One Year On: Flying the Flag for East Timor

26 September 2016

Over a year ago in Gosport we met Alex Couto, 40, from Lisbon, Portugal, who had just finished his Level 4 training and was preparing to race in the opening leg from London to Rio de Janeiro to follow a familiar route of his Portuguese ancestors.

He also told us that he was planning to produce a documentary of his race experience to inspire the people of East Timor, where he had been living and working for the past decade, to start looking at sailing and maritime development.

44 different nationalities were represented by Clipper Race crew on the last edition but this was the first time we ever heard of anyone involved from East-Timor.

This week last year the Clipper 2015-16 Race crew started to arrive in Rio, so twelve months on from his experience we caught back up with Alex to find out how it all went, and to watch his video series.

A year later, how do you remember your experience on board Mission Performance?
My experience on board Mission Performance was one that I would classify as a very relevant life event. An experience that I will treasure dearly. One great big story to tell to my grandchildren in the same way as I have told my daughter to the very fine detail.

Further to the documentary I produced, I have also kept a voice journal which I recorded at the beginning and end of every watch aboard ‘Missi’, so I will either be able to bore them to death with every single detail or, as I hope, to encourage them to have a life full of adventures and great challenges.

My personal goals for my Clipper Race campaign were simply to grow up as an offshore and oceanic sailor, and that was 100% achieved. The Clipper Race and its industry partners, including Marlow, Harken, Garmin etc, have solid methods and go to every single detail on passing that knowledge to the crew. That knowledge is now present in every single aspect of my own boat (one that I bought in February this year) and being passed to my own crew, both on the racing side and cruising.

My highlights included my immense growth as a sailor. The confidence gained to became a skipper, the knowledge learned on all aspects (where safety is crucial) to transmit confidence to my crew.

My biggest challenges were people and relationships; which in turn changed also to be the biggest reward. Like brothers and sisters we are now an international network, achieved by so many days working and competing together. Since my Clipper Race campaign I have had multiple visits from Mission Performance members, and those from other boats, joining me in Lisbon for regattas on my boat, and that feels great.

Any surprising lessons learnt about yourself during your month at sea?
That I don’t need to bite my nails. That stupid habit is now gone. That you have to be kind if you want to kick arse in racing and in life. That we can never do too much. That it is possible to do the hardest of task with a smile, over and over again. That a Portuguese man could eat porridge, Branston Pickle, Marmite, Angel Delight, and Spam, and still live to tell the story.

A year on, how successful was your mission to inspire young sailors in East Timor?
That is still too soon to say, I guess. The documentary I produced was aired in Timor and the feedback was great. I have had lots of encouragement from all officials, from the President, to the Government, to other social leaders and the population in general.

Timor-Leste is an emerging country with great challenges ahead, and there are a lot of people taking all those challenges with great responsibility. Sailing still does not exist and is not a concern at the moment, but the country needs and wants to empower a maritime industry, from offshore oil exploration, to coast guard and navy capacity and this was a little step to inspire a new generation of young people to endeavour national building projects through the sea.

[Alex pictured with President ZEESM and former Prime-Minister Dr. Mari Alkatiri]

What reaction did you receive to the video project?
Reactions were great, and often placed a tear in my eyes. I was received by all those high officials, and despite my goal on those meetings being to explain my project of awareness to the sea, they all wanted to watch the five full episodes straight.

They were very kind in their words, impressed with many aspects of the Clipper Race and what we all as crew put ourselves into, and naturally proud that the national flag of East Timor was always present.

What are you up to a year on from doing the race?
I am now a boat owner and skipper since February. Rebuilding the boat was my first goal, then in April I started to compete in and around Lisbon with my 33.2 Finnish built yacht in inshore and offshore races.

I’m creating a racing team with friends, testing the boat and optimizing it to be able to compete in the ORC in February next year. This summer I’ve sailed to the Algarve and back with friends and family and it was awesome.

What advice would you give to those now training or considering trying the Clipper Race themselves?Expect and be prepared for a great big gap from your expectations in every single aspect of the Clipper Race to what you are going to find. This is not a cruise, this will not be easy, this will put you out by miles from your comfort zone, and that is what will make your smile so much greater in the end.

Watch Alex’s video series here for an insight into life on board the Clipper Race. Each episode lasts approximately five minutes.

Episode 1; Episode 2; Episode 3; Episode 4; Episode 5

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