4 Lessons Learned in Level 1 Clipper Race Training

in Clipper Tales / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
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clipper training gosport england

“DROP AND GIVE ME FIVE!” Skipper Jim yells as I freeze and look up to realize I’ve just run below the boom on the low side of the boat — a major sailboat safety no-no.

“Shit! My bad!” I say, unloading the runner line from the winch. “Can I do my push-ups after the race?”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO ADD A ZERO AND MAKE IT FIFTY?! Give me five NOW!”

“Damn it!” I drop on the deck, cursing myself for wasted time while pumping out five push-ups as fast as I can. An instant later, I’m back in position at the back-stay runner, with taut muscles and high adrenalin beating my heart against my rib cage.

My boat is competing against Ryan’s boat in a racing headsail change to test our mettle and see how much we’ve learned this week on our Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Race. And right now I’m focused on nothing more than winning. Which means doing each job quickly, efficiently and without mistakes.

racing headsail change level 1 clipper training

Nikki and Andrew hanking on the new sail as quickly as possible

“Ready to TACK!” shouts the helmsman.

“Runner coming BACK!” I scream, pulling in the runner line, alternating hands and rotating my shoulders as fast as I can to make up for the seconds lost doing penalty push-ups. “READY!”

“HELMS TO LEE!”

As we tack, the boat zings with sheets being pulled in on the headsail, mainsail and staysail. I grind in my runner until it creaks under tension and I look over at Ryan’s boat. His team is still crouched on deck, flaking their sail. They’re nowhere near ready to tack.

“YESSSS!!!” My crew shouts victoriously, rushing to the rails just as our boat passes closely enough for our opponents to see the whites of our teeth. Jim chuckles as the other skipper shouts to his defeated crew, “Feel the PAIN!”

clipper race training

Crew mate, Dave, getting ready to hit the grinder

Sure, it’s not an official race, and it’s only a race to see how fast we can change our headsail, but this minor victory means a great deal to me. It means I have officially fallen in love with ocean racing.

Which is quite a statement from a girl who wasn’t convinced she even liked sailing a few months ago. And here I am, counting down the days until I’m standing on deck with my fellow crew, poised to hoist our sails under London’s Tower Bridge and race off to France, and then Brazil.

When I say,  “I can’t wait,” it is a gross understatement.

I have learned so much this week during my training, and it has whetted my appetite for victory on the high seas. I still have a long way to go, but here is a little taste of what I’ve experienced and taken away from my first week on a racing yacht:

Lesson 1: The only similarity between cruising and racing is that they both involve boats.

Nothing else is even remotely the same. Where cruising boats are designed to be comfortable and easy-going, racing boats are designed to be fast and working hard at all times. Comfort is of minimal importance.

I learned this my first night on board when I had to climb over a heap of sails to squeeze myself into my Spartan top bunk. It didn’t look like the most comfortable resting space, but I was so exhausted by the time I unfolded my legs inside my sleeping bag that it took no more than five minutes for me to pass out cold. I don’t think I even changed out of my thermals, which means (1) I was too tired to care, and (2) my bunk was exactly as comfortable as it needed to be.

clipper race berths

Nikki, my bunk mate, sitting on the sails that live below our berths.

Lesson 2: When it comes to crew, determination and technique are more valuable than youth and big muscles.

The ages of my fellow crew ranged from their twenties to their sixties and our physiques ran the gamut from small and light to big and stocky. But everyone, and I mean everyone, brought something to the table in addition to their bold determination. Small girls hoisted large sails, learning how to use their full body weight to sweat the heavy halyards. Large men crawled into small spaces and developed nimble fingers for tying knots quickly. And everyone worked the winch grinder until they thought their arms would fall off. And then they ground some more.

And we all watched in awe as our oldest crew member, Gil, volunteered to be hoisted up to the top of the mast, calling out periodically, “Higher! Take me higher!” And when she was lowered safely back onto the deck, we eagerly asked, “How was it?”

“Fucking BRILLIANT!” Gil exclaimed with a grin as wide as her face.

Which just happens to be how I feel about my first week on a racing yacht.

going up the mast clipper race training

Gil’s reaction to being up to the top of the mast and back

Lesson 3: The skipper is the boss in more ways than one.

The skipper is less like a manager and more like a military general. His job is to keep his crew safe and motivated while engaged in battle at sea. That might be battle with the sea, or it might be battle at sea against other boats. It depends on the seas and the circumstances.

By making us drop and do push-ups anytime one of us breached a safety protocol, Jim showed how seriously he took our safety. And he repeatedly drove home the fact that we were on a racing boat, not a pleasure boat, giving us challenges that came with time constraints. “You’ve got 6 minutes to get that sail flaked and stowed!” He’d shout, while adding, “And THEN you can have lunch!”

skipper jim clipper race training

Skipper Jim at the helm

On the docks in the Isle of Wight one morning, when Jim noticed the other Level 1 boat was getting ready to cast off, Jim interrupted our morning coffee to dole out jobs and get our boat off the docks before the other boat.

“Do they even know we’re racing them off the dock?” I stupidly asked Jim.

“WHENEVER THERE ARE TWO BOATS, IT’S A RACE!” Jim shouted. “Do we have everyone on deck?”

I quickly did a head count. “Wait, we only have 8! Where’s Gil?”

“She went to the pharmacy to get a bandage,” someone shouted.

“SHE’S LATE!” Jim shouted. “Slip those lines!”

“What?! We can’t just leave Gil behind!” I exclaimed (again, stupidly).

“We’ll come back for her,” Jim said. “But we’re leaving this dock NOW. I WASN’T KIDDING WHEN I SAID THIS IS A GODDAMN RACING BOAT!”

Lesson #4: Safety really is no joke. An injured crew member affects the whole race.

I learned this the hard way on my second day of training when I slipped on the companionway steps, holding a sandwich in one hand and a soda in the other. I disappeared down the hatch like I’d been yanked, hitting my head on the steps on the way down and landing in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Luckily, the pool of blood that had formed under my head was nothing more than an eager-to-bleed small cut. Nothing a little super glue at the Minor Injuries Unit in Gosport couldn’t fix.

clipper level 1 training injury

Me, holding a bag of frozen peas to my bleeding head

But because of me, everyone’s training was cut short that day, as the crew quickly downed the sails, got the Coast Guard on the radio, sped the boat back to port and got me checked into a clinic. Not to mention that two additional crew members were taken out of commission to look after me and make sure my condition didn’t change. In short, it was a major bummer for the whole boat.

So, what did I learn from this? I need one hand for me, and one hand for the boat AT ALL TIMES. Oh, and I am officially a hazard to my own health (remember that time not long ago when I ended up in the ER in Cabarete?). I should really look into wearing a helmet, like, all the time.

mast climb helmet clipper race training

The helmet was for climbing the mast, but maybe I should consider keeping it on all the time?

As of now, Ryan and I are on our way back to the Dominican Republic to get Hideaway hauled for hurricane season and to prepare for our Level 2 and 3 training in England in a few weeks’ time. We have a lot of work to do until then. Not to mention we need to get our cats back to New York, where my parents will look after them while we’re gallivanting around the world on sailboats, planes, trains, buses, motorcycles, RVs and what-have-you.

Most importantly, though, this week has stoked a fire under me that has me racing through the many jobs on our long to-do list. Because come September 1st, I want nothing more than to be totally mentally and physically prepared to cast off from St. Katharine’s Docks.

All I can say is, “Let’s DO this!”

cv 1 edinburth clipper race

My training boat for Level 1, the Edinburgh boat from the ’11-’12 race

isle of wight anchor inn clipper race training

The smug winners, my crew, enjoying beers on the skipper at the Anchor Inn, Isle of Wight

post-line-divide

For more photos of our first week of Clipper Race Training, check out this photo album on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page. All photos in the Album (not the photos above) are courtesy of Jason Parlour at www.jasonparlour.com. Jason is doing the full Round the World Race.

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15 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Mid-Life Cruising! June 24, 2013, 9:30 am

    Great post … enjoy getting a glimpse of your boat and crew. Looks like it’s gonna be a lotta work, but a great time!

    • Tasha Hacker June 24, 2013, 11:20 am

      If Level 1 was anything to go by, Level 2 and 3 and then the race are going to be KILLER. But I’m already loving it! It’s hard, competitive, exhilarating work!

  • Wally the rental agenit in ur home town Hunter June 24, 2013, 11:20 am

    This segment was absolutly fantastic. I have been following your blog since i came accross you thru Patsy @ Shar Realty asked me to help her rent you beautifull Log in the Estates. I konow your busy, and I am going to try one more time to call Anne to see if we can work together to keep your investment making money. If she does not call me I will send you an regular e mail in regardds to allowing us to work with you directly.
    “keep on sailing, and be carefull & be safe” one of your admirers. Wally in Hunter M3rtn.

    • Tasha Hacker June 25, 2013, 8:17 am

      Hey Wally! We’ll be up to Hunter in a few weeks before heading back to the UK. Perhaps we can meet for a drink!

  • Troy June 24, 2013, 12:19 pm

    WOW!!… What a rush. One day you’ll have to tell me how to get involved in something like this.

  • More Joy Everywhere June 24, 2013, 12:30 pm

    What great storytelling, Tasha – I felt like I was there. And then I thought, thank GOD I don’t have to do THAT. But super fun to read about… there’s a book inya, I think.

    • Tasha Hacker June 25, 2013, 8:14 am

      Jane, I bet you’d love it! Have you not raced before? I had no idea it was such a buzz!

  • Nikki June 24, 2013, 2:59 pm

    Whoop whoop!! We were amazing! Ryan had better watch out! :o)

    • Tasha Hacker June 24, 2013, 3:17 pm

      Lol. Wait till I convince Clipper to let us race together on Level 3, Nikki! xx

  • AnnieC June 24, 2013, 8:29 pm

    This youtube yacht racing video is how I’ll be envisioning you! The music is great too.
    Makes me envious of your adventure.

    http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=VwhRvE5JgPI

    • Tasha Hacker June 25, 2013, 9:38 am

      OMG you have no idea how much this raises the hairs on the back of my neck! We actually appealed to Clipper to let us have this song as our “boat anthem” – we all have to pick a song to sail out of harbor to. They rejected it on the grounds it wasn’t “anthem like.” Bummer. SUCH a wicked song. This video is AMAZING! I really need to bring my GoPro on the race. Annie, you just made my day… I’m posting this bad boy on my FB now! xx

  • Melody s/v Vacilando June 25, 2013, 9:30 am

    This has got me all excited and I’m not even on the race! I cannot wait to read more as you move along!!! Hugs to you and Ryan! xoxo

  • Romanda July 4, 2013, 12:38 pm

    SO fabulous!!!! You’ve got me completely pumped for my level 1 next week (with Jim yikes lol). I’ll have to remember to hold on with TWO hands though – I notoriously get injured right before or during anything big and important (busted knee before a 10,000 car rally; pulled calf muscle 6 days before marathon; busted knee AGAIN in the Ride To Conquer cancer 260km in two days bike trip; and just last week twisted ankle before kitesurfing weekend and level 2 sailing training). Thanks for the heads up!!!

    By the way – which two weeks are you on Level 2 and Level 3?

    • Tasha Hacker July 4, 2013, 12:42 pm

      Hey Romanda! You’ll love working with Jim as your Skipper! I’m doing Level 2 and 3 back-to-back starting July 26th. When are you doing those levels and what team are you on?

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