Developing and overseeing a year-long 40,000 nautical mile race across six continents is a task few would take on. More still would put down their hands when you throw in the responsibility of 700 odd crew members, many who have never sailed before.
But for our newly appointed Race Director Mark Light, this is a challenge he welcomes.
“It feels amazing to be the new Race Director,” says Mark. “I’m very privileged to take it on. Very proud, very privileged and looking forward to it.”
Mark’s ascension to the role comes at momentous time for the Clipper Race. The global challenge founded by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and William Ward has just celebrated its 20th Anniversary. As the fifth Race Director in the event’s history, Mark is keen to continue the success of the previous years.
“The Clipper Race has improved year on year. We’re going into our eleventh race now so we’ve got a great business model. It works, it offers people the chance to go and do something way beyond their dreams in most cases.”
Mark’s path to taking charge of the world’s most unique ocean challenge began in his teens. While he is now an experienced sailor with many ocean crossings and over one hundred thousand nautical miles to his name, his sailing career didn’t have the most illustrious of starts.
“I actually first sailed dinghies on a lake near Gloucestershire. I remember my first race because I gybed about 30 seconds before the start, capsized and stuck my mast in the mud and stayed there for about three minutes.”
Luckily, his Clipper Race journey began on a much more successful note. Mark skippered the inaugural Derry-Londonderry team in the 2011-12 edition, the race start of which is still one of his favourite memories.
“To see the H.M.S Illustrious aircraft carrier and the whole flotilla of boats coming out of Southampton water, yeah that was amazing. It still kind of makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
A year after that epic day, Mark cemented his place in the Clipper family by accepting the role of Deputy Race Director. And over the next four years, he helped plan and execute two more races.
All this experience has given Mark a unique insight to why amateur sailors, from all walks of life, want to take on what is known as one of the toughest endurance events on the planet.
“Thankfully there are a lot of like-minded people out there and they have an opportunity with us to take on something that they would never have dreamed of. No other organisation provides the chance for non-professional sailors to take on the world’s oceans on this scale, and I think just having the chance to do that makes us not only unique but the best at what we do and passionate about what we do as well.”
Mark’s first race in charge will be the 2017-18 edition, which gets underway next summer. And his previous experience does come in handy for one of his most important tasks - selecting the twelve skippers who will lead the teams around the planet..
“The crew will look to you as skipper to lead, whatever it is, whether it be on the boat or off the boat. And you’ve got to lead by example, you’ve got to do whatever you say. There’s no good saying things and not following it through, not doing it and losing respect. Ultimately, I think the crew will respect you as a skipper if you respect them as a crew.”
While the successful skippers for the Clipper 2017-18 Race will no doubt take those words to heart, they may choose not to imitate Mark when it comes to keeping their crew entertained during their arduous eleven-month journey.
“I’ve got some terrible jokes. I like them and it’s great on the Clipper Race because you can keep using the same material on the new crew that join the boat with each leg.”
“The joke I like that everyone hates is ‘What’s ET short for?’ ‘Because he’s got little legs!’. I think that’s brilliant, very simple.”
Whilst we can only continue to apologise to Mark’s round the world crew who had
to endure eight renditions of his same jokes during their circumnavigation, we
know that, fresh humour pending, Mark Light will put his own personality, vast
experiences and steady leadership style into his role to help make the Clipper
2017-18 Race a fantastic success.
Do you aspire to be one of our twelve Clipper Race Skippers? If you have what it takes to lead our intrepid crew around the world on board our fleet of 70-foot ocean racers, we are still accepting Skipper applications.
To find out more and apply, click here.
There is also still time to sign up and take on the world’s oceans as a crew member. We’re hiring for the 2017-18 and 2019-20 race editions. Click here to find out more and apply.