Well, those that have done 'a little sailing' tend to have picked up bad habits; habits that they might have been able to get away with on a smaller boat but habits that cannot be tolerated on bigger boats.
Boats over 50 ft tend to have quite large loads on running and standing rigging. 70ft boats have huge loads on sheets and halyards and if things break you can get hurt. Therefore, learning where to move around on a boat and where to be safe needs to be taught - and sometimes re-learnt. If you've never sailed before, you get to learn the right way first time.
The downside to no sailing experience is that to a large extent you are having to 'cram' an awful lot into 4 weeks of training. In my mind, Clipper Training is the best training of its sort and whilst it must, by necessity, leave gaps in knowledge, it does what it needs to do and covers safety on board, emergency drills, safe line and winch handling and evolutions (sail changes and reefing etc), etc. If you work hard and you're open to learning then, as a 'round the worlder,' you should finish the race a very competent seafarer. You won't be a yachtmaster, but you will have experienced weather and sea states that most sailors will never see and you should be pretty good at helming and trimming sails.
If you are an experienced sailor or racer then you might find the first couple of levels somewhat pedestrian but, of course, everyone needs to learn the basics. If you are experienced then ask the skipper and mate if you can get involved with the nav or maintenance tasks or use the time to fill in gaps in your knowledge. Both the skipper and mate are Yachtmasters and cruising instructors as a minimum. Many have done the race before as skipper or they are Yachtmaster Instructor, so they should be able to answer your questions. The Clipper Race runs every other year and training for it is pretty much continuous.
If you haven't sailed before, I suggest you go do some. Level 1 is fairly tame and you'll get a good idea of what's to come, but if you haven't sailed at all, how do you know what you are letting yourself in for?
There are plenty of ways to get on the water. I wouldn't recommend an RYA course on the water prior to Level 1 training because, frankly, the skills taught vary so from instructor to instructor that learning the 'Clipper-way' first is probably better. However, if you can get on the water before Level 1 to get a feel for it then great. Dingy sailing is good because whilst its a million miles away in terms of experience, you will quickly get an invaluable 'wind awareness' which will stand you in good stead later. Do some reading also.
The boat must come first. That means putting together a full list of things to do and allocating crew to each task. You may have a long list of things to see and do, but there is a real possibility that a lot of them will have to be cancelled if the boat needs work. I say this now because, in my experience of two races, this becomes a real gripe amongst some crew.
The fact is, even with the excellent support offered by the small team of shore crew, you will be busy during the stopover and you will be required to give time to the boat in one way or another.
Part of the fun of circumnavigating is (or at least it was for me) being part of the circus that travels around the World every other year. Some ports are bigger than others and each one has its own charms. I will promise you one thing. After 3 or 4 weeks racing across an ocean, making landfall is a very pleasant experience!
But when you get to the finish it's not all parties and story-swapping. There is work to be done - and sometimes lots of it. Also, if you happen to have had a bad race and finished late, you have less time in which to do this work.
This will include PR visits, radio and sometimes TV interviews, skipper meetings, corporate sailing days and the like. During my time as skipper I could never find enough time in the stopover - it was manic.
On top of maintenance there are the corporate sails. These are days where the sponsors get to entertain clients on day sails. As part of your crew contract, you may well be required to participate in these days. I always used to enjoy these days, but they are full on and generally you have to write off at least half a day for this - assuming you swap out at lunchtime.
Of course, as long as you get in on schedule there is no reason why you can't have 3 or maybe 4 days to yourself. The better you do in the race, the more time you are likely to have! So there's a real incentive to be first boat in.
Keeping warm at sea is just a matter of preparation and attention to detail.
Of course, on some of the warmer legs, such as leg 1, leg 7 and much of leg 5, keeping warm on board is not a problem. In fact, dealing with 40+ degree temperatures and high levels of humidity below deck is the biggest challenge. If you want to read more on these warmer legs and how to keep cool, click here.
In my experience, staying warm requires that you look after yourself by eating well, staying active and staying as dry as possible and as well insulated as possible. Staying active on the race is rarely a big problem but there is an art to choosing the correct clothing for the conditions.
On a very cold night at sea, when it's wet and rough, with water over the deck (and the crew), staying dry and warm without overheating when busy changing sails, can be tricky. The start of a watch might have you thinking you are under-dressed, and feeling the bitter cold and yet 30 minutes later you might be sweating profusely having just dragged the yankee 1 down the deck, battling against sea state and gale force winds.
Understanding the best way to layer is therefore important. For a cold ocean, you should be dressed as follows;
This is my suggested packing list for Level 1 Training.
Other useful stuff to consider:
Level 1 starts alongside. I guess it'd be hard to start anywhere else! However, expect to be alongside until lunchtime on the first day. There is a lot to learn before you go sailing. At the time of writing, Level 1 Course start at about 1700hrs on a Thursday and you slip lines about lunchtime (ish) the following day. This may change over time so always check with Clipper.
Clipper will have told you when to rock up, which boat you're on and it's likely you'll know who your training team will be. Each yacht has a skipper and a mate and it's likely they will be on board for several hours before your joining time.
If you are early, it's best to let the office know you are there and use the opportunity to do any paperwork. Don't bother the skipper and mate as they'll be busy doing rig checks and paperwork; so try to keep out of the way until your designated joining time. In any event, you probably won't be able to get onto the dock as you won't have a security tag. These are issued by Clipper after you formally join.
You can always fill time getting a coffee. Go to Hardys or The Boathouse and practice your knots over a coffee. Or alternatively try out the cakes at The Pumphouse located about ten minutes walk away. Or there's the Castle Pub at the marina entrance, but probably best not to meet your training skipper smelling of booze.
Alternatively, Clipper want you to try on your race-sponsored gear (where provided), although this is normally done later in the training process. Perhaps have a browse of kit in the office ? If you want to go for a wander, the office may allow you to leave your bag with them if you smile sweetly (assuming they have room). It does get pretty manic in the run up to the race.
If the delights of Portsmouth appeal, take a foot passenger ferry over to Gunwharf Quay, a large and modern waterside shopping and leisure complex. The ferries run regularly about every 15 minutes and the terminal is close to the Gunwharf, which is 5 minutes walk from the Portsmouth side of the ferry - ask for directions when you get there. Basically, walk to the taxi rank and turn right, following the main road for about 100 metres.
The Course Content
Level 1 is your introduction to Clipper and, for many, it's also an introduction to sailing. It's often stated that something like 40% of all Clipper Crews have never sailed before they start training. That's quite a startling statistic. Of course, many have sailed for years, although few have sailed boats over 60ft. There is a big difference between a 36ft family yacht and a 68 - 70ft ocean-going race boat and so, in that respect, all training crew are more than literally 'in the same boat'.
Clipper will say it best but, in basic terms, this writer would sum up Level 1 as being an introduction to the boats and how they work, basic sailing principles and safe seamanship. At the end of Level 1 you should be a relatively safe and reasonably competent crew member on a Clipper boat.
In three words, Level 1 is primarily about safety, safety and... safety. It's also quite a shock to the system if you've spent a couple of decades driving a desk for a living and sleeping in your own private, centrally heated bedroom!
Day 1 starts on arrival at 1700 hrs and after a brief 'get-to-know-you' session, you'll be straight into safety briefs below deck.
School night nerves? What to expect.
Arrival always reminds me of the first day at school. Lots of crew members all nervous and excited, perhaps a little apprehensive. It's quite sweet really : )
A new environment with lots of strange new things and dozens of new terms to learn and understand. It can be daunting for the complete novice, but don't worry. The guys and girls in the office know exactly what they're doing and they are great at putting your minds at rest. Many are keen sailors or they've done the race themselves, so you are in good hands.
The skippers and mates are, to a greater or lesser extent, fairly well house trained, civilised types and rarely bite unless the teas and coffees stop coming to deck! Remember, they do this every day of the week. You simply cannot ask a stupid question. At least, not one that hasn't been asked many times before. So, deep breath, smiley face... and begin.
We'll assume that you've made it to the training office on time with all your kit for the week. You also have your passport safe and Clipper have done all the formalities. You'll have signed all the next of kin forms, have insurance and you're ready to go.
Remember, if you are training between October and May in the UK it is likely to be very cold at night on board and during the day at sea, so pack sufficient kit. On the race you will be limited to between 20 - 25 Kg of kit (usually plus foulies and sleeping bag), dependent on your skipper, so try and start being ruthlessly efficient when packing for training. After all, it's only a week.
Suggested packing list for Level 1. CLICK HERE
You will usually be met at the Training office by your skipper. Hopefully you are carrying no more kit than a rucksack or sailing bag and a sleeping bag. If you have more then you've probably overpacked. Clipper provide foul weather kit for training so you just need to bring stuff to keep you warm.
The first evening is spent getting to know the skipper and mate and the rest of the crew. You'll all be walked through the boat and talked through its systems in quite a bit of detail. Everything from how to safely secure your bunk to where to find the fuel cut-off valves and life rafts. All will be addressed.
Then, you'll go through the course and this is where you get an idea of how the skipper has planned the week. He or she may decide to allocate crew to watches (your team within a team for the week) and within each watch there are various crew functions. Every skipper has a preference. You'll also get a bunk allocated and you can start to stow kit either then, or later, dependent on the skipper's preference.
Top Tip: Keep your kit in your bag (preferably decanted into one or two dry bags) to keep it dry. The smaller bags are good for 'decanting' stuff into for organizational purposes!
The 'cave lockers' on a 68 (the old fleet, usually used for Level 1 training) can get quite wet and unprotected kit will be soaking in no time. On CV6 Geraldton on the Pacific leg (a very wet leg) I was bailing bucket loads of water out of my cave locker every day (can you hear violins?). My kit was floating in sealed dry bags (yup, definitely violins). Training isn't that bad because you don't get as much water over the deck, but the lockers still get wet. You might also want to invest in a waterproof phone case for the same reason.
Dependent on crew numbers you will each have a specific responsibility, as well as sailing. This might be 'mother' duties (cooking for the entire crew and washing up after) or engineer. Navigator or cleaner - or deckhand. All crew are expected to take responsibility early on. You will be shown what to do and you are encouraged to ask if unsure, but the responsibility for your job is yours. Without delegated tasks and responsibilities it will quickly become apparent that a large yacht will grind to a halt, fast. Taking the delegation of responsibility seriously is important.
Don't worry if you know nothing about rudimentary checks on diesel engines, the basics will be taught through the week. The same with navigation and log keeping. If you can't make pasta or boil an egg it might be worth getting some tips on basic cookery though! The delivery of warm, edible food on time for 12 people can be quite daunting for the novice, especially when working in a small galley at sea.
The first night is a good time to let the skipper know of any physical or health issues (although he should already have been told - which means you need to have told the office) and if you are allergic to anything or have dietary requirements this should have been allowed for in the food shop (victualling). Don't be embarrassed to check, just in case!
What's a 'watch system'?
Basically, it's shifts. You work for say 4 hours, then rest for 4 hours and so on.
During training you might be split into two watches, usually between 4 and 5 on each watch. You won't be in a proper watch system until your first night at sea, possibly much later in the training (Level 2), but as the course progresses you will probably be split into watches to do sail changes, reefs, etc. When day sailing you may be split into watches for evolutions, but you won't usually go off watch. Each watch member is paired with their opposite number on the other watch. Then when it's your time to be 'mother' or 'engineer' you share the duties with your crew mate. It means there is always someone on watch to make the tea or fix the heads!
On the race, living in a watch system becomes normal after about 3 days and whilst you probably only sleep for about 2 - 3 hours at a time, it's amazing how quickly you get used to it. That said, on L2 Training you will work all day on the first day and then as and when you go offshore, you'll go into a watch system (usually after dinner). Because you haven't had much of a chance to 'claim back' the sleep you lose on the first night, you will be tired at the end of the 'sea phase' and that assumes you have been able to sleep at all.
A word of warning - when in a watch system, it's critical that you turn up on deck and announce yourself (so they know you are on deck at night) at least 10 minutes before your watch starts. This means getting up in time to wash, dress (and possibly eat too) before you go on deck. Get it right. Turning up late to your watch is probably one of the biggest sins you can commit on a sailing vessel. Tired, cold people rarely have much patience for such inconsiderate behaviour... You have been warned : )
Top Tip: 'Mothers' remember you need to feed the watches on time to avoid late watch changes!
Food & Diet
Food on board is usually simple but warm, nutritious and provides sufficient calories for the day. On the race, a cold leg will usually have the average male crew burning 5,000 calories per day. Training is much less demanding, but you will want to eat!
Most skippers provide victualling for a meal plan including for breakfast, a simple lunch of soup / sandwiches, baguettes or similar and a warm evening meal. There are usually plenty of snacks, biscuits and fruit. If you have special dietary needs (and especially allergies) tell Clipper - well before you arrive! There are no convenience stores at sea.
Top Tip: Bringing a couple of bars of chocolate with you for a midnight-watch treat does wonders for morale on a cold, dark, rainy night and makes you, unsurprisingly, very popular amongst your crew mates.
Skippers usually split jobs into a daily rota with two people (one from each watch) working together to complete the various jobs. This is managed so that the day is, except for lunch, largely left free for sail training, although mothers and navigators have to juggle their responsibilities around their own tasks. Of course, whilst you are expected to do your job, the training team don't expect you to take charge of the yacht's actual navigation.
They will always know where they are and where they are going!
What to pack and what to buy for training?
Keep your money in your bank account for as long as possible. Certainly, once you've had a chance to decide what might suit you, come to us and we'll be happy to sell it to you! If we don't sell it check out our list of retailers that are worth speaking to (some even give Fierce Turtle members a discount).
But in the first instance, simply splashing cash is premature. Make sure you download our recommended packing list.
Ask fellow crew about their kit too. But remember what works on Leg 7 won't necessarily be sufficient for Leg 3. For example, I have no doubt that anyone doing a cold leg will want a good, marine sleeping bag. For the race, you will all need good mid layers and proper, 'wicking' base layers and lots of other stuff to, but for training as long as you have a warm, quick drying fleece and a few warm, thermal beanies (woolie hats) and buffs (tubular fleece neck scarves/gaskets) and gloves, you will be fine.
You will also need good ocean going sailing boots if you are doing legs 2, 3, 4, 6 or 8 (and the last week of Leg 5) but unless you are absolutely sure you are doing the race, I'd recommend you hold fire on spending too much too soon. If you have decided to splash cash now, check out our kit reviews here. In response to demand, we also offer crew in training Le Chameau Neptune boots on hire for just £49! Click here for details.
If you are training in the UK between January and March I suggest you consider hiring a marine sleeping bag. These are fleece lined, warm, waterproof and very very comfortable. Click here for details of our offers.
When you do buy, buy the very best you can afford. Subscribe with us for flash sales and crew discounts!
For a week's inshore sailing, as long as you have two pairs of grippy shoes with non-marking soles (in case one pair gets wet) and a pair of boots (cheap sailing wellies will suffice for Level 1 - with decent grippy soles) but the hire option is worth considering..
At the time of writing, Clipper provide foul weather salopettes and jackets, so it's just the other stuff you need to bring. If you are the proud owner of a smart phone it's worth considering a waterproof cover to keep it safe from the wet environment.
Level 1 Course - Day 2 onwards
Most of the morning is taken up by an introduction to the boat's deck, safety procedures, communications equipment, line handling, rigging the boat for sea, taking down weather forecasts, passage planning and general preparation. The principles of the recovery procedures in the event of a man overboard, the use of flares and other equipment and basic VHF communications will also be addressed.
Boats are usually away from the dock after lunch and the rest of the day is based around hoisting the sails, introducing crew to the principles of sailing, 'the tack' and 'the gybe' and possibly a little time looking at points of sail.
During the day crew will be handling sails and lines and some, probably not all, will have a chance at helming the boat and managing it, dependent on their roles and responsibilities for the day. At the end of the first day, the training yacht will usually return to Gosport in the early evening (say 1830hrs) and after packing away the boat and sails all will return below for a well-earned evening meal, cooked by the designated mothers.
After supper there is usually a short crew debrief and if people are still awake there may be a short lecture on the skipper's chosen topic. This is usually delivered by the training skipper or mate and may involve a 'whiteboard' session and some discussion. The day normally ends after mothers have washed up and it's not unusual for crew to get away to the local pub for a 'swift shandy' just before last orders. Then its a shower for the more fastidious, before collapsing into your bunk, tired and cheeks burning from a day on the water.
Level 1 is primarily run 'inshore' with 'passages' reserved for later in the training process. Each day builds on your new-found knowledge. The training team will plan the delivery of the course around the prevailing weather conditions and crew strengths. Different points of sail, reefing procedures, sail changes and emergency drills and man overboard recovery are all covered.
It's very unlikely that you will see a spinnaker (the biggest downwind sail on the boat) on Level 1 and the boat is unlikely to venture far from the Solent and its approaches. After all, the skipper and mate need to be sure that the crew are at a sufficient level of competence before they leave the comparative shelter afforded by sailing inshore.
The last day will find you returning to the local area and upon return to Gosport you will be introduced to the delights of 'the deep clean'! A deep clean is, as the name suggests, a comprehensive 'strip-down' of the boat and a thorough scrub of everything including 'the heads' (toilets), the 'galley' (kitchen), lazarette (stores/garage) and bilges (no explanation needed?).
This is a critical but less exciting part of the course and it is something you will do many times during your Clipper Career, although it's somewhat less exciting than the sailing. It involves some mucky work and whilst it might be tempting to slack a bit, skiving off the 3 - 5 hours it might take to do a proper deep clean (dependent on crew motivation) will quickly make you unpopular amongst your peers. It also makes for a slower clean, so try and get stuck in and resist the temptation to 'just take your bags to the car'. No-one is finished until the job is finished; very much the spirit of the race itself. Of course, I know you wouldn't do such a thing dear reader, but some weaker characters might be tempted.
On the same subject, when travelling to and from the course, make sure you allow enough time for participation in the deep clean.
During the clean the skipper will usually use the time to start debriefing crew on their week and finishing their evaluations. Skippers make a recommendation on whether individuals are sufficiently competent to progress to Level 2 and in most cases the training is comprehensive enough, and the enthusiasm of the crew is strong enough, for most to pass. Sometimes a skipper may suggest more time on the water before Level 2. The office can normally arrange this for you if you speak to them.
In most cases a plan for the remainder of your training will be discussed during the debrief and this is also a chance to share your feedback on the week and share your concerns or questions.
"Remember, there's always one crew member on any boat that has the potential to be an irritating prat. If your boat doesn't have one, just allow for the possibility it might be you.."!
The debrief is where you get an insight into your sailing capabilities from the mouth of a professional and sometimes the experienced boat owner is surprised at just what they have learnt during the week. Even the most experienced of us learns every day we're on the water - if we let ourselves!
It's also used as a sounding board for crew and its an opportunity for skippers to raise any non-sailing issues with crew. If your skipper starts talking about 'tolerance of others' and how 'some people are, perhaps, er too strident in their views..' and suchlike, he or she may be trying to tell you to 'wind your bloody neck in a bit!'.
One of the hardest parts of racing around the World is crew dynamics and whilst our individual idiosyncrasies and character traits might be easily forgiven ashore, on board a 70ft fibreglass tube for weeks at a time, they quickly become very irritating. Part of a skipper's job is to try and address these issues with crew members early on. It's not easy and they don't do it because they enjoy it. But it is important to listen if you do hear a little criticism in the debrief. None of us are perfect.
On the last night it's normal for the crew to get together for a meal ashore. Every meal during your week will have been on the boat, so a little civilisation is usually welcomed by now! It's a chance to have a chat about your new adventure, laugh about your cock-ups and build on new friendships over a couple of glasses of wine. Some crews take the opportunity to reward their training team with a meal, some don't. It's entirely a personal preference.
By the end of the week you will know how to sail! OK, you may be no expert, but you'll be effective crew and able to rig the boat, de-rig it, undertake basic checks, know various skills and drills and generally be a useful member of crew. Then you can look forward to Levels 2, 3 and 4 (aka BIG school)!
In any event, you should be confident of one thing - you will LOVE IT! Promise.
Alcohol On Board
Remember, alcohol onboard is very strictly forbidden. Drinking alcohol is, in general, not encouraged during the course - certainly not when on the water!
After the crew meal on the last night it is tempting to let your hair down. We are (most of us) grown ups, but beware, being 'drunk' when coming back to the boat on the last night won't be tolerated by the skipper, or Clipper, and if you do over-indulge don't be surprised if the skipper invites you to end your course by sleeping on a park bench in Gosport! It's his livelihood at stake and you are his responsibility on board, so its best to respect that reality. If you are late back your skipper won't thank you if he's had to wait up until you are safely back on board. Remember, the marina is tidal and cold. Falling in is a serious matter and potentially fatal.
The Last Day
The last day starts with breakfast and whilst the skipper starts debriefs the crew will start the deep clean under the instruction of the mate. It's usual for all crew to be free to leave by no later than 1400 - 1500 hrs on the last day of a course (usually a Thursday for Level 1). Check with the training office if you aren't sure of timings as these may vary.
Smoking on board
As a non-smoker, this has never been something I have needed to consider. Certainly smokers are becoming less and less prevalent on the boats. Once upon a time it seemed like every sailor smoked; less so now. That said, there are usually some fairly basic rules on board any boat and they are likely to be the same rules that your skipper will lay down.
In any event, and subject to each skipper's rules, if you are a smoker it's unlikely you'll go far wrong if you do what you'd normally do;
Showers & General 'Landlubber Prettyfying'
On Level 1 most nights will be spent alongside, meaning showers and toilet facilities are available on shore. Luxury! I have found a large travel towel is useful as it dries better and doesn't smell when damp. Ten damp towels in the accommodation area (The Ghetto) make for an interesting aroma after Day 4.
Hopefully this has given you a pretty good outline of what to expect from Level 1. Please comment below if you have any questions. Also, check out our blogs and FAQs for other information. Sail safe !
Parking & Travel
Clipper have a dedicated car park at Gosport Marina. It has a gate and is therefore relatively secure, although open to pedestrians. You can reach Gosport by car or train (via Portsmouth & Southsea Rail Station and the short pedestrian ferry ride to Gosport). The marina is 3 minute's walk from the ferry terminal, next to the Castle Pub.
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Mark Burkes is a former Clipper Race Skipper, Round the World Crew, Clipper Training Skipper & jobbing RYA Yachtmaster Instructor (Ocean). He has over 160,000 miles logged.
Mark also writes professionally both online and offline and has written for Yachting World.
Fierce Turtle is not linked to nor is it in any way accredited by the splendid folk at Clipper Ventures. All opinion is our own.
This blog is entirely free. However, if you'd like to buy me a beer I'd appreciate it.
© COPYRIGHT 2012-18. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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