Life aboard a Clipper Round the World racing yacht has come a long way since 1765, the year HMS Victory was launched. Let’s take a look at my experience during the training levels on a modern 70 foot racing yacht!
Living on a Clipper 70 is an amazing and difficult experience. Imagine being back in your college dorm room except your bed is just a bit wider than you are, ALL of your belongings fit into a space the size of a carry on suitcase, and you get to share your bed with another crew mate on the opposite watch who hasn’t showered in days. The college dorm years all of a sudden sound a lot more appealing!
Each Clipper 70 is setup with enough bunks for all crew, as this is a legal requirement. There are 4 bunks located in the sail locker, which are not used by crew during the race, 4 bunks located midships just forward of the galley on the port and starboard side, and then 8 bunks on either side of the vessel, aft of the galley. Bunks are stacked two high and are adjustable. This is great, for when the vessel is heeled over at 40+ degrees you don’t want to roll out of bed. Luckily there is also an adjustable “lee” cloth that holds you in place.
Below are some photos of the interior of a Clipper 70.
The boat doesn’t sail itself and no, we don’t all go to bed at night and take the sails down and raise them in the morning. This is a race! We sail through any and all weather, be it freezing temps or 100+ degrees Fahrenheit in the doldrums. High winds? No problem, especially in the roaring 40’s, a nickname of an area known for intense winds on Earth below 40 degrees latitude South (click here for more info). Hurricanes? No problem, just put up the storm sails and ride it out. Below is a video from the 2017/2018 edition of the race through a large storm in the North Pacific.
Each yacht can setup their watch system how they choose. Our yacht, team WTC Logistics, will be using a 6-on 6-off during the day and a 4-on 4-off at night. What does this mean? It means from 8am to 2pm you will be working, from 2pm to 8pm you will be off, from 8pm to midnight you are working, midnight to 4am off, and 4am to 8am you are working.
NOTE: We use 24 hour time aboard, a.k.a. military time, but I opted to use the AM/PM method to describe the watch system for the non-sailors reading this blog.
The watch system rotates back and forth so everyone gets an equal amount of rest. 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 a race to who can get into bed first.
Waking up for watch is another critically timed event. You want to maximize your sleep but at the same time you have to get up and get ready to go out on deck and sail the boat. If its meal time you need a few extra minutes to be able to eat before going on deck. You are woken by the on-watch crew about 20 minutes before the start of your shift. And, since there are no showers onboard, you don’t need to worry too much about getting ready to go to work!
Wait, what? Did you say no showers? Yes, well, technically no. Let me explain. The yacht has two bathrooms that have the capabilities for showers but fresh water is in limited supply. The fresh water tanks hold about 400 liters of water or about 105 US gallons. That water is for drinking and cooking for up to 24 people per day. We do have a reverse osmosis water maker onboard but you don’t want to burn through that water too quickly. What if the water maker stops working and you are two weeks from land and everyone just took a shower so the tanks are empty?
So, if there are no showers, what do you do about hygiene? Especially since there are 20 plus people living in close quarters conditions? Great question, the answer is baby wipes! Yup, you can use these to clean yourself up really well. You will also be wearing the same clothes from a few days to a week before changing. Luckily everyone else is in the same boat (pun intended). Only when we finished our level 4 training and showered on land did we realize how smelly the boat was.
As mentioned, we will be in a watch system sailing the boat 24/7. However, about once per week one person from each watch will come out of that rotation and be on what’s called “mother watch”. The role of the “mothers” is to feed the crew for the day. This involves making breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the tea breaks. Have I mentioned the English love their tea?
The kitchen on a boat is called a galley. The oven is gimbaled, which means it will pivot from side to side so when the boat is heeled over the stove top is somewhat level, which makes boiling water and cooking a little bit easier.
On the actual race the “mothers” will bake 2 loafs of bread each day, plus sponge cake if we are lucky. Remember, there are 20 plus crew aboard so you are really cooking 60 plus meals in a space that is no larger than a kitchen would be in a 300 square foot apartment.
Below is a video from the 2015/2016 Clipper Round the World race that highlights cooking in the galley about halfway through the video.
Meals will be planned by the Vittler, who does all of the meal planning and preparation. This is a large task that will require the input of all the crew to ensure dietary restrictions are met, but also to ensure we don’t get bored with the same meal every day! Each day’s food will be placed in a reusable shopping bag, labeled for that day and then stored on the boat. When that day comes, the bag is pulled out and everything should be in it for breakfast (if it’s cooked), lunch and dinner. Since there is no refrigeration aboard you can only imagine what sort of meals, we will be eating on day 18 of 25!
The good news is that during training the skipper and mate do all of the vittling, but it is up to the crew to do the actual cooking and cleaning. Speaking of cleaning, the galley has two foot pumps, one for fresh water (cooking and drinking) and the other for salt water, coming straight in from the outside. Salt water is used to do all the washing up. It’s weird at first but you get used to it quickly.
Using the Head. What?
A bathroom onboard a boat is called the head. The term comes from the sailing ship days of the Navy, where sailors would use the bathroom located at the front, or head, of the boat. Waves would continually wash the front of the boat, keeping it clean. The name stuck and we call it “using the head” today.
Remember, this is a race boat and every bit of weight saving counts. So, there are no toilet seats or lids. You’ve got to be joking?! No, I’m not. It’s not for weight savings but to really help protect a man’s nether region. Imagine sitting on the toilet in 50’ waves, in a room no larger than 3’x3’. You are free falling off the peak of the last wave, and as you come crashing down into the trough of the next wave, think what could pinch itself between the toilet bowl and seat. Get the picture? So, no toilet seat.
Everyone sits to use the toilet (I can already here the applause from all the ladies). And, if you didn’t eat it, it doesn’t go down the toilet. All paper products go in a small waste bin adjacent to your throne. This is pretty standard on any type of cruising boat that isn’t a superyacht or a cruise ship. You actually get used to it pretty quickly.
My biggest concern was always clogging the toilet, not only could it be extremely embarrassing, like the embarrassing where you would rather die than deal with the issue at hand, but you have to unclog it! And you can’t use a plunger! Luckily I haven’t had to deal with this, yet…
The toilet works with a hand pump that is used to pump out the liquids and solids from the bowl. This macerates the solids and then everything has to be pumped through 20’ of pipe, as the piping goes above the waterline and then back down again before going over the side of the boat. 25 Pumps on the handle should just about do it.
Washing up consists of using soap and saltwater. The best part about the head? You have a lovely canvas door and zipper for all of the privacy and sound insulation you may need.
Are we going in the right direction?
The navigation station is an integral part to the yacht, especially to ensure we are headed in the right direction. It comes with standard electronics that you would expect on a vessel traversing the world’s oceans. This includes multiple GPS units (for redundancy), satellite communications, chart plotting software, weather routing software, weather communications, and DSC VHF radios. In addition to the electronics there are the paper charts, pilot books, and the ships logbook. Every hour crew log the position of the boat, weather conditions, sail plan, and anything else relevant. It’s a legal requirement to fill out the log book and if the vessel were ever to sink you know for sure that the log book is going with the Skipper into the liferaft.
The navigation station is located in the aft portion of the yacht, underneath the helm stations and located in between the Skipper and 1st Mate’s bunks. The Skipper spends a lot of his time in this “office”, watching the weather and planning race tactics.
Is there Netflix or a 72” 4K flat screen TV on board?
The answer is maybe and no. WIFI will be provided to crew (at a minimal cost) to be able to upload and download text only emails to their personal wireless devices. It’s best to ensure all episodes of that latest Netflix series you may want to binge watch are already downloaded. Luckily, I’m already caught up on the Great British Bake Off.
As you can tell by reading this blog post, life is all about the race. You sail, sleep, eat, repeat. No creature comforts here. But what makes up for it are the bonds among crew and the camaraderie that goes with working in a team to accomplish a common goal. I can’t wait for the start of Leg 5, now only a few weeks away!!!
Fair winds and following seas.