Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Alfie Butler

03 August 2023

Climbing aboard Zhuhai to take on Leg 1 of the race this September, Race Crew Alfie Butler said he can’t wait to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Alfie, 22, follows in Callum Leach’s footsteps (a Clipper 19-20 Race crew member) as the second person to take part in the Clipper Race after receiving a teamArchie bursary. The teamArchie charity, set up in memory of Archie Lloyd who tragically died in 2015, aged 18, whilst travelling with friends, supports young people by providing funding for projects and special opportunities that allow them to venture outside the boundaries of their local communities and circumstances.

Image: Alfie with James Lloyd (teamArchie) and John Olsen (2017-18 edition)

This bursary was spearheaded by the fundraising efforts of John Olsen who completed two legs of the Clipper 2017-18 Race. It was important the bursary went to someone who would use it as a significant steppingstone towards a career in sailing or other outdoor pursuits, as well as share their experiences to inspire others and mentor other bursary recipients in the future.

Growing up in Deptford, London, Alfie found that the path through his teenage years was troubled with knife crime, drugs and alcohol, issues that directly affected the friends and family around him. In his application for the teamArchie bursary, Alfie said “as much as it sounds rough, these are situations my peers find themselves in too, so it becomes the norm and life keeps going so you just keep moving.”

After leaving school at 16, Alfie joined the AHOY centre, succeeding at National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in Outdoor Activity Leadership and Royal Yachting Association (RYA) dinghy, powerboat and instructor qualifications and now continues a career with them as an instructor and keelboat maintainer.The AHOY centre is a watersports charity building life skills through sailing and rowing. Their flagship centre on the River Thames works with local communities to break down social barriers, develop essential life skills, confidence and pride.

On being awarded the bursary, Alfie said that “nobody had ever given him anything” and he would use the opportunity to “give young people vision, ambition and hope.”

Alfie will be setting sail on his epic adventure from Portsmouth this September, where he will be heading off on the 7,200 nautical mile Leg 1 crossing of the Atlantic and spending roughly 33 days at sea.

Catching up with Alfie after his Level 2 training, he said that every day had been a lesson, but every day he had a smile on his face.

Alfie, how important is this opportunity for you, and for the kids you teach back in London?So far, I have loved being part of the Clipper Race. Not only am I doing something that I love, sailing in a way that not many people in the world get to do, but I also get to take all this knowledge back to my Charity.

With my Boats to Floats group I work with kids who are taken out of mainstream school, who are struggling a little bit, maybe with their behaviour or their own personal problems, and I get to show them that if I can do it, they can do it too.

You’ve just completed two weeks of training, how are you feeling?
The first week of training was very nice, being slowly eased into the world of sailing. There's a lot of things that I really enjoyed, as well as there being a few things that were new to me. However, when I got to week two it definitely went up a gear. I think week two is more of a test to see if you truly understand what you're getting yourself into. For example, on my recent shift we did four hours on, four hours off watch for a total of 48 hours. Which when you do watches you realise it isn’t four hours sleep! It’s about 2.5 hours, especially if you want to get dinner as well. But I loved every minute of it. I have done my first proper bit of night sailing, Bioluminescent plankton, the first time I’ve ever seen that, and I found it amazing. Even after my watch I would still stay up for half an hour just to enjoy the night and look at the stars. It was beautiful, I loved it all.

How did you find working with your Skipper and First Mate this week?
I was lucky enough to be working with two of the Skippers on the race, I had Josh (Stickland) as my First Mate, he’s very, very knowledgeable and a great instructor. I also had Greg (Hunt) as the official Skipper. It’s very good to watch and learn from the pros and see how they do things, and acquire all the knowledge they have, learn to be quiet (when I can) and take in as much information as possible.

A lot of people do the Clipper Race to learn and grow, what have you learnt about yourself so far?
This whole world is completely new to me. For example, I teach kids sailing on keelboats in the Thames, this is completely different. This water is blue, mine is brown. I love it very much here. After two weeks training, I have seen that I might have a career in something that I didn’t necessarily understand beforehand. Every day is a lesson, and every day I have really enjoyed. Even on days when I have been down, and felt rough and tired, as you can see, I’m quite knackered, there has still been a smile on my face every day.

How did you find the camaraderie and teamwork?
The camaraderie has been great, I think if you have a good team, regardless of how you feel, having a solid crew to lean upon and depend on, and vice versa, it changes the whole dynamic. If you've got a couple of good friends that when you're freezing cold and feeling a bit low, thinking I can't do this anymore that you can go to and they say, “I’m struggling too, but if I can do it, you can do it” it changes the dynamic and I love it all.

Image: Alfie with crew during training

Which Leg of the race are you doing and which elements are you looking forward to the most?
I’m taking part in Leg 1, but one day I would love to do the whole thing! I’m really looking forward to going through the Atlantic part of this leg, taking on the big seas, the big swells, but the best thing about Leg 1 is getting a bit of everything. I’ll have almost five weeks at sea, experiencing high winds, low winds in the doldrums, low temperatures in the Atlantic, to high temperatures on the Equator. Every day is a learning experience. Every day I get to see what I could be doing for the rest of my life. Just the idea of that is great.

What is it about being out on the ocean and sailing that can be so life changing for people?
Personally, the reason that I find this experience life changing is not necessarily the act of doing the challenge, it’s that it is putting me in a world that is so bizarre to myself. I didn’t understand how far I could go. I was speaking to a couple of Skippers, and with a couple of critiques, they said I have some potential and that’s enough to push myself a little bit harder. I want to make sure I am doing the right things, putting myself in the right positions and not necessarily doing better, but always wanting to.

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