Six months ago, Captain Peter Thornton was one of the few members of the Great Britain crew in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race with any sailing experience to speak of. And he was aboard a 70-foot ocean-racing yacht on an 11-month, 40,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation of the globe.
“I’d say at least 50 percent of the crew had not been on board a boat,” says Thornton. “It shows how mentally tough they are.” Thornton knows tough. “Having been at sea most of my life, and my father having been a seafarer, I have this drive to be a great seaman,” explains the 37-year-old ex-Royal Navy lieutenant, who started his nautical career at 18 and was awarded a royal honor at 25 for services at sea.
But taking on this race as a novice requires a different kind of courage. “And there are few challenges to equal a clipper race.”
Conceived in 1995 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston—the first man to complete a single-handed nonstop circumnavigation of the globe—the Clipper race recruits potential candidates for its 12 identical racing yachts with three preconditions: They must be at least 18 years old, 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,” says Thornton), learning to sail, race, cook, clean and be self-sufficient at sea.
“For the last race, we spent more than four weeks at sea,” says Thornton. “It was 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, with an inexperienced crew, so I ended up putting in 17 stitches under his arm, resetting and splinting it. He stayed on board for two weeks and 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. He’s back on board and loving it; he’s one of my watch leaders.” Almost every crew member gains a fresh perspective and a sense of achievement.
“Mother Nature is the strongest, most unpredictable opponent I’ve ever faced,” says Great Britain’s Dan Hardy, a UFC fighter. “You eally need strength of mind to put yourself through it. I would rather fight anyone over 25 minutes than battle the Atlantic again. It was relentless.”
“If on deck, 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 at port