Welp, with three levels in and a month and a half until I’m back in the UK again for Level 4, probably makes sense to get on with talking about what I’ve done thus far on the Clipper Race training adventures.
My journey began at the very busy SeaTac airport in Seattle. As fate would have it, my best friend Elli was flying in at around the same time from North Carolina, so we got to have some well-needed hugs and coffee. I’d been having a rough go with the depression battle so there were some tears mixed in as well. That woman and I have been through a lot together so it was incredibly special to get to see her before embarking on this adventure.
Soon it was time to board flight one of two that would take me to London. The flight was uneventful and soon I was navigating LAX to get to the terminal. LAX is notoriously a pain to navigate and it lived up to its name. After getting lost a couple of times and walking right past the gate a couple of times I finally made it to where I was supposed to be. Being the dork that I am, I couldn’t help but grin at the British accents I was hearing as I sat eagerly waiting for my time to board. Before I knew it the time to board had come and I got on the huge plane. Again, a rather uneventful flight. I will say if you ever fly on an American Airlines flight in Economy that includes food, it’s not a bad idea to bring your own. Carbs and sugar seemed to be the name of the game as almost everything was either heavy on bread or sweetened in lieu of other flavors. It was free with the flight but breakfast especially was just sugary yogurt and a sugary muffin. You know it’s a ton of sugar when even a unicorn is calling it out!
After a long long slog the flight tracker showed that EEK, I was actually over England, a place I had only ever dreamed about going to. I eagerly looked out the window to see what I could and as soon as we dipped below the clouds the adorable quaint country homes told me I was here! Before I knew it we had landed and I took my carry on bag through a fairly easy customs process and was on my way to baggage claim to get the rest of the luggage I would be living out of for the next two-ish weeks.
OMG! WHERE’S MY BAG?!
Pretty much everyone who has ever checked a bag has had that anxious moment where they watch the bags of their fellow travelers go round the carousel but can’t see theirs. Until that day I had always eventually spotted mine. Today held a different plan for me as I watched the number of bags on the carousel shrink with increased anxiety until the carousel stopped completely and my heart sank. I walked over to the American Airlines lost baggage counter and after a few stressful phone calls (and admittedly a few tears) the LAX Alaska baggage counter was able to surmise that my bag had only been checked to LAX, not through to Heathrow. I was assured it would be put on the next plane and then couriered over to Gosport.
Amidst all of this I got one of my first BIG glimpses of the Clipper family network. I posted on our Facebook group that I was freaking out as my bag had not made it, and within about 20 minutes a few wonderful people had arranged to have gear ready that I could borrow whilst waiting for my bag to get to me. One of those lovely people was Della from the head office who said she would be waiting for me when I get off the Gosport Ferry and would give me a ride to the B&B. She asked if there was anything else I needed and I said at that point, I could really go for a pint and a hug! I was tired and exhausted and now had the quest of figuring out a bus and a train to Portsmouth. Thank goodness the rest of that went well and soon I was boarding the Gosport ferry. By this time night had fallen but I was able to just make out the masts of the Clipper fleet at the marina and things began to feel more real!
I got off the ferry and was immediately greeted by a kind face that turned out to be Della! She was an absolute sweetheart and gave me a much-needed hug right away. She had even put together a goody bag with some chocolates and a beer and G&T in a can as she wasn’t sure what I would like. I was very grateful and humbled for the hospitality. She whisked me off to the Spring Garden Guest House which turned out to be run by the sweetest woman EVER named Heather. Della helped me get settled and showed me what she had pulled together for me to borrow and then went on her way after another hug. Next I needed to sort out food finally, but it turned out to not be an issue whatsoever as another kind racer named Anthony was also staying at the B&B, had heard of my adventure, and had an overabundance of Indian food he insisted on sharing. I was all too happy for it and after some banter in the common room it was finally time for some well-needed rest on a thankfully very comfortable bed.
Training office and #selfiewithsophie
After a night of some very weird sleep patterns I finally crawled out of my bed at what seemed like a reasonable breakfast hour and was treated by Heather to my first FULL ENGLISH. For those not in the know, the right proper English Breakfast is a smorgasbord of tastiness. Eggs, I swear three different kinds of meat, toast, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and all the tea I could drink were brought out and I was in food heaven. For as much guff as the Brits get about the supposedly flavorless meat/potatoes/veggie supper formula, the breakfast game is on point.
The famous and delicious Full English!
Once I was fed the next order of business was to wander over to the training office to drop off the bag I DID have with me and sort out what the hell I was going to do about boots in case my bag didn’t come on time. Tom, another Seattle compatriot who was in town for his Level 3 training met me across the Gosport Ferry in Portsmouth and greeted me with a hug and a goody bag of essentials such as earplugs, Sturgeron (amazing seasick meds) and other treats to get me through the first week.
After a pint we wandered over to the Musto store where I got to meet the lovely Sophie, our gear goddess for the Clipper crew! She sat me down, gave me my very fist tea and biscuit and a BIG hug as she had heard of the bag debacle. She helped me get fitted to some AMAZING new boots (link here to the Musto ocean boots) that I was excited to wear both for the next two weeks of training as well as at home in the chilly PNW waters for winter racing. I may have walked out with a backpack too, oops! While there I also got a selfie with her like a proper #millennial and next thing I knew had started the #selfiewithSophie tradition for the Clipper crew!
It’s Finally Time!
The time had come to assemble at the training office and finally meet my training skipper and boatmates for Level 1! Two boats worth of excited and eager sailors and soon-to-be sailors were gathered in the office and treated to tea and biscuits (sensing a theme here…) and then next thing we knew we were walking down the dock with our skippers to what would be home sweet boat for the week. We were assigned to CV7, one of the Clipper 68s. For Level 1 and 2 training we use the previous generation of boats as the 70’s are busy being used for Level 3 training and corporate sails. It turned out that our boat was extra lucky as our Skipper was a wonderful man named Simon, our Mate was a guy named Matt who was a bit of a cheeky and lovable one, and then we had a bonus mate in the form of the incredible Kym. It was very lucky having a female trainer on the boat as she was able to teach us gals some tips and tricks that were unique to us. The evening was spent getting our bunks quickly set up, then skipper treated us to dinner on the boat and we talked about who we were, what we hoped to get out of the race, and what the plan would be for the week. It was cool to see that we had a mix of all different ages and levels of sailing experience. The Clipper Race is truly for all sorts, as evidenced by the fact that my watch partner for the week was a 70+ year old gentleman named Graham.
After we had dinner and our chat finished, next stop was the infamous Castle Tavern for a round or two of pub drinks. The Castle is infamous for being a Clipper crew hangout and sure enough, when we got there we were greeted by others who were in various levels of training. Getting to the pub would become a theme over the next week!
The next morning we awoke to an amazing sunset. After breakfast and morning rituals it was time to get ready for a day of drills at the dock as the weather was, as the Brits say, blowing a hoolie. As some of the crew on the boat had NEVER sailed before, we did a lot of work on practicing knots, going over the deck and all of the different danger zones (there are LOTS), practicing line handling and winch handling, proper usage of safety gear including PFDs and tethers, and learning the art of sweating up a halyard. Let me tell you, everything on the Clipper 68’s was bigger and HEAVIER than anything I had ever worked on up until that point on a boat. These boats are no fluffy charter boats and as one of our crewmates for the week discovered, there is no button to operate the winch, just brute strength and the mechanical advantage offered by the pedestal grinder or a winch handle. Even though we hadn’t left the dock at all, by the end of the day we were all tired from practicing grinding a “bricked” sail (sail that has been tied into a bundle in its bag and attached to a halyard) over and over and sweating the halyard up. Dinner was very happily consumed and then as you can guess, we went to the pub!
Slipping the Lines
As with a lot of things the Clipper Race does, they have a specific way that lines are handled when leaving the dock in order to make sure it can be done as cleanly and safely as possible. Our skipper went over the process with us along with the art of using two roving fenders to make sure we didn’t cause damage to the boat on our way out. Fortunately for us, our skipper made steering that boat look like he was driving a little car so in a few minutes we were effortlessly motoring out of Gosport Marina and off into the legendary Solent! I could not wipe the grin off my face as the reality of what was about to happen was sinking in. I was really on a Clipper boat and was finally about to be sailing!! We spent the day going over raising sails, tacking, putting in a reef as the weather was still a bit windy, sail changes, and maneuvering safely around the boat. One important component that was handled twice a day was TEA!! I became quite fond of the ritual of tea and biscuits.
Much like everything else thus far, the steps for everything were all bigger and more involved than anything I’d previously done on a boat. The Clipper training team had done an incredible job of creating bright yellow wet notes that we were to keep on us at all times. These wet notes broke down the process of all of the main functions on the boat and were our lifeline as we worked to memorize the processes. Doing the drills over and over again helped greatly, I am definitely one who needs to see/do things rather than one who can learn just from reading pictureless instructions.
In order to keep things exciting (not that that was challenging!) the dock for the evening was not in Gosport Marina but rather in Cowes! Yes, THAT Cowes! I being the silly American that I am thoughts at first we were going to some random place called Cows. When I told my mother where we were going she got really excited and I very soon learned that Cowes is legendary for sailing. We arrived at the dock, put the boat away, had dinner cooked by two more of our teammates, and then as you may have imagined, found a pint or two at the pub attached to the marina.
Being the adventurous sort that I am, there was no way I was going to let an opportunity to do something exciting pass me by. The next day held more drills and skills, with one being a solo paddle in a dingy from one part of the dock to another. There is an art to getting from the dock into the dingy without getting wet and thankfully every member of our crew was able to succeed. After the dingy fun there was an opportunity for those who wanted to go up the mast, and surely I wasn’t going to pass it up! The view from the top of the mast (90′!!) was incredible, I could see the tops of the adorable English cottages around Cowes and out into the Solent. Looking down made my heart jump in my throat a bit but I was glad to have done it and gotten a bit of a cool photo opportunity as well. Once we left the dock the day and the following week held more practicing on the sailing skills we had continued to develop.
Get your kit fitted!
One important and exciting part of Level 1 is going to the Musto Lighthouse store and getting fitted for your race team kit. This includes your team gear like polos, crew jacket, and shorts and trousers as well as the soon to be infamous bright yellow foulies!! I got super excited to get my kit on as once again, things were feeling REAL! I’m also grateful that the neck gaskets have been changed for the race as they were TIGHT on the smocks! The fantastic Sophie and her team helped us get sorted into our gear and then it was time to go to the Customs House pub to wait for the rest of the crew to finish.
Before we knew it, the week had come to an end and it was time for a team dinner and one last night at the pub before the favorite activity at the end of every training level… THE DEEP CLEAN!
Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere…
For those who may not be in the know, at the end of every level of Clipper Race training the boats are turned inside out as much as possible and deep cleaned. Hygiene is a super important habit to have on the boats as germs and bacteria can take a fun trip to a nightmare in a hurry, especially with only two heads (toilet for you landlubbers) on board. It’s also important to ensure everything on the boat is maintained in a safe working order as things that are maintained can break and that can cause huge issues. What this means is that EVERYTHING that can be removed from the boat and cleaned… gets removed from the boat and cleaned. Every single floor board, every sail and coiled line, every cushion from the berths and salon, every piece of kit allllll gets taken out and then what’s left on the boat gets inspected and scrubbed very carefully. It is utterly amazing how dirty a boat can get in just one week, mold can be public enemy #1 and it grows oh so well below deck. Every nook and cranny from the bilges to the cave lockers to the galley to the heads was cleaned with anti-bac and then as you may be able to imagine, we had to put it all BACK in the boat. We were positively knackered by this point (another fun phrase I learned from my new UK friends) and then after passing our maintenance inspection were very excited to get to the Boathouse restaurant for lunch. We also had the good fortune of getting to go poke around on a Clipper 70 and get a feel for how they were laid out differently than the 68s. After being on the previous version of the boats for a week I could definitely understand why some of the changes were made for the 70’s.
It was an incredible week of forming friendships and new muscles (more on that in the next post), learning some new sailing skills and unlearning a few bad habits that had accidentally been picked up, having a new definition for tired, and most of all having an incredible time on these amazing sailing machines. Stay tuned for the report on Level 2 where we went offshore for 4 days!