“I’ve been at sea most of my life,” says Captain Peter Thornton of the Great Britain crew in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. “My father having been a seafarer, I have this drive to be a great seaman.”
That’s a good thing, because in August 2015, the 39-year-old ex-Royal Navy lieutenant was one of the few members of his crew with any sailing experience. And he was aboard a 70ft ocean-racing yacht at the start of an 11-month, 40,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation of the globe.
“I’d say at least 50 per cent of the crew had not been on board a boat,” says Thornton. “It shows how mentally tough they are. And there are few challenges to equal a clipper race.
Conceived in 1995 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston – the first man to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe – the Clipper race recruits potential candidates for its 12 identical racing yachts with three preconditions: they must be aged 18 or over, have a good level of fitness and possess a thirst for adventure.
Those who are successful then undertake four weeks of training (“Best not all at once, as it’s quite intense,” remarks Thornton), learning to sail, race, cook, clean and be self-sufficient at sea.
“On some legs we can spend more than four weeks at sea,” says Thornton. “It can be hot and uncomfortable, with salt sores, heat rash and little sleep. Tempers get frayed. On leg one, a man went up the mast to retrieve a halyard, but the tether slipped and he spun around, breaking his arm in two places, with a severe laceration to his armpit.“
“We were thousands of miles from any safe haven, so I put 17 stitches under his arm, resetting and splinting it. He stayed on board for two weeks and he wanted to stay for the next leg, but that was a little unsafe. However, when we arrived at Cape Town, I gave him the all-clear and he rejoined the crew.”
Not all accidents have such a happy outcome. The only two fatalities in the event’s 20-year history took place during the 2015-2016 race. However for many participants it’s a chance to gain a fresh perspective and a sense of achievement.
“Mother Nature is the strongest, most unpredictable opponent I’ve ever faced,” says Great Britain crew member Dan Hardy, a UFC fighter. “You really need strength of mind to put yourself through it. I would rather fight anyone over 25 minutes than battle the Atlantic. It was relentless.”
“Taking the helm is a great cure for seasickness,” says Yachtmaster instructor Mark Burkes. “It connects you to the movement of the boat and gives you something else to concentrate on.”
Shore Leave: While your racing yacht is in port