More and more people have been asking me what’s up with this whole Clipper thing in light of that thing that’s hanging around like the awful houseguest you keep hinting needs to find a new couch to crash on. The short answer is… who the hell knows. At this point I’m still committed to finishing what I signed up to do, but here’s what we are looking at among other things.
I think we are on Plan C at this point, who knows anymore. Clipper’s plan as it currently stands is restart this August, going from Subic Bay, Philippines back to the three Chine$e ports of Sanya, Zhuhai, and Qingdao that they had to skip as the pandemic was taking off from there as the fleet was preparing to sail in from Australia. The fleet will then sail from Qingdao to Seattle, winding up here at the end of October. Ya know, the time of year that Seattle is a super amazing and beautiful and not at all usually wet and windy. 😉 From Seattle, Leg 7 (that’s my first one for those playing along at home) will then sail south to Panama, winding up at Flamenco Island Marina the first week of December before going through the infamous canal. The next part is a bit interesting; because the NYC stop has been axed, crew changeover for Leg 8 is now in Bermuda. At Christmastime. Should make for some excitement when it comes to booking flight$ and accommodation$. We would be celebrating Christmas/other winter holidays in port in Bermuda so that could be fun. Hoping Santa puts rum in my stocking…and sunscreen. Leg 8 is a big question mark for a couple of reasons. Traditionally the last stopover before the big finish in England has been Derry, Northern Ireland for the Foyle Maritime Festival. This festival is in the summer as January is quite similar to Seattle when it comes to weather in the UK. Currently there isn’t even a port specified for the final stopover before London, it just says “European Stopover.” Since it’s in January I’m not going to be upset if it’s at a lower/warmer latitude. I also wouldn’t mind if we dip down to the Med or something as Leg 8 has been significantly shortened by cutting out the NYC stop and dammit I want sea miles! After wherever we go last in Europe we will FINALLY sail into London and you best believe I will be in tears at that dock.
You knew there would be a but(t) here
This list is not exhaustive but will hopefully paint a picture of the precarious scenario for those of us whose lives are on hold to still do this thing. The proposed schedule above has more than a few question marks/eyebrow raises, here’s a few more things that are swirling in my delightfully anxiety-ridden cranium regarding the race.
The big knowns:
-The fleet of 11 Clipper 70’s remains in Subic Bay, Philippines being kept on life support by Jeronimo, skipper of Punta Del Este. He’s an awesome human but he’s only one human and Clipper has alluded that there are some maintenance things with the boats that will have to wait until specialized members of the team can get there.
-The fleet has not moved since the crew/AQPs/skippers/staff were given 48 hours to leave Subic Bay or stay there under lockdown.
-Much of the safety equipment including life rafts were sent back to the UK last year.
-The UK where the vast majority of the crew and employees live remains under a lockdown order.
-Subic Bay is still tightly regulating movement in their region.
-China, where the fleet is due to go next is still having flare ups of the virus.
-The evil spiky virus is still raging in many other parts of the world, except for New Zealand because they are run by an adult.
-Vaccination efforts are touch and go with distribution efforts facing expected and unexpected setbacks worldwide.
-Many of my fellow crew have either decided to walk away from the race completely or have opted to postpone to a future edition of the race.
-Clipper has recently communicated that they are still proceeding with plans to relaunch the race in August.
-Per the terms of my race contract I am only entitled to a refund if the race officially is cancelled.
The big unknowns:
-The condition the boats are in after sitting in the Philippines for almost a year will be less than prime. It’s a wet, hot climate and I am worried about what a mold/mildew mess the boats are along with everything that was stored on them, including sails and crew gear. Not to mention the rigging, bottoms, and about a million other things. Oh and it’s not like there’s a huge chandlery in Subic Bay to refit the boats, most of the equipment will need to be ordered and shipped in. There will practically need to be an entirely new prep week. Hope they don’t forget anything on the order!
-Who is left? Skippers, AQPs, crew, staff? There will be a lot of bodies on all fronts needed to get the boats going. Leg 6 is known as one of the wildest sea states and sailing across the North Pacific with a light crew on boats that have been quickly put back into commission seems like a poor idea. Going off of what I know of my team alone who have walked away or deferred to future editions of the race, we will need quite a few replacement crew in order to sail the boat safely. Those crew will need to complete their 4 levels of training in the UK (still in lockdown, remember) prior to joining in August. Not to mention those of us who are waiting to join our legs haven’t been on a Clipper 70 since 2019 and will need a refresher, personally I don’t feel good about just a 2 day refresher training after two years away from the boats so will likely take the opportunity to go to the UK again for another week of training.
-Will vaccinations be more available in the coming months to people like me who don’t have other major compelling reasons (save for having an at-risk family member I spend time with) to get one?
-Will the world be open enough to make a race happen with crew flying in from all over the world to each changeover port and the parties/events that are a crucial part of the race $pon$or experience? I’m on the Seattle boat after all for crying out loud.
My two cents/pence:
I am the eternal optimist, but I’m also not a complete idiot (on my good days) and I just don’t see it happening in August of this year. I would absolutely (I think) love to be wrong, but knowing what I know of how things are not progressing with the pandemic and what I know of what it takes to get a yacht crewed and shipshape enough to cross an ocean, this thing ain’t happening this year. With the hurricane window that must be avoided, that has the next chance of this version of the race going off in February of 2022. Yes kids, that would be TWO YEARS after it got mothballed. I did sign a contract that stated if I withdraw from the race Clipper is entitled to keep all of the funds I have paid (with the help of a literal village) for my training, gear, and berth fees. That contract also states that I am entitled to a refund if the organizers cancel this edition of the race. It’s sure a lot to ask for all of us to keep our lives on hold for what could be two years to do a race that we are, after all, customers of rather than employed crew. I’m still in it as I don’t want to let down all of those who have supported me up to this point, but I will admit I’m quite frustrated. It’s a lot to have hanging in the balance, both financially and emotionally. I am lucky that my partner and I already decided we don’t want to have any (human) children of our own, because at the time I’m writing this I am 31 and would be hearing that clock ticking pretty loud if that were something we were wanting to do. Others however are not able to be so flexible. Others have life things they put on hold to do the race that simply can’t wait indefinitely. At this point the right thing to do would be to offer refunds to those who have had it, and it would be great if some incentives were given to those of us still crazy enough to keep going with what was already a crazy thing to begin with.
For the time being, I wait. My spot is still there, whenever it happens. Per the terms of the contract Clipper gets to either put me on the legs I signed up for, or cancel the race and refund the 13,500GBP that was paid for the two legs. The adventure of training for the race has been incredible and it has meant I’ve met some special people from all over the world, some of whom I am lucky to consider dear friends. The training and the knowledge I’ve gained have opened doors for some pretty epic sailing and I hope to keep that momentum up when it becomes safer to do fun things in close proximity with other humans again. If the training and blood/sweat/tears of prep week are all it ends up being I’m still fortunate to have been able to experience that much. I am lucky to have landed a full time job (sadly nothing to do with boats or the maritime industry) but it is steady pay and a job I can do from home so I’m able to keep my family safer. I’m trying to scrape together some sort of ocean sailing adventure for this year, as of this writing the first two opportunities I was looking at have already been stolen by the ‘rona but I’m going to keep seeking them out until something sticks. We have racing here in the PNW, albeit with masks and mostly smaller crew sizes. I don’t feel safe mixing it up with the amount of people needed to sail the really big boats so I’ve enjoyed going back to my roots and spending time on my beloved Reckless. My loved ones have all stayed safe and for that I am supremely grateful. Oh, and mom and I bought a boat late last year. More on THAT later. 😉
In the meantime, keep practicing social distancing, limit your people time, wear your mask, and keep your hands clean. I am going to be handing out so many hugs when this is over!!