipper 70 there are three different reef points the sail can be lowered to. The purpose is to reduce the sail area so the boat does not heel over as much and it reduces the potential to damage the boat in strong winds.
There are three types of sails forward of the mast. The first type is a yankee sail which is also known as a jib on cruising sailboats. Each race boat will have three different sizes of yankees, with yankee 1 being the largest and yankee 3 the smallest. Only a single yankee sail is used at any given time, determined by how strong the wind is. In addition to the yankees there is a single stay sail which is a smaller triangular sail that is hoisted between the yankee and the mast. Lastly, there are spinnakers. These are the huge parachute like sails that are used when sailing downwind (the wind is coming from the back of the boat).
A “tack” is when the boat has the wind on one side and you turn the bow (front end of the boat) through the wind to the other side. Sailboats can’t sail directly into the wind but by tacking the boat can sail upwind. A “gybe” is the opposite of a tack in which the boat is going down wind and and then needs to adjust course so the wind goes from one side to the other. Gybing presents a few more challenges, and if done improper can result in a crash gybe, which can cause damage to the boat or worse, kill someone. This is why we repeat evolution after evolution to ensure all crew know what to do.
Differences between training levels
Level 2 training is a continuation of level 1 training from a course syllabus standpoint. This includes raising and lowering the mainsail and yankees, tacking, gybing and practicing man over board (MOB) drills. The main focus of level 2 is watchkeeping and spending extended periods of time at sea. Up until this point we went to the dock every night.
What is Watchkeeping?
Sailboats don’t stop at night and take their sails down waiting for the sun the next day. It’s a 24/7 job and the crew are split so the yacht can race non-stop. Each team can setup their watch system how they choose. Our team will be using a 6-on 6-off during the day and a 4-on 4-off at night rotation. What does this mean? It means from 0800 to 1400 (8am to 2pm) you will be working, from 1400 to 2000 (2pm to 8pm) you will be off, from 2000 to 0000 (8pm to midnight) you are working, midnight to 0400 (0000 to 4am) you are off, and 0400 to 0800 (4am to 8am) you are working. This rotates the two watches back and forth so everyone gets an equal amount of rest per 48-hour period. If you aren’t working you better be sleeping because the most sleep you will get at night is only about 3 hours. Coming off watch is an actual race to who can take all their gear off and get into bed first.
During training we sometimes anchor the boat overnight. When doing so an anchor watch must be established. This is to ensure we don’t move from our anchored position and to ensure that someone is always up, monitoring the yacht alarms and radio. The watches are split into two hour segments, with two people on each watch, to allow all off-watch crew to get a few extra hours of sleep. In the photo below you can see the high-tech process of deciding who is on watch and when.
Where do we sail to in level 2?
It’s never fun to just sail around without any sort of destination. Sailors are always keen for an adventure and our training skipper decided we should head out across the English Channel to sail around Guernsey and Alderney. These islands are part of the Channel Islands, which are part of the British empire even though they lie about 30 miles off the western coast of France.
The weather was not favorable for sailing so we ended up motoring across a majority of the Channel. When one thinks of the English Channel, they think of lots of wind and large waves, for us it was like crossing a lake. Only a few months prior, a level 2 training boat was sailing in 70kts (80mph) of wind!
Standing watch at night under the stars is one of my favorite times to be on a boat. It is extremely peaceful as there is murmured chit chat among those on watch and mainly you just hear the sound of the water breaking across the hull as you slip silently through the night.
The next morning we were starting to circumnavigate the Channel Islands. It is extremely satisfying to sail through the night and end up in a new place. The Channel Islands have extreme tides and currents so we were on a strict time schedule as to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tidal variations can be up to 10 meters (33 feet)! We enjoyed a motor around the islands before heading back across to England.
A Rockstar Team
The week wasn’t over and already we had done most of the course syllabus. So, skipper Mike decided we should practice flying the spinnaker, a skill normally reserved for level 3 training. Sounds good to us! This was only the third time I had been on a boat with a spinnaker and the first time on a boat with an A-symmetrical spinnaker.
For those non-sailors, there are two types of spinnakers; symmetrical and A-symmetrical. A symmetrical is exactly that, the sail is the same on either side and a spinnaker pole is used to hold the windward side of the sail out away from the boat. The advantage of the symmetrical sail is that you can sail closer to dead downwind (wind 180 degrees behind the boat) compared to an A-Symmetrical. The disadvantage of the symmetrical is having to deal with a very large spinnaker pole. That’s why Clipper moved towards A-symmetrical spinnakers which only require the line controlling the end of the sail to move from one side of the boat to the other when gybing. There’s a lot more to all of this but that’s the basic principal.
We rigged all the lines to prepare for the hoist under the mates’ guidance. With everything set we placed crew in their positions. It takes two crew to sweat (hoist) the spinnaker halyard, a third crew member to tail the end of the halyard around the primary winch, a fourth and fifth crew member on the coffee grinder to grind the line, and a sixth crew member to standby on the sheets (control lines for the sail) to trim the sail.
I was lucky enough to be the crew member who got to trim the kite (slang word for a spinnaker). This meant I was in control of this massive sail, easing it out and calling for the crew on the coffee grinders to trim it in, all depending on what the boat, sail and wind were doing. It’s a job that requires full commitment as a loss of focus can result in the sail wrapping itself around the rigging on the boat or the sail going into the water. Either outcome is not desirable. We sailed for a few hours with the spinnaker up before taking it down and proceeding upwind to our anchorage for the night off of Bournemouth, UK.
Dan Killed a Dolphin!
We pulled into that night’s anchorage at dusk and the mate proceeded to lower the anchor. As he was doing so a distressed looking dolphin showed up at the boat. The dolphin spent the entire night swimming around the anchor line. The running joke onboard was that Dan, our first mate, killed the dolphin’s partner with our anchor. Luckily when we hoisted our anchor the next morning no dead dolphin floated to the surface. The whole crew thought the entire episode was funny, except for Dan. I will say it was amazing to spend a few hours on anchor watch looking at the dolphin surface, breath and then disappear, only to resurface two minutes later. It must have been sleeping.
Another Week Done.
The day after the dolphin incident we sailed back around the Isle of Wight and into the Gosport Marina. It is Clipper tradition that at the end of the last full day of training the crew go out for a meal together ashore. Our team decided to head to the Mary Mouse 2, which is a converted lighthouse ship into a restaurant in the marina next door.
Level 2 finished with another deep clean and debrief. As a team we were more clued in to how best go about the cleaning and were able to finish about an hour quicker than my level 1 training. The debrief went well, I’m excited to be sailing under Mark Burkes command! With level 2 complete I had one night off before the start of level 3 training. This next level we will sail on the actual race boats, the Clipper 70’s!