Sixty-eight feet long, and about ten feet wide. That’s about the size of an executive jet aircraft. Can you imagine eighteen people living, working and sleeping in so small a space, especially for prolonged periods of time?
Those are the conditions under which the crews in the Clipper Round the World yacht race live while they’re at sea. All of them have paid, or been sponsored to do all or part of this race, even though a complete circumnavigation would cost four times as much as a round the world trip in a cruise liner.
Nevertheless, the race organisers describe it as a race for ‘people like you’. They like to point out that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have sailed around the world, and most of those who have are professionals.
Not that there’s much difference; as yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the founder of the race, points out, the sea makes no distinction between the amateur and the pro.
Little or no sailing experience is called for at the time of application. However training is given both before and during the race and, even when only one leg of the race is completed, everyone will be a seasoned, experienced sailor, able to turn themselves to the many and varied tasks involved.
The boats were designed by English designer Ed Dupont, and built in Shanghai, China. They are all identical, constructed of a layer of balsa wood sandwiched between two layers of glass fibre. They each carry a wardrobe of eleven sails, the selection and setting of which is left to the preference of individual skippers.
Each of the yachts is sponsored by a city, an area or a country, and is crewed by a professional skipper, and people from all walks of life … ‘people like you’, in fact. We met a 27 year old sales assistant and a 45 year old lawyer. All age ranges are covered, from teenagers to septuagenarians.
This year, the race started from Southampton, and before the race, I was privileged to be invited to the naming ceremony for the two Australian boats, the ‘Gold Coast’ and the ‘Geraldton’.
Before the ceremony, sailed in the boats on Southampton Water, to give us some idea of what it would be like, living in such a confined space. Probably the most important skill to be learned is, if you don’t have anything to do, keeping out of the way of anyone who has!
At the naming ceremony, Sir Robin made a short speech, wishing each boat good fortune then both skippers sprayed the bows of their respective boats with champagne. And, that’s the last alcoholic liquor that will be allowed on board for a while … the Clipper Race is strictly ‘dry’!