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Training to be a Clipper Ocean Racer

It has been a busy few days...I just got back from Oregon after helping my Katie move out of her apartment...her new life-chapter is opening as she has taken a job at Northwestern University here in Chicago, as a lab tech...doing some cool stuff! Go Katie!

I'd also be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the many wonderful Facebook comments, teas/coffees, dinners, drinks and lunches with friends who are following me and supporting me, Jean and Katie in this adventure..."thank you"...very much appreciated.

Let's turn to today's topic: "Clipper race training"...I'm about a week away from heading to Portsmouth/Gosport, UK to help prep the boat for the start of the race...many of my great teammates are already there, and I'll join them very soon! All of our race training is completed now, and all of us have qualified to let's talk and get some understanding and context on the amount and type of race training we complete, what exactly is involved, and how does Clipper bring a group of sailors, non-sailors together, who have never met each other, maybe don't even speak the same language and ultimately form and storm to become an ocean racing team? Actually, it is pretty amazing, intense, and let's cover off on what I/we as a team experienced.

The foundation for Clipper is ultimately "safety", and let's be real, we are not professional sailors, this is a race and has the intensity of racing, but we need to do it safely. If someone gets seriously injured or dies, well, that is no good for anyone regardless of how we place in the race. To be clear, we can die on the ocean and there have been deaths on the Clipper race (and other regattas I've done, so it isn't a unique proposition to the Clipper Race that one can die)...but we need to acknowledge it, recognize it, accept it, and do everything we can to prevent it. In all of the regattas I have participated on, safety is paramount, and when something serious happens, after the appropriate authorities (e.g. US Coast Guard, US Sailing, regatta organizers etc.) complete their investigation, usually there is an adjustment in our equipment, processes etc. as a result...our sailing sport has evolved over the years but all risk can never be eliminated, nor should it.

Underpinning this ethos of safety, Clipper requires all participants to complete four levels of training, referred to as "Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4). Each level builds upon itself, with continuous testing and evaluation of each crew person by the skipper and first mate. Each crew member gets a 1-to-1 post-training evaluation and walkthrough of their performance, both in writing and verbally...good stuff!

Let's take a look at each level of training, and I'll include some pictures and illustrative videos.

Level 1 - In Level 1 training you are introduced to the Clipper "way". This week of training focuses on basic seamanship, the critical knots we use, working as a team, the proper way to hoist, reef, and fold the sails. For many, this is their first time on a sailboat, let alone a 68 or 70-foot race boat with up to 20+ people on board. For my Level 1 training, our skipper Emily and first mate Tom (now a first mate on one of our competitor boats!) were amazing...knowledgeable, patient, fun, they led us through our training in late March / early April of 2022. It is here that I met many of the crew that our now on Team Qingdao, and where friendships are quickly formed working and living closely together.

During the training, each day we hoisted sails (no spinnakers on this training) and sailed in the Solent and to Cowes on the Isle of Wight (very charming and historic sailing town...home of Cowes Race Week and the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race). During our training we learned about the safety features on Clipper boats, man overboard procedures (we put a rescue swimmer in the water, not shown), reefing sails, and the general care/feeding of 20 people on board. We also learned and practiced proper maintenance procedures, from engine checks to cleaning the head!

One interesting, but non-standard event was a British Coast Guard helicopter radioed our boat and we participated in a helicopter-to-boat rescue swimmer deployment...really insightful and key to learning. In later training we learn how to do boat-to-boat casualty transfer as well. In the (long) video below, we are all on deck, and Emily is chatting up the helicopter crew planning the rescue swimmer can see the concentration as we hold our course and speed (under power) as the rescue line is lowered. The copter crew ultimately decided not to send their rescue swimmer down to the deck and they eventually pulled out, but we fully learned and understand what is needed to pull off a helicopter rescue...great experience...and let's hope we never need it!

In Level 1 training, we are back in port each night, sleeping on the boat, tied up in the marina.

Level 2 - Because of the cost of travel and to make the most efficient use of time, I did my Level 2 training, back-to-back with Level 1. Many of us traveling internationally, combined Level 1 and Level 2 together in one trip. Many of my mates from Level 1 stayed on to complete their Level 2 training. Building on that safety ethos, Level 2 begin in early April 2022. After a few days off to rest, do laundry, and spend some time sightseeing in historic Portsmouth (amazing seafaring-related museums as one of Britain's most historic and important sea ports), we began with Sea Survival training. Similar to our US Sailing Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) training, our Sea Survival course was 'hands on' and focused on all aspects of issues concerned with staying healthy and alive, while at sea. The day culminated with an in-water exercise on use of/boarding of a life raft. Boarding a life raft in a pool is hard work, so boarding a life raft, in the middle of the ocean, at night, in a pounding storm...well, let's just hope we don't have to use our training!

The rest of the training for Level 2 is building on Level 1, but this time, we are out at sea.

For Level 2 we are honing our night sailing and watch skills, navigating up to the Dover area, and then back to Gosport/Portsmouth. We were at sea for 5 nights. The weather was relatively ranged from 40+ knots of wind, to mild/no wind, with rain. On our last night, the wind died.

The next morning we connected with one of our other training boats and practiced towing, and boat-to-boat transfer (we were kind and shared some of our excess candy we had on board with our mates on the other training boat.)

Each of our sessions culminated in one-to-one feedback from the skipper and first far, all is good and I passed. After a fulfilling and amazing two weeks of touring, sail training and sailing, it was back to Chicago!

Level 3 - In May of 2023 I attended my Level 3 training. This was my first time on the Clipper 70, the boat we will be racing on. All other training had been on the previous generation of Clipper race boat, the Clipper 68. The Clipper 70 is amazing, with a lot of upgrades designed to improve crew comfort (the bunks aren't in the wet sail locker!) and performance (e.g. two helming stations, hard chined, reaching machine). Our focus for this training is all spinnaker work, along with consolidating our knowledge from Level 1 and 2 training. Being away for a year, it took a bit of time to reconnect the key points, but it all comes back quickly. With skipper John Chambers and first mate Al Jay, we learned to hoist and set these massive sails. By massive, it takes 4 of us to move it around deck, and 3 more to pull it out of the sail locker...these spinnakers are big, heavy and powerful. We also learned the technique of "wooling", using small wool thread to tie up the spinnaker and prevent it from premature opening. In the video below, you are looking up approximately 100 feet to the top of the mast. The spinnaker has been hoisted and is about to be 'set'. We had lighter winds and may have "over wooled" the chute a bit, but in high winds, that bad boy pops out of there in a hurry...and with a lot of force! Al goes over and gives it a gentle tug to "pop the 'chute".

We had a great sail around the Isle of Wight in beautiful conditions...a great intro to the Clipper 70!

Take a short tour of a Clipper 70 in the video below...this was taken at night, right before we pulled everything off for the "deep clean" every boat goes through. It starts in sail locker in the bow, pauses at the galley, my bunk, and ends at our navigation station in the stern of the boat.

Level 3 training is the last training done with people not on your team. Right after Level 3, on May 20, 2023, was "Crew Allocation", when all of the crew are allocated to their actual racing team. An amazing day of high energy, emotion, and initial team meetings, we were officially 'allocated' to our race teams. I was selected to race on Team Qingdao, sponsored by the City of Qingdao in China. Our skipper is Greg Hunt from South Africa and our first mate, Steve Westwood from the UK...a great group of folks to be racing with.

Level 4 - To round out my training, I wrapped up Level 4 training in July 2023...just days after I retired. This training began with an offsite team building event, which was non-sailing related. We spent time getting to know each other, working through some logistics and planning, and preparing for our Level 4 training. Our entire team wasn't at the team building event, and Level 4 training has multiple sessions...but it was a great opportunity to meet members of the team. Level 4 focuses on gelling as a team, and doing some more advanced techniques in racing, sail trim, and we sailed two races.

The racing was intense, with high-winds over 40 knots, beginning with the teams practicing a 'parade of boats' as we prepare for our kick-off weekend September 3rd...this is shown in the video below.

Our track took us across the English Channel to France...Normandy specifically, then back up the coast of England. We had one blown up spinnaker, but a chance to really work together as a team. Our team is strong and I am hopeful that we will have positive and safe results, but regardless of where we place, we'll sail hard and do our best!

So, to wrap up, all of the training has been really well done, focused on safety and getting us ready for the race. We'll continue to gel as a team, even after race start and that is just to be expected, but we've got a great team and great leaders so I'm really looking forward to the coming months ahead.

I'm going to sign off topic I'll focus on is "gear"...mine is spread out all over the living room floor right now. And as a recent update in the last 23 and I've been dealing with the events in Maui as we have friends, family, and property on the island...all are safe! Unreal! It has taken me a few days to get this post together, with more to come.

Keep the questions coming, and if you haven't done so already, please donate to my philanthropies...we are doing great on the Parkinson's Foundation, but need to boost the UNICEF side of the equation...still a long way to go to hit $40K, but we can do it! Click here now to safely and securely get that tax deductible donation in, and to help some really great causes!

Thanks for reading.


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10 de ago. de 2023
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I am really going to enjoy following this.

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