Level 3 Looms

I head off by train to Portsmouth Harbour later today to then take the foot ferry over to Gosport Marina for my Level 3 training, involving 6 days at sea (the Channel and Solent most likely, but I have my passport just in case!).

Level 3 will focus on practicing how to hoist, drop and sail with an asymmetric spinnaker (gennaker), as well as consolidating all that was covered on my Level 1 and 2 training weeks last year…they feel so long ago! It’s going to be an intense week and one that begins at 8am tomorrow in the classroom for an Advanced Safety theory day.

Meanwhile, I spent last night gathering all my stuff for a week at sea (not much at all to be frank) and packing it all into water-tight clear plastic bags before stashing into one large soft holdall, as stowage aboard is scarce and dry stowage, non-existent. Given I don’t wash or change clothes regularly at sea, I only have two sets of clothes for the week and a very pared down ‘wash bag’ that really only contains toothpaste and brush and some serious antiperspirant that is only applied twice a week. Life aboard a Clipper 70 racing yacht is not for people who like to feel fresh and manicured!

I have been sourcing kit on a non-existent budget, so unlike many of my fellow race crew who look the part in all their high-end sailing kit, I have been getting through my race training by resourcefully re-using bits of kit I use when hiking or camping (e.g. quick-drying camping towel and walking trousers) and sourcing second-hand sailing boots and an ex-army bivvy to keep my regular synthetic sleeping bag dry. In time I will need to upgrade my land-lubber kit for the race itself – especially my camping head-torch, Aldi-sourced merino thermals/base layer, ebay-sourced sailing gloves and regular prescription sunglasses, but for now, they seem to do the job adequately for training….I just hope I can more than adequately sail with my crew mates this week – hence those Clipper wet notes and Kwells tablets 😉

Hard lessons learnt from Level 2 training last August; ear-plugs are absolutely necessary and Fisherman’s Friends are great if one feels seasick but can’t be at the helm. I’ve never used seasickness tablets before so I’m going to trial this brand whilst at sea this week.
Not much for a week at sea and all sourced on a tight budget…I even found the RYA log book in a charity shop in Bristol (unused obviously)!
Packed down so it can be stowed easily.

A line-up of buoys

This week saw the passing of a very significant milestone in my countdown to race start; Clipper revealed the Clipper 2019-20 Round The World Yacht Race Skippers.

At first I was really excited, finally, after months of waiting, to find out who they were…and then after about 5 minutes, it sunk in that they were all white men! I felt deeply disappointed, as I honestly thought there might be a woman or two in the line-up; especially given the successes of Wendy Tuck and Nikki Henderson in the previous edition of the race and with Tracey Edwards’s film ‘Maiden‘ released just over two week’s ago, which celebrates and promotes women in ocean racing.

Whilst I congratulate all those who have succeeded in becoming the next Race Skippers – I can’t fault Mark Burkes as he was my Skipper during my Level 2 training last August – I do ask myself why women did not apply this year (according to Clipper they did not)? What factors discouraged them?

I for one, was really keen to race under a female Skipper, so I feel disappointed by the announcement, but now I know who the eleven Race skippers are, I guess I should just focus on them and their credentials and time will reveal soon enough who I am to crew under.

Sailing into History: Sir Robin’s account of what he achieved 50 years ago

At the same time we put a man on the moon, Sir Robin became the first person to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the world. I avidly read A World of My Own, Sir Robin’s auto-biographical account of making sailing history, in my early twenties. So I was quite emotional when listening to him give his own account 50 years after his incredible achievement for Radio 4 , which was aired last night in honour of his 80th birthday.

Happy Birthday Sir Robin; you legend!

….and happy listening blog followers!


Suhaili is still much loved and cared for by Sir Robin. Here she is in Gosport marina in March 2018. I took this photo after my Level 1 Clipper Race training as she was moored alongside our training yacht. I was struck by how small she is compared to the yacht I will be crewing on and yet she has already sailed around the world at least 1.5 times!

“80 Seconds with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston”, presented by another legendary round the world sailor, Dee Caffari.

A Woman’s Place is at the Helm

Last night I, along with audiences attending 97 other cinemas across the UK, watched the premier of a documentary about the amazing accomplishments of Tracey Edwards and her all-female crew aboard Maiden in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, becoming the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year Trophy. It was a poignant, inspiring and apt way to see in International Women’s Day, in celebration and recognition of all women, past and present, who have dared to make waves.

I was both in awe of Tracey and all Maiden’s crew for what they achieved for women in sailing despite the status quo of male chauvinism at the time; to describe the crew of Maiden and dismiss their entry in the race as simply “tarts in a tin can” is utterly inexcusable today (well, I hope so anyway!).

The premier screening included a live Q & A with Tracey and the film-makers, during which, Tracey said that even today “some people just need to go away!” when commenting on those men in the sailing world who persist in holding women back in the sport. Respect. She’s an utter inspiration!

Ocean racing only developed sufficiently as a sport in the later half of the twentieth century and of the handful of women who dared to make an appearance on it’s stage, they faced extensive sexism and other significant challenges, which makes their achievements all the more remarkable and legendary. Of these brave, courageous women, their (auto)biographies about their sailing achievements have always been sustenance to me – forever my bedside companions starting in my lonely teenage years, throughout the trauma of my 20s with the onset of Oral Crohn’s disease and regular periods of unemployment and my 30s when urban, professional life leaves one seeking out these inspiring yachtswomen once again…I have well-read, worn, but treasured, second-hand copies of these inspiring female sailors books and I recommend you go and seek out copies of them yourself…who knows where they may take you?

Clare Francis – Come Hell or High Water

Naomi James – At One with the Sea

Tracey Edwards – Maiden

Tania Aebi – Maiden Voyage

Ellen MacArthur – Taking on the World and Full Circle

Here I am reading Aebi’s account aboard Eve of St Mawes, which I sailed with Classic Sailing in 2007. I struggle with this photograph as it painfully captures my Oral Crohn’s disease during a painful and debilitating flare-up that often left me in tears and dreading going out in public. Those few days sailing the Cornish coastline were respite indeed and Maiden Voyage made inspiring reading through difficult times.

…Here’s looking forward to a time when the challenge of the wind and waves really does remain equal for both women and men in sailing. At least ventures like the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race are providing women like me with an opportunity to compete in ocean racing…some of the female skippers have become legends in their own right; long may that continue!

What makes good sailing crew?

So you think you’ve got what it takes to be a skipper aboard a yacht? I didn’t, but I was curious to see how it might be identified and assessed by those in the know, so Noble and Hogbin’s The Mind of the Sailor: An exploration of the human stories behind adventures and misadventures at sea makes for insightful reading.

Within the book there’s a 2-page questionnaire asking the reader if they’ve got what it takes. I did the quiz out of pure curiosity and wasn’t surprised to see that my score indicates I am “average”.

I think the real point of the questionnaire is to demonstrate that being a good skipper and/or crew member has obviously got something to do with sailing ability, knowledge and fitness, but that’s not all. A large part of performing as a race team involves living with strangers, at least at the start, with no privacy under taxing physical and mental conditions….so you need to be a ‘people person’, able to relate to others with warmth and positivity, self-aware of one’s own emotions and process stress constructively.

“…A person who is sensitive to the atmosphere on the boat, good humoured and receptive is well on the way to being a good crew member. Crew work under the direction of the skipper, and a good crew is one who listens carefully and is willing and able to take instruction. He or she must also be happy to comply with the routine of the boat…It also helps not to be over-sensitive – a crew needs to be open to constructive criticism without taking it personally. Life on a small boat, particularly in heavy weather, can become overcrowded and claustrophobic. Fortunately, some people have the happy knack of diffusing tension and the capacity for overlooking the occasional outburst from other crew, or even the skipper. Temperament and compatibility are as important as sailing skills in the choice of crew…But the situation on a racing yacht is different, where technical competence and physical fitness are much more important. Racing boats also require larger crew, so the aspiring ocean racer must be prepared for overcrowding and discomfort…”

(Noble and Hogbin: 9-10)

Hhmm, I think I have a lot of un-learning and self-development to do yet then! 😊

Depending on your own answers to the quiz below, you’ll either be a person all Clipper Race crew are hoping their team mates will be like aboard an ocean racing yacht, or the person we all hope and pray will be left on land at the race start.

Skipper/Crew Questionnaire from Noble and Hogbin’s The Mind of the Sailor: An exploration of the human stories behind adventures and misadventures at sea

“To sail is to embark on a lifetime of learning – about the sea and about ourselves.”

(Noble & Hogbin 2001:25)