22. Sitting on The Dock of The Bay

THIS is the post you should have had before I went doolally about you-know-what yesterday. Although I do rather fancy having an Independence Day BBQ, if only we knew when (if?) Independence Day will be.

Today you will be learning about the Arrival and Activation Windows and more. I know I said we didn’t want no education but I can change my mind can’t I? No-one can take over my blog!

So there we landlubbers are, sitting around looking out to sea to see whether our loved ones are on the horizon.

I see no ships

Sarah, the Clipper Race Manager, gave us a taste of what will happen at each port when she spoke at the January meeting. As each leg generally has more than one stop I’m not sure if this applies to every stop or just each leg-end. At this stage I’m also not sure if I’m just going to go to each leg-end or to the other stops too. For example, Leg 1 from somewhere in the UK to somewhere in South America is currently reported to make up two races and three ports, i.e. there is an interim stop, which may be in either (mainland) Europe or South America before the end of the leg. Probably I’ll pick and choose where to go, because I can.

A ship!

The back up for the yachts is about four shipping containers that travel around the world to each port with the maintenance crew from Clipper. They need to be in place before the boats arrive as they have all the publicity banners, support staff, replacements bits of kit etc. Therefore, the arrival window for MBB is not an absolute date. If the containers get delayed there could be an extra local race to keep The Eleven busy or they may just hang around out at sea until the support staff are ready for them. In addition, each yacht will have taken a different time to cross from the start to the finish and may have hit delays. We don’t have a pretty picture of them all arriving together as happened at Liverpool last year (when they were “held” outside until the tide was just so then raced in for the last few miles). The arrival window could be three or more days.

Liverpool 2018 finish

We could be lucky and John or George arrive in the first boat, or they could be tail-end Charlies. Many years ago when we had a holiday on the canals in England and Wales, I drove to meet John at one marina and waited and waited. Eventually out of the gloom I heard an engine then saw a light. He was hours late having left his wallet in the pub at lunch time. You can’t easily turn a canal barge around so he’d had to run along the tow-path back to the pub then to where he’d moored the barge. At least I know that won’t happen this time, although I am being softened up for waiting. When he originally signed up it was “no more than a month between ports”, then five weeks and last weekend I heard him say to someone that the longest leg is six weeks. I’ve just gone onto the Clipper website and (nominal) days at sea vary from 18 days (Leg 2) to 38 days (Leg 7). Anyway, I’ll be quite happy waiting on the quayside with my pals and a glass of wine.

Waiting patiently

At each port they schedule in 7-10 days. These are not days off. First the sailors will be greeted by Clipper staff then taken away for immigration, photos and interviews with local press and the Clipper media team. We the supporters will not be able to be with them during this, but I’m not too upset at that. Someone else can have the pleasure of being the first to smell them after at least three weeks at sea! The yacht (as well as the crew) will need a Deep Clean. This takes on average three days until they become experienced, when it may be possible to do it in only one day. Don’t forget though that each leg has new crew who are not going all the way “around the world”.

When exactly a yacht docks can depend upon the port, as they may have other things going on or may not want boats motoring in any time of day or night. The crew will have to take the sails down and put them away then get themselves looking good for motoring in to their berth. There may be a Welcome Ceremony, depending on the port and its sponsors.

Motoring in

The immigration and custom requirements vary with each country but Clipper staff sort out as much as they can beforehand to minimize delays. At the end of the arrival window, with luck after all the boats have made it safely to port, is prize-giving. As previously stated, there are pennants for first, second and third places and other occasions such as Social Spirit (see Post 19). After this the crew are free to go off and shower and have a beer and see their loved ones (not necessarily in this order). I think partying is the order of the day:

Not quite a sailor’s hornpipe

The activation window lasts for several days, on average two we were told. However, I forgot to write down exactly what happens in this period, oops. I THINK it’s when the crew have to meet their obligations of corporate activities, showing people around the boat, maybe taking sponsors off for a day’s sailing etc. At each port a couple of the boats will be “open” for visitors, and at each port there will be sponsors of a particular yacht or of the port. I’ll tell you more about sponsors some other time, when we know who most of them are.

The most important part of each stopover will be maintenance. After the deep clean, where everything that moves is moved and cleaned, there will probably still be the need to repair things. As far as possible crew will do running repairs at sea in order to not lose any advantages they have, but some will not be possible and need to wait until parts are brought in. Before they set off again, there will be preparation for the new race: provisioning the boats, getting the new crew members settled, crew and team briefings, and tactics the Skipper wants to follow for the next race. This all happens on the last day before they set sail, which will be a set date. After that I can go off for my next adventure.

All of this means that the crew may not see much of their supporters, depending upon when they arrive in port and what needs doing to the boat. Some crew can decide to stay on the boat whilst in port but I am expecting John and George to sleep in comfortable beds for the duration, even if they are busy all day, so I can at least spend a couple of hours over dinner with them.

Next time: maybe some details on the training MBB have had and will be undertaking before they set off. I don’t think I’ve given you this information yet. There are also Clipper updates I’ve not shared, you can either go to the Clipper website or the blog prettymuchallatsea where Keith gives more technical stuff in greater detail than I intend to.

21. We Don’t Need No Education

Before I start on this, I have been reprimanded about my last post. I have to apologise to George, who read my comment “they didn’t sail for the whole week” as meaning they did not sail at all. What I meant to say was they they did not sail every day of the week, but he assures me they did sail on the days that they were meant to. Who’d have children! Dogs are much easier, they don’t pull holes in my English (although they do a wonderful reproachful look as if they’ve not been fed for weeks). As an apology, here he is on Week 3 with some more of the crew.

The title of this post has changed three times as I change what I am going to write about. I started looking for suitable photos, which slowed it down, then I got diverted. Not by Pink Floyd nor education but petitions! I’ve become addicted to watching the numbers go up on the petition that is in the public eye: Revoke Art. 50 and remain in the EU. When I started this morning the numbers were 5,676,423. See below for the update. I’ve looked to see if we the public have lots of options to choose from, like the MPs. I found five others, all along the lines of hear us shout.

I think we are all a little tired of the shenanigans in Parliament at the moment. I liken it to offering the family breakfast. They have all agreed they don’t want no breakfast but they can’t agree what they do want: waffles, croissants, Full English, muesli, porridge, it goes on and on. Meanwhile I’ve prepared the barbie for the Independence Day party we’re having later this afternoon.

Too much choice?

Are all politicians the same now? I don’t know where I’d choose to live if I had to move, most countries “all around the world” (TM Nicholas Parsons, Just A Minute on Radio 4) seem to have problems of one sort or another. I’m beginning to think they have been taken over by those monsters who were running the country in Doctor Who some time ago. From memory they were lizards, but when I checked back they are actually more like maggots. ENOUGH!

This was meant to be a light-hearted escapist blog, free from Brexit and all the woes of the world. I’m off to make a coffee with whipped cream and marshmallows with a sticky cake on the side and calm down. I refuse to sully my intended post with such a rant. At least the pictures should cheer you up. Here’s one from this morning, my orchid is getting on with looking good and not trying to decide what sort of plant it wants to be.

First flower of 2019

Next topic, honest: What those of us not sailing will be doing when the yachts arrive in port and what the sailors will be doing once they arrive before they set sail again. Imagine us waiting, “silent, upon a peak in Darien” looking out across the wild ocean for first sight of the fleet. Before I go, numbers are now 5,685,480. Over 9,000 added in the last half hour.

20. That Was The Week That Was

Otherwise known as TW3 to those of us of a certain age. Or as Training Week 3 in our house from now on. (If you were trying to find Post 13 it may have been missing for a short while as I was correcting a typo spotted by one of my followers. No prizes but thanks).

I had intended to post this on Friday 15th as I wanted to tell you to listen to a programme with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on Radio 4, talking about his first round the world trip on Suhaili 50 years ago. It was well worth listening to even though the Clipper race was not mentioned so go onto BBC Sounds or whatever it’s called and catch up. It also makes today’s title very apt as there was a lot of other stuff from the 1960’s as background to his reminiscing. Impressive when you think how much has changed, what was once an endurance race is now a pleasure (well, I’m told so). My header may make you think otherwise. This was the Unicef boat coming into Liverpool last year.

The reason I did not get this out is that we have temporarily become a one-computer family and John had more serious deadlines to meet. However, it is serendipitous that the post will go out today as it is Sir Robin’s 80th birthday. Happy Birthday Sir Robin (even though he hasn’t a clue who I am). Here he is with the Visit Seattle crew last summer in Liverpool.

He made a few interesting observations that John noted down for reference: in order to get a good wash, soap yourself up, dive in at the front of the boat, let it sail past then climb back on. Repeat as necessary. Of course Suhaili is smaller than the 70 footers they sail in now so once may be enough! Regarding the cooking, open a load of tins and add them together to make pot mess. When you get fed up with it, add rice to make a risotto and when this palls then add curry powder to make a curry. At the end of the week wash the pan out then repeat with different tins.

Onto week 3 I hear you cry. This was meant to be all about using the spinnakers but I’m not sure much practical work went on. I haven’t had the chance to talk with George about his week but he did send a few photos. I’ll get more details for another post but here he is on his week. He had signed up for a week in February hoping he’d get rough weather. Well it was to a degree, they didn’t sail for the whole week. Apparently when they did their MOB (man overboard) drill, he was at the tiller, oops sorry, wheel, in charge of bringing it round to the MOB. In practice it is a mannequin so don’t panic about their safety.

Enjoying the sun

This is their first time in the 70 footers, in weeks 1 and 2 they sailed the 68 footers that were raced previously. They are quite different, not just twenty-four inches added on. They have two wheels for steering and the 16 bunks are all along the sides instead of having some at the front, which is now the sail locker, so more chance of staying dry I’m told. Here’s one of the sails being taken down (I think, corrections welcome) on John’s boat. That may be him front left.

Doing something with a sail

John had a more exciting week than George. We had Storm Gareth (or was it Freya?) and they only got out two days of the week. You may ask why they don’t go out considering what they will meet when they do set off around the world. It’s nothing to do with them being unable to cope, it’s getting the boats out and back into harbour at Gosport. We don’t want to lose any yachts before the start.

RNLI to the rescue!

As you can see from the photo above, they did have an issue. Not a man overboard but one poor soul managed to catch his thumb in a winch and badly mangled it. So at least they had a real-life practice of ship-to-ship transfer. John had his own small crisis too. Remember the watches I gave them both for Christmas? (See post 10 if not). This is the first time John’s has been out. He tells me it’s good for telling the time (always useful) and has a nifty little light for use at night so you don’t blind everyone else (use a red lamp if you can on a boat or else face the wrath of whoever is up top). However, sometime during the night he managed to press some button that set an alarm off every five minutes. How not to endear yourself to fellow travellers! He buried it at the bottom of his sleeping bag which seemed to work thankfully.

A last photo of his Clipper yacht in action. In a future post I’ll give more details of the training they have in each of the weeks.

19. And Now For Something Completely Different

Two things before I forget. One is that, if you read this only as an email, you may be missing my header photos, all carefully chosen to reflect the subject of the day! The other is that John has a just giving page to raise money for Unicef whilst he’s sailing, here’s the link. Feel free to support him!


Assuming you can see the header, you’ll be asking what on earth this has to do with Clipper. All will become clear by the end of this post (I hope).

Last week John was on his Week 3 training (more on this and George’s week 3 as well planned for the next post). Whilst John was away I thought I needed to start travelling with a Companion. As Crufts was on and one of the puppies Adie had last year was taking part, what better way to spend some time? In order to qualify for Crufts you need to win certain classes at a Championship show. Many years ago I managed to qualify both of the Welshies I had at the time, but only by travelling from Guildford to Darlington for a show. Almost a day driving there and back and maybe ten minutes to be seen by the judge. Here our boy is in action at Crufts last Thursday:


He was third in his Puppy Dog Class which we thought pretty good. His dad Lloyd was also third in his Limit Dog class, half-brother (from another litter sired by dad) first in Junior Dog and half-sister first in Junior Bitch, and his uncle (Adie’s litter brother) fourth in the Open Dog class, so overall our little family did well. The puppy and junior are based on the age of the dogs (minor puppy six to nine months, puppy six to 12 months, junior six to 18 months) then after that it’s based on how many classes they’ve won. Open is the “top” class when you can’t progress any further so you can be up against dogs that have done a lot of winning and are Show Champions. The header shows most of the Welshies at Crufts campaigning against puppy farming. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the charity but the pink rosettes everyone was wearing relate to it. Someone may be able to tell me.

Once we’d seen the dog classes we had a wander around Crufts for what felt like hours. First we saw “Discover Dogs” where there seemed to be one of every breed ever invented and then some. We saw a little of the obedience but no flyball or agility this time. Then looked in amazement at the different stalls. It seems you can buy anything imaginable for your pet plus lots for yourself. We did not succumb. Too much choice I think. Then, um, we got lost looking for the way out!

We travelled up the day before and stayed at an airport hotel, Crufts being at the NEC Birmingham. Here was my first lesson: PLAN. Somehow I managed to get us lost on the way to the motorway (which I have driven to loads of times before) then at the airport we just went into the first car park I saw, which luckily was next to the hotel we were staying in. I hadn’t done my research on how to get to the NEC, luckily again it was minutes away via the airport monorail. Finally, to really complete my mortification, I found out that I kept my pal awake all night by snoring! I don’t have a picture of her (and even if I did, would I let her have the fame?) but here’s one of Grace who she owns. You met her as a younger puppy in post 5.

Good Grace

So, before I go anywhere again. Plan the route and what to do once I arrive. Do not force my Companion to share a room with me if we want to stay friends.

Next time: Back to landlubbers and boats, promise.

18. Rules of Engagement

A little more on the actual race itself. The first pic below gives some detail which I shall attempt to flesh out. Before I do, I was asked if the last (proper) post should have been “kinky boats”, a pun I missed, so here at the top is a kinky boat from Liverpool!

The Race is divided into different legs, each having a race or two within it. Each race has three placings but every boat gets points in each race, so the overall winner has the most points over the whole Round The World. Clear? I’m sure there’s an easier way to describe it.

Once the race is underway it’ll be easy to see how the individual yachts are getting on by signing up to the Race Viewer on the Clipper website (link to follow once it’s active).

In addition to the details above, there are Scoring Gates, an imaginary “gate” in the sea through which the first three yachts get bonus points. There are also Ocean Sprints between two lines of latitude or longitude which again give points to the fastest. Some Skippers may ignore these if they think they can win an overall individual race by taking a different route, although there are also limits to how far South they can go (for safety).

Which is the quickest route?

AND THEN there is stealth mode, when you can “hide” from the other yachts (and us the supporters) for 24 hours if you think you might have an advantage in taking a particular route. The office will still be tracking the boat in case of difficulties so no need to panic if they disappear off the screen. Oh, and each team also has a Joker which they play once in the whole Race, scoring double points. This cannot be used on the Scoring Gates or Ocean Sprints: realistically you’d want to use it when you hope to double your first place of eleven points.

This all sounds very complicated but once they’re underway it’s pretty easy to follow, honestly. You may wonder why they don’t all follow the same “path”. Weather, my dear! Although all the boats are identical, the Skipper may think that there’s a better breeze (wind? tempest? whatever the weather throws up) coming along and try to take advantage of this by trimming the sails differently or taking a different more Northerly or Southerly route. Once you start watching them on the Race Viewer you’ll see that sometimes one goes way off course. He’s not lost, just trying to pick up a different sea current.

You’re now asking me what you win. Well, each race has a pennant for first, second and third:

Race winner Derry / Londonderry to Liverpool

As well as the first, second and third for each race, the sponsors may give a pennant. Here is last year’s Liverpool Team getting one for being good eggs (can’t remember exactly what they did, most sponsorship or something? Saving other people when their boat was sinking?) Just looked on the Clipper website, it doesn’t say exactly why they received it only that they would have been nominated by lots of people.

I’m not sure how much of this stuff is for the individuals but on the final race Team Seattle all had individual pennants for their second place win. Here’s a delighted recipient. I need to clear a space on the office walls for all the ones John is planning to bring home.

Finally, the winning yacht gets a big trophy. Here’s Wendy Tuck and Sanya Serenity Coast winning last year, with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on the right.

Clipper Round The World victors

All of this takes a massive amount of organising and they have a lot of coverage once they are out there. Last year there were about 30,000 stories in the various media that we have these days. Each boat has someone responsible for media; they’re given a waterproof camera, filming diaries and a daily blog on the team pages. At the end of the Race all the crew get the diaries, photos etc. You’ll be glad you’ve got me summarising it all for you once they set off this summer!

17a. It’s A Small Small World (3)

John has moved on in his fitness training from “rehab” (which sounds like giving up an addiction) to S&C. I think I initially called this Sculpting and Carving (which sounds like an artwork class). Or maybe Styling and Curling (at the hairdresser’s?). I can’t remember what it does stand for but I’m sure it is meaningful, like so many things these days…

However, when John attended his first session he explained why he was there and what he needed to achieve. His new trainer was very interested, it turns out he trained Brendan Hall (see blog post 14) who then went on to win the Clipper race in 2010 when he was only 28. No pressure on either of MBB then! It is worth reading the book just to see how he applied himself in order to win, especially when he became responsible for three yachts in the race.