Is this the toughest job on the ocean?

27 October 2014

Recruitment is well underway for what could be the toughest job on the ocean: A Clipper Race skipper. We are currently searching for twelve highly skilled sailors for this challenging role and recently took the press out on the water for an insight into the tough three-day trial that all prospective skippers must undertake.

To save the blushes of real candidates, 2013-14 edition skippers Eric Holden, Olly Cotterell and Vicky Ellis took out a Clipper 70 and crew to demonstrate what it takes to be a Clipper Race skipper.

Former skipper and Race Director, Justin Taylor, explains that the recruitment process is intentionally gruelling: “We have a duty to make sure we search out the best skippers who can lead effectively through the raw elements. You need to understand that it’s an incredibly tough job. Candidates have to really want it and be totally dedicated.”

Leading a team through the world’s most hostile environments including storms, cyclones, icebergs, injuries, extreme heat and cold, and even the threat of piracy, is all in a day’s work for the outstanding men and women who lead their teams in the world’s longest ocean race.

The professional yachtsmen that ultimately make it through the selection process must be able to withstand huge physical and mental challenges to successfully guide their amateur teams through Mother Nature’s toughest environments, while managing emotions, motivating crew, conflict resolution and a wide range of competitiveness and skills.

A series of tests and scenarios are used to assess potential skippers during these three-day trials, including rescuing a man overboard, dealing with casualties and damaged equipment and difficult crew.

Deputy Race Director Mark Light was skipper of Derry-Londonderry in the 2011-12 edition and knows only too well how challenging this unique job is: “We put candidates under huge amounts of pressure and throw a gremlin in the works to see what they are made of.

“Lots of people are capable of sailing a boat, but not many are capable of sailing a boat in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.”

Former Clipper 2013-14 crew participating in the trial included Alyson Sturt-Scobie, a round the world crew member on Switzerland. She observed: “Skippers must be a role model for the crew and carry massive amounts of responsibility.

“They need patience and understanding of every type of personality.

They must recognise what people are good at and help them feel more confident…People might be scared, ill or very competitive and you have to be able to deal with that.”

Owen Jones, a round the world crew member on GREAT Britain, added that the skipper’s handling of challenging situations is critical:

“I looked to him for a calmness and to ensure the crew was rallied around and were doing the right things and morale was up.

“Skippers need to get to know their crew and make sure their people management skills are good so they can balance the various experience levels and know what individuals want to get out of the race.”

Skipper candidates need to hold a Yachtmaster Ocean certificate [commercial endorsed] and have at least 30,000 miles offshore experience on big boats, but the skills needed go well beyond the professional requisites of the average skipper job description.

As well as outstanding sailing skills, successful skippers will need excellent people management and leadership skills. They will also have to be prepared to fulfil a busy schedule of sponsor and media requirements during stopovers.

Clipper Race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston warns that skippers must be prepared for the ultimate ocean racing challenge: “Your aptitude and attitude to excel in this type of sailing environment and this style of team is key. We are looking for the best, and at the end of the race, our skippers have proven that they are the best.”

Those who make it through the tough selection process will be rewarded with a job like no other, says former skipper Vicky Ellis: “It’s a real test of seamanship, and incredibly challenging. It is probably the best job in the world. You will work very hard but the rewards are immeasurable. It’s an achievement of a lifetime.”

The Clipper 2015-16 Race skipper recruitment programme is open for applications right now. To apply or find out more, click here

To view a short video from our skipper trial media day please click here

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