Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on what lies ahead on the Mighty Pacific Leg
19 March 2022
The atmosphere on the pontoons at the Subic Bay Yacht Club as the crews, and their eleven Clipper yachts, prepare to set sail more than 6,000 nautical miles across the mighty North Pacific Ocean, has been electric.
After a two-year Covid-19 enforced delay, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is on its way again. Most of the crew members who had to flee the Covid restrictions in 2020 are back to complete their adventure. Some, through changes in circumstances, could not re-join, but we’ve welcomed new crew members who have completed their mandatory four weeks of intensive training.
Much of the re-commissioning work has been carried out by the Clipper Race maintenance team, but watching the crews as they settle in, new and original sailors working enthusiastically together on their final preparations, has created a wonderful buzz.
Sails to be checked; ropes to be spliced or replaced; re-familiarisation with the ropes and their purposes; the location of safety equipment from jackstays to which to clip safety harnesses, AIS beacons in lifejackets, to liferafts. Food for five weeks has had to be ordered, prepared and stowed away safely. Paper labels have to be removed as they can block bilge pumps, so all tins are carefully marked. Menus must be carefully planned to provide variety and energy. It may seem mundane, but meals on a long voyage take on a huge importance as any experienced ocean sailor will tell you.
Personal gear has to be chosen with care. It’s hot in the Philippines but these boats are heading into the North Pacific Ocean where arctic winds are not uncommon. They will not just need their waterproof outer clothing, they will need layers beneath to keep out the cold. There are no shops in the mid ocean, if you have forgotten your toothpaste you will have to make do with sea water! All these tasks will be familiar to professional sailors, but these crew are Corinthians from all walks of life, people taking a break from their normal lives to achieve and be proud of something special.
The Pacific Ocean is often thought to be an area of relative calm. It isn’t. The North Pacific, not often frequented by yachts, experiences a series of depressions which build up waves equal to anything the Roaring Forties of the Southern Hemisphere can produce. For days, even weeks on end, the crews are isolated in their own capsule. The nearest humans, apart from a fellow competing yacht, will be in the International Space Station as their route takes them 1,500 nautical miles north of Hawaii and 450 nautical miles south of the Aleutian Islands.
This is the challenge. It is a real test of self reliance and sufficiency that continues for up to 35 remorseless days that leaves its mark on crews. When they eventually dock in Seattle, they will have done something few amateur sailors can ever experience, let alone understand, and it shows in their confident demeanour. They know they have achieved something special and the memory and confidence will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
- Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Clipper Race Founder and Chairman of Clipper VenturesJoin The Race