Clipper Race from Derry to Den Helder: The first 48 hours

in Clipper Tales / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
clipper race derry-londonderry race start

Day 1 – Reintegration

*cough* *hack* *sneeze* *sniffle*

The cacophony of sputtering, sniffling, hacking and honking erupt from various locations above and below deck on Henri Lloyd as we pull away from the coast of Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland to prepare for the race start.

Before I left New York on a flight to Derry, my schedule was overflowing with work projects while the days I had to complete them in quickly dwindled. As such, I was probably run-down already by the time I boarded Henri Lloyd to take part in the final two races of the Clipper Round the World Race.

Almost immediately after I stepped on board Henri Lloyd in Derry-Londonderry, I felt a scratchy tickle in the back of my throat. A few dry coughs exploded from my chest, making me think perhaps I hadn’t prepared my immune system well enough to be dropped suddenly onto a 70-foot-long confined space with 20 cold-ridden sailors.

My crew insinuate that my acquisition of the boat cold that’s been circling around the bunks for a month now is part of my “hazing.” I haven’t been on board since November 2013, so I’m essentially a rookie crew member again, and therefore I deserve a little bit of a beating.

Since I got off the boat in Albany, Western Australia, Henri Lloyd has sailed from Albany to Sydney, Sydney to Hobart, Hobart to Brisbane, Brisbane to Singapore, Singapore to Qingdao (with an emergency stop in Hong Kong to fix the rigging), Qingdao to San Francisco, San Francisco to Jamaica, Jamaica to New York and New York to Derry-Londonderry.

And here I am just jumping back on for the glory leg and the last two races of the round-the-world race, thinking the boat is already well on its way to winning, so what’s there to worry about?

As I hack up half a lung in my bunk, trying desperately to get some sleep on this five-day race to Den Helder, I think to myself that perhaps I deserve this plague I’ve been given. After all, it was naïve of me to think it would be easy to hop back on the boat and just pitch myself into the swing of things again.

Festive Race Start

The whole city must have come out to see us off!
The whole city must have come out to see us off!

The race start out of Derry is one of the most exciting I’ve seen, starting with the Parade of Sails along a completely packed waterfront. Every inch of the boardwalk is covered with waving fans, families and kids. The Maritime Festival in Derry was organized around the Clipper Race coming in this year, so the end of the festival is being celebrated as we parade the boats in view of the boardwalk for the thousands of spectators to cheer us on.

There are circus acrobats, food stalls, ice cream trucks, cotton candy and hordes of enthusiastic Irish families.

When we get out to the harbor where the race start is, the Red Arrows give the Clipper crew and spectators a 45-minute show of aerial stunts that have the fleet transfixed, staring at the sky as we float around and prepare for the race start at 1600 hours, jostling and tacking and digging our Yankee headsails out from under the piles of spinnakers in the forepeak to get ready for the start.

red arrows derry-londonderry clipper race web
The Red Arrows give a spectacular and distracting show. (Photo Credit: Ollie Phillips)

With the mainsail, staysail and the Yankee 1 hoisted, we now hover and sail in circles, positioning ourselves to get across the line smoothly and quickly. 750 miles is a short race in which to make a difference, unlike the long races of thousands of miles that have come before this one. The smallest advantage can make a huge impact in our position, so we want to do well from the start.

When I ask Eric what he’s thinking about this race, he says, “I want this wrapped up and in the bag by Den Helder, so we can relax and just enjoy the last race into London.” And in order for that to happen we need to make sure that GB doesn’t beat us by more than two places. By the look on Eric’s face, as he focuses on the start line, he is determined to leave GB in our wake.

great britain clipper race derry-londonderry
We need to make sure these guys stay behind us.

Eric does a great job positioning us as we shoot straight for the start line alongside GB while the rest of the fleet are still on the wrong tack, headed straight for land as they hold out to tack at the last minute towards the start. It is a little hairy heading for the line, as we’re aiming straight for Switzerland, looking like we might t-bone them. But we peel away at the last second to skim the water just off Switzerland’s stern with 20 meters to spare.

I’m not sure who shot through the start in first but it was either us or GB, which brings back the old feeling of competitiveness with GB that I remember so well from previous races. And I know they would love nothing more than to beat us into Den Helder and have a chance at grabbing the round-the-world title in the final race from Den Helder to London.

24 hours on now, the fleet’s positions are being shuffled around as we all experience light and fluky winds. We’re all aiming to come around the headland to head north in the best position possible, and it looks like Henri Lloyd and Garmin are in the best positions to come out of our tack favorably. Time and a little distance will tell, as we are still in 4thplace, according to the last position reports, with GB in 8th. But in such a short race, and so early on, these positions really don’t mean much.

clipper race start selfie henri lloyd
A little race start selfie for good luck.

Day 2 – The Hard Work Begins

The last 24 hours have been a blur of excitement, frustration, boredom, freezing, sweating, confusion and leaderboard shuffling.

In just a day, it’s gone from temperatures cold enough to need my mid-layer salopettes to warm enough for the crew to be on deck in their swimsuits. Even I’ve stripped down to nothing but my outer salopettes with just a bra and underwear underneath. I never thought I’d be barefoot on deck, needing sunblock as I sail around Scotland, but here I am. I can just imagine Ryan’s family complaining about Britain’s unbearable “heat wave.”

We’ve been moving along at a nice, steady pace through the night, clocking 7-8 knots of speed in lights winds of 8-9 knots. And though we were in 3rd place, with Switzerland and Old Pulteney just ahead of us, as soon as we round the Hebrides of Scotland, near the Isle of Uist, we pull into first place.

There is a short celebration over gaining the lead just before the winds suddenly die and we started scrambling with sail changes as Garmin comes up on our rear so close we are joking with the crew that we’d like some bacon and eggs passed over to us. But before long, we have to drop all conversation to get to work. We drop our Yankee 1 and hoist our windseeker and staysail, then we drop our staysail and keep our fingers crossed that our windseeker stays full.

clipper race henri lloyd no wind
Life on deck gets a little dull when there’s no wind.

Over the next few hours, as the winds creep back up to 10 knots, then die down to 4-5 knots, the crew of Henri Lloyd are busy doing constant sail changes – down with the windseeker, up with the Yankee 1, down with the Yankee 1, up with the A2 kite, up with the A1 kite and down with the A2 kite. All of which calls for constant wooling of spinnakers and flaking and stowing of sails.

For a while, we seem to be making good headway towards the next headland, except then the wind dies off again to a painful 0-2 knots, leaving our A1 kite hanging limp and sadly flagging against the rails.

Today is Canada Day, apparently, which I only know because the boat is now covered in Canadian flags, maple leaf tattoos, chocolate cake and red and white balloons. Some of the crew sing “Oh, Canada” as the rest of us Americans and Brits look on with amusement. Eric is gifted a red maple leaf tie, and has been wearing it over his race gear the entire day, also to the crew’s amusement. During my years of traveling abroad, I used to joke that I’d never met a Canadian who didn’t have a red maple leaf plastered to his person or backpack. And it looks like this boat is no exception.

canada day on board henri lloyd
The Canadians on board certainly know how to celebrate.

But perhaps that damned maple leaf is good luck after all. No sooner do we finish listening to “Oh, Canada,” than the wind picks up and we start moving again. Going 5 knots may not sound that exciting, but when you’ve just spent 3 hours going 1.5 knots, any wind is cause for celebration.

And if that means singing “Oh, Canada,” another 100 times to keep the wind blowing, well, then that’s the sacrifice we’ll have to make. I’ll do anything to win this race. Even if it means plastering a maple leaf to my face.

Go Canada!


The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha then got back on her boat to compete in the last two races of Leg 8, going from Derry to Den Helder and then Den Helder to the race finish in London. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at

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  • Don July 29, 2014, 5:48 am

    It’s funny you mention Canadians with the red maple leaf travelling. In the 70’s, as a Canadian planning to backpack through Europe, common “wisdom” was to always wear a maple leaf to distinguish yourself from the Americans. I guess that “wisdom” is still out there for some unknown reason. LOL!

    • Tasha July 29, 2014, 10:50 am

      Yes, it’s true. Canadians definitely don’t like to be mistaken for Americans. But if they made a big deal out of it, I just scream, “Justin Bieber! You did that!” Just for fun 🙂

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