Clipper Race Recruitment Director, meet your new Clipper Race Crew Recruitment Director! 

10 July 2024

After over 15 amazing years as part of the Clipper Race family, Della Parsons, Recruitment Director, is standing down from her role to “catch her dreams”, as she plans to head off on her third circumnavigation of the world on board her new home – her very own boat - with her husband.

Della is an integral part of the Clipper Race, with her role inspiring people every day with tales of how she herself has sailed around the world and encouraging them to take on their own adventure. Della circumnavigated on the Clipper 2009-10 Race and then worked as an on-board reporter in the 2011-12 edition, before joining the recruitment team in 2014.

Image: Della Parsons

Circumnavigating created memories for Della that she insists will last a lifetime. She describes the experience as ‘challenging, fun, wet, hot, cold, fun, tough, frustrating, thrilling, a huge learning experience, exciting and massively rewarding’. She said: “Without doubt, sailing around the world is a completely immersive experience.” And now, with even more experience under her belt thanks to her career with the Clipper Race, she’s off to do it again!

She will soon be handing over the reins to Chris Harris, a familiar face to many, who has been in the role of Recruitment Manager for over two years. Chris started his adventure with the Clipper Race when he took a sabbatical from working in politics in London in order to take on Leg 5 of the 2015-16 edition.

Image: Chris and Della on stage at Race Start in Portsmouth, UK.

In both of their roles, Della and Chris spend much of their day speaking to the future Race Crew of the Clipper Race, inspiring and encouraging those to take on the challenge.

Both Della and Chris are used to interviewing the thousands of applicants that come through the inbox, but now they interview each other on what they love about the unique role of Recruitment.

And the best news is, as the Clipper Race grows, Chris is looking for people to join his team. Think you’ve got what it takes to get stuck into this totally inspiring role? Read on to find out more!

Chris: So, Della, how did you first hear about the Clipper Race?

Della: I was working at the BBC in Hull, I was the Production Editor there. It had been announced that the Clipper Race fleet was going to be racing into Hull ahead of the start of the 2007-08 race, and it was big on the news agenda.

This was a big deal for Hull. It was clear that the reason for the yachts being there was to announce that Hull was going to be the start and finish port of the 2009-10 race. And so, I was kind of involved in breaking the news there.

We did lots of news stories over the course of the 2007-08 race so it was on my radio a lot.

I started looking at the race and thinking, actually, this is for people like me that don't sail, maybe I could do a leg.

I met Dave Cusworth (the previous Crew Recruitment Director) the following evening for a quick drink and a chat. At the end I said to him, ‘I suppose I need to apply?’ And he said ‘oh, no, you've just had your interview! And that was it!

I was only going to do one leg of the race - financially and psychologically, that was all I could do!

I did my first week of training in October 2008 and completely fell in love with sailing. It gripped me. I could see it was going to be the best thing I'd ever done. The whole thought that it was a round-the-world race, and someone like me could circumnavigate, churned around in my mind for a few months and I knew that I needed to do it; the idea grew and grew.

Chris: We often say that timing is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to taking part in the Clipper Race. From that time, what really stands out in terms of your preparation for your circumnavigation?

Della: I was reasonably fit, but I did make an effort to get fitter and stronger. I was aware that it was a big physical challenge. I think my preparation was more around getting my house into a state where I could rent it out so the mortgage would be paid whilst I was away for a year and not earning.

I realised that even though financially it was a struggle, I was still hugely privileged to be able to do it, and I wanted to expand that experience to a wider group of people. I wanted to raise money for charities, but I also wanted to set up education projects so that kids from the local schools could come on that journey with me. So, my preparation was focused around getting all of those things set up.

My entire training was Clipper Race training. I did feel prepared, and then you learn as you go. You’re growing skills and knowledge every mile that you sail, every day, every week that you sail. You're learning more about sails, trimming, the weather and how to tack, you know a problem, how to fix a sail, it’s the time on board and that experience that really then builds on your core skills that you've learned.

Chris: You're really part of a very exclusive club, you've not only circumnavigated once but you decided to go round again. And what made you make that decision?

Della: Having had my great adventure, I realised that I did need to leave my job. It was time to move on.

The Clipper Race experience spurred me on to being more adventurous and a bit braver. I think that's what it does for a lot of people. When you take on a big challenge you really learn that you can deal with a lot more than you perhaps initially thought you could.

I put my house on the market. I had a vague plan to move to Italy, learn Italian and write a book. I didn't really have anything fixed, but that was my rough idea. And then I had a phone call from the production company that had made the Clipper Race documentary, they said they were putting in a bid to make the documentary on the 2011-12 race and did I want to work with them on it and be an on board reporter. It took me about a nanosecond to think about it. I was missing the boat, I was missing the adventure and, and the thought of doing it again, albeit from a different perspective, was so exciting.

As an on board reporter you’re filming and trying to document that race, moving to different boats throughout the edition. It was a different experience, but still on the boats that I loved, still taking part in an experience that I loved. I made a lot more friends on that race because I got to be on the boat with not one but all of the teams.

Chris: It sounds like you didn't really want to miss out on any Clipper Race edition. So tell me the story behind you then joining Clipper Race as a full time staff member?

Della: After the 2011-12 edition I decided I wanted to sail. I did all my professional sailing qualifications, got my commercial endorsements and started working in the sailing industry. And then the following year my mum suddenly got poorly. So, I looked after her and, after she passed away, I was looking for what was next.

Image: Della on stage in her role as Recruitment Director

Then the advert for the Recruitment Manager role came up. It seemed that having lost a key part of my family, the desire to go off sailing all over the place went, and I needed a route. The natural route for me was to come back to my surrogate family at the Clipper Race; it just made sense for me. I applied for the job and got it. And the rest, as they say, is history. So, I have been involved in every race since the finish of the 2007-08 edition.

Chris: My goodness. So, you've been with the Clipper Race for over 15 years now. And in that time you've spoken with thousands of people, you've travelled the world, both taking part in the race and with the job, and been to many, many stopovers. What for you had been the career highlights of that?

Della: That's such a difficult one. In terms of working, one of the, the biggest thrills I still remember was the start of the 2015-16 edition, because I'd been involved in interviewing a lot of people who wanted to take part in that race. And I remember it being the week leading up to the Race Start, and it gets me every time, it was my first experience, and it was the sense of pride I had in the next edition of crew because I'd met and interviewed so many of them.

I was aware of the excitement, but also the fears, worries and concerns that you have when you're applying. Then starting the process, the logistics of can I make it happen or will I be good enough? Whether you've got sailing experience or not, there's a lot of people that go through a roller coaster of emotions in those initial training weeks. Then seeing everybody in preparation week before the start, in their teams, in their kit, on board working together as a team and looking really ready to go, that sense of pride that these people had done it. That we had helped grow this bunch of individuals that want a great experience.

And I still get the same buzz at every Race Start, even years later. That build up, that for some people has been two or three years, and now the moment is finally here. They've made it to the start line. I often say to people when they ask what's the hardest part of the challenge, that it’s getting to the start line. Because the logistics for a lot of people is the hardest part. Organising your life, your time away from work and family, finding the money, getting everything in place to actually get to the point where you're joining your boat and you're starting your adventure, whether it's one leg, two legs or the whole circumnavigation. It's an amazing achievement just to get to the start line. It's a real privilege to see people go on that journey.

Chris: And now you've obviously made a difficult decision to leave the Clipper Race, but what are your plans for the next stage in your life, Della?

Della: Well, I’m taking a bit of my own advice really. I keep telling people to stop thinking about having an adventure and take that first step, start your adventure. My husband has always wanted to sail around the world. I think that's probably why he started dating me! But we're not getting any younger, so we decided to take the bull by the horns. We’re in a perfect window of opportunity where we don't really have commitments and we're still young enough to go off and do it. We’ve had a deposit on a performance catamaran, an Outremer 55 for nearly two and half years and we should get it next year. Then we're planning to take part in a three-year round-the-world rally from October/November 2025. Heading off on my third circumnavigation, albeit a bit slower and stopping in a lot more places this time.

As Robin always says, he wants everyone to walk off the Clipper Race saying that's the best thing I've done, and then add so far.

You take part in one big adventure and it springboards you into the next. If I never took part in the Clipper Race, I would not be looking at our own round-the-world trip now. I wouldn't have felt prepared. I wouldn't have felt confident.

Della: Ok, let's turn the tables now because you took part in the 2015-16 race, and you can't do this job without taking part really, can you? When you're talking to people who want to do it, they want to know what it's actually like, you have to be able to talk from your real life experience. But what made you decide to apply?

Chris: From interviewing others, I came from the fairly common route of having seen the Clipper Race posters upon various train stations walls and the London Underground in my case. You always stood in the same place on the platform when you were commuting to work, and I kept seeing this Clipper Race poster, and I saw that it mentioned “no experience required”, but I never quite believed it. After having a particularly bad week at work one time, I remember thinking, I'm going to look into this and find out more.

What really helped me was that there was a talk taking place nearby. I wanted to go along and speak to people who have taken part in the race and find out about their experiences. And I decided to take the plunge and have an interview.

At that point I knew I wanted to do it, but I wasn't sure if it was the right stage of my life. It did take quite a few weeks, maybe a couple more months, before I decided to sign up for the race. And for me, I realised that timing was so crucial. If I didn't take part in it at that stage, I probably would never do it.

I applied quite late for the 2015-16 edition, and I ended up doing my four weeks of training in the space of six weeks. But my god, I'm so glad that I applied because it gave me that opportunity to take part in a leg of the Clipper Race. I couldn't afford financially or time wise to do the full circumnavigation, but hopefully that’s on the cards for later on in life.

Image: Chris (second from left) and his teammates in Da Nang

I took part in the leg from Australia to Vietnam and then up to China, which during the 2015-16 race was Leg 5. I had a bit of everything from searing temperatures leaving Australia, to freezing cold temperatures arriving in Qingdao. We had upwind conditions, downwind conditions, hurricane force winds at one point on the Taiwan Strait, which is definitely a memory I won't forget. But what really stood out for me was that first week of training. The camaraderie that you experience being part of the Clipper Race. And there are other people there who might not have sailed before, but there are also people who do have a great deal of sailing experience. I really saw from that first week how people really help each other out. Of course, you've got the professional skippers on board who are fantastic with advice, but it's also through having those conversations with other crew members who've gone through that rigorous selection process to take part in the edition. They have become lifelong friends.

Through going through that Clipper Race experience, no matter what edition, or no matter which leg you took part in, you're still part of an exclusive club. After taking part in the Clipper Race leg, I did go back to the same industry, but I kept following how the 2015-16 edition was panning out and had a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). When I got a call from the head of communications at the time to ask if I wanted to join the Clipper Race team, I jumped at the opportunity. I joined the communications team for the 2017-18 edition which gave me a greater insight into stopover life, and I absolutely loved it. I mean, what other job will give you the opportunity to be flying up in a helicopter, filming the Race Start in Cape Town, that was really a standout memory for me. And life happens, I moved back to London after the 2017-18 edition, got married, had a baby but then I got the bug of wanting to live by the sea again. So, I was really grateful for the opportunity to come back and I joined the Recruitment Team back in 2022 and here I am.

Image: Chris Harris takes to the skies whilst working as part of the communications team during the 2017-18 edition.

Della: So, why the change from Comms Team to Recruitment Team?

Chris: It's all about the people. I think what I really enjoyed about the communications role was getting to interview crew members, as well as the skippers, and finding out about their stories. There were some really emotional moments when I was interviewing people as a member of the comms team, and I remember thinking I wanted to be part of the starting point of that journey and seeing the whole process throughout.

There is a real thrill in knowing that you've been part of that person's journey. It requires the crew member to do the work, they need to be the driving force behind making that the eventual decision, but to be a small part of that experience, whether talking through logistics, how they can make their dream happen, and perhaps being that arm around the shoulder if they feel like they're struggling with any aspects brings me great joy.

By having that experience of having done the Clipper Race yourself, you can be open about your vulnerabilities. You might not voice it, but you can show that you know how it must feel, or share ‘I remember feeling like that myself’. Seasickness is often something that comes up. I was a bit seasick and dreading my Level 2 training, questioning can I do this? But just having that reassurance that it will pass and having the benefit of speaking to people who've been there before, finding out pieces of advice and tips, et cetera on how to deal with it really helped. There’s no such thing as a silly question in my mind, but it can be quite difficult to articulate what you're going through unless you've got the confidence of speaking with somebody who's been there and done it before.

Della: With me going (sniff, sniff) you're stepping now my role, so you are looking for people to join the team. What are you looking for in that person who’s going to be the next you?

Chris: Yes, we're looking for people to join the recruitment team. You will get to work with myself and Jilly St John, who I know many of the crew have met in the initial stages of their journey. Jilly took part in Leg 7 of the 2015-16 edition, and she's been a crucial part of the team and being thatinitial face that people have got to meet as part of the application stage.

We are looking for two people to join the team and what is important is that we are looking to recruit from our pool of alumni Race Crew. People who've been on the Clipper Race and know the ins and outs of what life on board that boat will be like to be able to talk to future crew.

Then, one of the most fundamental things to be part of the team, is a real interest in people. You also need to have empathy accompanied with high energy. There are going to be thousands of interviews with people over the race cycle, and there will need to be an element of stamina. And it’s not just the interviews, but speaking to future crew as they go through the training process. As well as being present at Race Start, Race Finishes, being at stopovers on top of delivering recruitment talks, webinars and presentations around the world. So, a real enthusiasm and passion for what the Clipper Race is all about is what I’m looking for. Often you will be the first person at the Clipper Race people speak to.

Della: I agree a big part of the role is to encourage people into having the great adventure that we've had as well, isn't it? Sharing that experience and helping people make the right choice to give that a go themselves. People come to us and they tend to already be thinking about it, don't they? So, it’s helping encourage them, providing the right information, and supporting them through the process.

Chris: Yeah. I think there is so much information to take in when you're making that decision about becoming a crew member. And we've got a wealth of resources available that we've built up over the years. Part of this role is being a signpost to the right information at the right time, easing people on that journey so that they don’t feel overwhelmed.

It’s crucial to be a good communicator in various formats, what might work for one person might not work for others. So, it's about being nimble enough to know what an applicant might need to help them achieve their dream of taking part in the race.

Della: And of course, a big part of the challenge is although we're a UK based company based in Gosport, more than 60%, of the crew are currently non-UK based and this is likely to grow. So, we have a massive amount of people taking part who are spread out across the world. What does this mean for the recruitment process?

Chris: With the pandemic we started using webinars as a tool to reach people and it became a real lifeline. Due to their success, we've continued the process of using webinars, because not everyone has the opportunity, like I did, to attend a talk around the corner in person. I always prefer speaking to people face to face where possible. There is a real thrill about being at stopovers and having the chance to engage with people, you see their body language, see in their eyes, you know just how excited they are about the opportunity of taking part in the race. But it's about using all the tools we have available to make the application process as accessible as possible.

The Clipper Race isn’t going to be for everybody, and we recognise that too. But through that interview process we can pick out fairly early on where we can see that someone has a passion and desire for taking part, and the willingness and mental attitude to do it as well. We know that not everybody will have the same experience, and that’s fine. But if we can see that someone has the mental attitude for hard work and wants to roll up their sleeves and just get on with it, then that's what we're looking for, that desire of wanting to take part and being physically fit and able to do so. Della: There will always be challenges ahead of each edition, but there is such an amazing team at the Clipper Race. A great camaraderie, the recruitment team also works closely together with other departments, from crew team and training to communications and marketing. In the recruitment team you will be just at the very start of thousands of people’s journeys and be there for their adventure, knowing that their lives will be changed, hopefully for the better and that they will continue to grow their experience. It's an exciting thing.

I'm quite envious in a way, although I've got my own adventure ahead, it would be nice and exciting to be back at the start of it all again.

Think a role in the Clipper Race Recruitment Team could be for you?

Email Chris Harris, [email protected] for more information.

Join The Race