Friday, August 1, 2014


“I spent 37 years in the Navy, and when the chance came up to take part in the Clipper Race, I grabbed it,” says Mick Leonard who has wanted to sail round the world since he started sailing aged 12. Now 58, Mick says, “I’ve done lots of coastal sailing deliveries around Europe, the U.S., Middle East and Far East and the Mediterranean, and I’ve done the AZAB two handed. This is a way of joining all the dots from the past.” The Clipper is the longest ocean race in the world covering 40,000 miles, six continents and 16 ports in over 11 months in the biggest fleet of large one-design ocean racing yachts in the world. What makes this race unique is that it’s for amateurs - 40% of crew have never sailed before they start their pre-race training. This year (2013/14) 670 crew were selected to take part, from truck drivers to film directors, nurses, vets, professionals and students. When I spoke to Mick who was in Rio after the first leg, he’d got through the Doldrums, and survived the Shellback Ceremony (to celebrate a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator). He said, “I know the The North Pacific will be very tough physically and mentally because it can be wet and bitterly cold. But I intend to get round and enjoy it.” At the end of November, Mick’s boat was off Albany, Western Australia. “We were adjusting the sails and one of the sheets span off the winch and a fully loaded rope caught my leg.” In agony, Mick was carried to Albany to see a doctor who said Mick had damaged the ligaments in his knee and pronounced him unfit to continue. “I was absolutely gutted,” Mick says. “It’s been so frustrating to watch the race and see what I’m missing out on.” Thankfully, Mick’s knee is healing well and after physiotherapy he hopes to rejoin the boat in March. The Clipper race is a steep learning curve, and not just about sailing. “I’ve learned patience,” Mick says. “When I commit to something I commit absolutely, and when I see other people not pulling their weight, it annoys me. But I’ve learnt that people don’t necessarily have the same attitude as me. It’s about being competitive at the right time and relaxing at the right time.” Ben Turner was 18 when he took part in the 2011/12 Clipper Round the World Yacht race. “It’s not so much about the racing, but the people you meet, the contacts you form and the teamwork. It’s about working with people.” Ben has sailed since he was two, and was inspired by endlessly watching the video of Ellen MacArthur’s 2000 Vendee Globe, but help came from another professional sailor. “My mum worked with Pete Goss and she told him my dream of sailing round the world,” Ben says. Pete told Ben about the Clipper Race so he followed the 2007/8 race online, then saw the Clipper racing yachts in the Solent. “Later I got some money from my grandparents who’d passed on, and I decided to do the whole trip in my gap year.” The cost is high – around £45,000 for the whole trip and between £3-5,000 per leg. “Though that includes your training and all your kit.” The intensive training lasted a month, and being the youngest, Ben felt at a disadvantage. But after a while he was made Watch Leader. “That really boosted my confidence and the others looked up at me then. You have to be very calm under pressure and be someone they can talk to. You’re the skipper’s right hand man.” After some amazing adventures, Ben’s confidence grew. “The skipper said I was capable of becoming a very good sailor. I came back a completely different person.” Now, Ben has his Yachtmaster Ocean and his Cruising Instructor qualifications. “It’s given me an opportunity to move into the sailing industry and make it my career,” he says. His advice to anyone considering entering the Clipper race is, “Even if you can only afford to do one leg, go for it. It changes you massively. It’s tough work but makes you grow as a person and toughens you as a sailor. Even if you’re not looking to go into sailing as a career, the contacts you can make are lifelong and you’ll be amazed who you meet who may help get you get work somewhere else.”

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