Practice does not make perfect. Only PERFECT practice makes perfect.

The long awaited Crew Allocation Day has now been and gone. I finally found out which team I will be racing with, and which lucky Skipper will have the privilege of leading me on this amazing adventure. I turned up to Portsmouth Guildhall (with my dad) for 10:00, and patiently queued to collect my Clipper softshell jacket, before making my way to the main hall for the big event. With lots of other very excited crew members now also proudly sporting their new ‘Crew’ jackets (as was I), we took our seats for the main event. It started with some exciting announcements on the race route, information about roles on board and a new Clipper Race Fleet Partner.

One exciting announcement (for me), was the re-confirmation that the beautiful WHITSUNDAYS (Airline Beach – Coral Sea Marina Resort) will complete the Australian Coast-to-Coast leg 4. The stopover in early 2020 (arrival window 09-12th January) will be the third time the race has visited the Whitsundays. The azure warm waters and white sandy shores of the ‘74 Island Wonder’ will be a welcome reward for ending my first leg. We also learned that Bell Harbor, Seattle will be the port we will arrive in after the MIGHTY PACIFIC crossing – leg 6 (arrival window 19-24th April). My journey is now really starting to firm up.

At around 12:30, it finally came to the moment we were all waiting for – crew allocation. We waited patiently as each Skipper was introduced and welcomed on stage. One by one, they walked up to the podium to read out the names of the first half of their crew. Once each Skipper had read the first list, they returned back to the podium to read out the names of the second half of their crew. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long to hear my name. Great news – I was allocated to TEAM NICK and who will Skipper yacht ZHUHAI. I’m not just saying this, but if I could have chosen a team for myself, I couldn’t have picked better! I will have the opportunity of being a crew member on a leg that will go through our host port (Zhuhai). I’m told that you have the best parties when you reach your host port. I think I’m going to cope OK being treated like royalty when we reach Zhuhai, China, and even more amazing if it can be a podium position!!

Race Skippers and teams so far are:

CV20 ?? (Team Mike)

CV21 ?? (Team Wavy)

CV22 Seattle (Team Ben)

CV23 ?? (Team Mark)

CV25 Punta del Este (Team Jeronimo)

CV26 ?? (Team Josh)

CV27 ?? (Team Guy)

CV28 Zhuhai (Team Nick)

CV29 Sanya (Team Seumas)

CV30 Qingdao (Team Chris)

CV31 Unicef (Team Ian)

Once all of the team allocations were complete, the main presentation drew to a close, and we were invited to spend some time with our team crew, and finally got to meet our Skipper (and AQP / Additionally Qualified Person, aka Mate). My dad on the other hand, remained in the main hall with the other 100-or-so supporters and got a chance to meet and talk with each of the other supporters, while getting more information about how they could support the race from at home. They then waited patiently with a glass of wine in hand, and chatting with Sir Robin, as we were getting to hear a lot more about our Skipper’s approach to the race.

I particularly enjoyed my Skipper’s first presentation (sketch on a notepad – picture below) about how he would attempt to inspire us to be a great team. “It’s all about luck!!” This is my kind of skipper I thought immediately. Another notable quote from our meeting: “Practice does not make perfect. Only PERFECT practice makes perfect” (a quote often credited to the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi) – so so true! Another one of those thoughts that apply in work.

Some inspiring words from our Skipper. The main one we need to focus on though is LUCK (apparently)!

After getting us focused on becoming a team through some “inspiring” words on a flip chart, as well as a picture of a man on a beach drinking from his Clipper water bottle on another flip chart, this image was intended to depict that we can save the planet and prevent climate change by using our new Clipper water bottle?!?! I’m not sure this is entirely accurate, but it does reflect Clipper’s view on protecting the planet, and making sure the crew are also thinking this way. We also had a healthy debate between my new crew on what really annoys us (which we listed on a flip chart), and how as a team we would handle these situations in a confined area and in the case of conflict – this is inevitable apparently. Following an afternoon of getting to know our team, we were ushered outside and onto the steps of the Guild Hall for a crew photo. I obviously placed myself at the front for the quickest chance of exit once (finally) complete – the pub was calling!

Obviously this wasn’t the official photo!

…. being at the front certainly paid off. Once the photo had finally been taken, it would be our first opportunity to spend some time getting to know each other in some more relaxed surroundings. We made the short walk down to Gun Wharf Quays, where to my surprise, and as my dad and I were one of the first there, we stumbled across an opportunity to take a look around Clipper yacht Zhuhai. What were the chances that it would be MY TEAM yacht moored up for viewing?! My dad and I swiftly collected our guest passes, and excitedly made our way down to see her. Wow she’s very different to the ‘68s we’ve been training on so far. We walked around for a few minutes, and as I explained how it really works when full of other crew members. A perfect way to top off a great Crew Allocation Day. Now time for the pub and to meet the rest of my team…

A quick tour around a Clipper ’70

Just 3 days later it was time for my Level 3 training. With my Level 3 came the introduction of the Clipper 70, and the asymmetric spinnaker. This training level would be all about building on everything we’d already learnt in Levels 1 & 2, and starting to get into the mindset of this actually being a race.

We began the 6 day Level 3 training with an offshore CRASC course. I definitely didn’t misspell that – not CRASH, but CRASC (Clipper Race Advance Safety Course). We were guided through the learning by our Skipper for the week – Chris. We learned all about the care and maintenance of safety equipment, storm sails, damage control and repair, heavy weather routines, boat handling, more MOB (Man Overboard) stuff – prevention and recovery, giving assistance to other craft, weather forecasting, and, and, and… Clipper certainly didn’t disappoint with the information overload that is now becoming something we’re getting very used to. We’re also now very accustomed to a test at the end of it – no change this time either. After the download of knowledge we were promptly handed a knowledge check document. Thankfully I got all of the answers right.

I also learned that now (Level 3 onwards) was time to forget everything we’d already learned (in terms of stepping through the evolutions with our wet notes as guidance) – it’s now time to get serious and focus on racing!! We’d hear this message many more times throughout the week too. Game face on!

After we’d finished the classroom based CRASC course, we made our way to the assigned yacht for the week (CV31 / UNICEF) at 16:30, ready for a (further) safety brief, and the now familiar round robin crew introduction. This time though, and as we’d already spent the whole day together, we only had to introduce our name and our preference of hot drink for the week (for the record, I chose ginger tea). The order we were sat around the cockpit in, would determine our crew number for the week. I was 14, which would make my safety buddy, crew member number 13, and make me a member of Team Odd (sounds about right 😂). This number would also be used to determine a host of decisions, teams and duties throughout the week.

Following another safety briefing above and below deck, we began to re-familiarise ourselves with the routine for the week, and got to know our way around a different design of yacht from all other previous trainings on the Clipper ‘68. It felt much more spacious, yet still as cosy (compact) as you’d expect a racing yacht to be.

We found Bob (the MOB dummy) hiding in the sail locker, and after a quick reunion, brought him up on deck ready for an action packed week…

Given the sheer amount of information we’d been (again) shared on day 1, it was a welcome decision to have our first meal and then have a couple of hours to relax, practice our knots, and enjoy the ‘debrief facility’ before bed. This was also the chance for me to try my new toothbrush (I normally use an electric one), and my new toothpaste tablets (no water needed) which turned out to be surprisingly good. This was an experiment I wasn’t expecting to work out, but I think I have my answer for the race, as it means means I don’t need water to brush my teeth. Result!

Day 2 began with yet more safety briefings, and now in mini teams (according to our crew number), we got straight to work setting up for heading out on the water.

Before going anywhere however, it was time to do our first tethered MOB drill (still in the marina). Thankfully we had a very willing volunteer who was keen to be the first ‘rescue swimmer’. This was also time for our Skipper to showcase his one handed bowline knot tying skills. Impressive!! There’s one for me to practice before Level 4, given my first attempt had me impersonating some kind of confused contortionist! Perfect practice makes perfect!

Our crew volunteer for the first (alongside) MOB drill of the week.

Once we’d completed the tethered MOB drill, we made our way out into the Solent for our first day back on the water, and a chance to recap Level 1 and 2 SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). This was also our first chance to properly familiarise ourselves with the Clipper ‘70, and dust off the cobwebs on our evolutions, now in a slightly different setup. We spent the day practicing our upwind work: tacking and running backstays, as well as reefing practice. For Level 3 and beyond it’s expected that we’re now able to step through all of the evolutions without having to refer to any of our wet notes. For some this was easier than for others. This would be crucial for the actual race, and when conditions demand quick reactions…

This isn’t our training, but is a clip from a crew member training with us.

We ended the day by mooring up in Cowes Yacht Haven (on the Isle of Wight). As soon as we were safely tied up, we were all invited to sit in the cockpit in 2 teams – Team Odd on one side, and Team Even on the other. This would be our first knot competition of the week. Each night we would be given any 3 of the 9 knots we were now expected to know, where it would be a competition to see which team could correctly complete each knot in the quickest amount of time. The losing team was responsible for packing up the boat. My team (Odd) unfortunately lost! Once we’d finally tidied everything away, it was time for dinner and the chance to pop to the marina for a shower (a luxury that I need to not get used to for the race). Even though I was extremely tired, it was great to have completed our first day back on the water, which we of course celebrated with a couple of gins at the local debrief facility.

Day 3 (day 2 on the water) saw us head out of Cowes and into the Solent. This would be our first opportunity for asymmetric spinnaker training. This initially included setting up and hoisting the asymmetric kite – wow its certainly one huge piece of material!! First we had to get the kite up (physically dragged up from the sail locker) onto the deck – which easily takes 3/4 people and a lot muscle. With the sail still in it’s bag, we then attached the sheets to the clew (the rear), halyard (the top), and the connected the tack line (the front). Amusingly, and in order to stop it going anywhere too soon, 1 member of the crew then has to sit on the bag/sail until we’re fully ready. The toughest (not physically, but because it takes a bit of focus) is to then attach a tack at the end of the Bowsprit (the very front of the yacht).

A crew member doing his bit to prevent our spinnaker from going anywhere. Definitely one of the easier jobs during preparation!!

Once we had the Spinnaker up, we spent some time understanding how we could use the lazy sheet/tack retrieval line for a letterbox drop. Essentially once setup this would allow us to drop the spinnaker and pull it through a ‘letterbox’ between the mainsail and the boom. With a number of crew (bears) ready to hug (grab) and pass the sail straight below deck. The bear hug is extremely important as it prevents the sail from catching any wind as we bring it down, and more importantly stop it taking back off!! Keeping the kite dry during a spinnaker drop is the most important goal.

Spinnaker letterbox drop. Bears in action

What I hadn’t appreciated was that with all of this huge spinnaker kite now shoved down the companion way and below deck in a heap, the next fun task would be to organise the spinnaker down both crew bunk areas, and into the sail locker (each would be a different corner of the sail). Once laid out, the sail then needs to be rolled as tight as possible, and tied in position with a number of pieces of wool.

Our first wooling volunteers (Team Even)

Once one kite was down, it was time to get another one up, and so we went through the whole process again, and again, and again… Wow this was really hard work, and extremely hot below deck trying to wool!

This is was the very impressive ‘nappy’ Team Odd managed to get on our second wooling attempt.

Thankfully the day was coming to an end, and so we eventually made our way back into Gosport. The marina was full, so we set ourselves up for the night on the fuel pontoon just outside. No sooner had we finished tidying all relevant lines, it was time to return to the cockpit and sit in our respective odd and even teams for the day’s knot competition. Unfortunately my team lost again, and with that again we had the honour of packing away our yacht for the night. The winning team (Even) came good though, and joined forces to help us out! This meant we would be able to shower and eat much quicker, which was very welcome after a tiring day. Once we were finally all done it was time to head to the debrief facility, with rope in hand (for most of the crew on my team) and ready to practice those knots again.

Day 5 (day 4 on the water) was our last chance to again head out and practice raising and dropping the Spinnaker, gybing the Spinnaker with a foreguy, helming with a Spinnaker, trimming the Spinnaker, and even MOB with a Spinnaker. It was really quite impressive just how far we actually got away from Bob by time we’d dropped the Spinnaker and head back to rescue him. This just goes to show the extra speed we get when flying the kite.

Day 6 was the same as every other last day – deep clean day. Except this time, I’d be leading… In order to ensure we all had jobs, and that we’d be done in the quickest possible time, I took the checklist and ensured that every member of the crew understood their role, and that once complete, they knew to come to me for the next job. Needless to say, after a few hours, we finished in record time, and with a gleaming UNICEF yacht left for the next crew to join her. As is also now the custom throughout deep clean, one by one we were called to speak with the Skipper for a debrief on our performance that week. I was relieved to receive the same kind of feedback I’d already received on levels 1 and 2 – “keep up the good work, and keep upping your game in preparation for what’s to come next”.

Deep clean day. CHECK ✔️

Zhuhai team building is next in the diary for the first weekend in July, and will be my next Clipper adventure, followed by my Level 4 training in August. We’ve already had a word (email) of warning re Level 4 training from Skipper Nick, which absolutely supports everything we’ve already heard – this is getting real – time to up our game!:

Dear Team Zhuhai

This is your captain speaking!

We have just finished the second Level 4 and are starting the third one in the morning (Thursday). So far our practice race results have been quite promising: 2, 1, 1, 1.

For those of you yet to do Level 4 I am sure there are already stories doing the rounds about how different it is to the other Levels. It is deliberately very intense and hard work. Expect to miss out on sleep if you are required to help on deck, regardless of the time of day or night, or the weather conditions. Expect meals to be delayed by events on deck or emergency drills. It will be very tiring and stressful, but should replicate as closely as possible the hard parts of a difficult leg.

The first three levels of training are to teach background to sailing evolutions and living at sea, but by Level 4 we are on the cusp of starting a race around the world and can’t afford to make level 1 mistakes. On Level 1 damage caused by mistakes can be repaired ashore, but during the race we have to live with the consequences of any mistakes so we really need to be at the top of our game.

All of us want to have fun and enjoy the experience in a safe manner, and many of us might not even be very competitive, but in the middle of the ocean we need to be able to react quickly and efficiently to changing conditions of the ocean at any given time.

I am looking forward to the next three Level 4 courses and hope that we can keep up the momentum of our previous racing results!

Cheers, Nick

After Level 4, my next exciting milestone will be Race Start on September 1st from St Katherine’s Dock. The countdown really is on now…

Current schedule

As a reminder, and as I’m now not only Team Zhuhai’s Assistance Team Co-ordinator, but now also Fundraising Manager, we are all doing this adventure for different personal reasons, but also to raise awareness and money for the great work UNICEF do. Please dig deep and show your appreciation too. You can do so via my JustGiving page here: This will feed into our overall Team Zhuhai fund raising efforts, and into the overall Clipper Crew. You too can make a difference!

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