Skipper Reflections: The Clipper 2019-20 Race
05 September 2022
A month has already gone by since the epic finale of the Clipper 2019-20 Race in London’s Royal Docks. Having safely returned the fleet of Clipper 70 racing yachts to their home in Gosport, Hampshire, the re-fit is now fully underway with the Maintenance Team working hard on getting the fleet back in shape after over three years and 40,000 miles of ocean racing around the globe.
Once back at Clipper Race HQ, we caught up with the Clipper Race Skippers about their highlights, the Race Finish celebrations, and how it feels to have finished the Clipper Race.
Image: Qingdao skipper Chris Brooks celebrates with AQP Al Jay and his Race Crew
Skipper of the winning Qingdao yacht, Chris Brooks, spoke about the moment that Qingdao won the Clipper 2019-20 Race, and how it felt to lead the Parade of Sail into London: “To watch the joy and emotion on everyone’s faces, people breaking into tears, hugging each other and just cheering was just incredible. People were overjoyed, but also sad, or even feeling relief, so there were a lot of heightened emotions flowing at the same time. It was such a privilege to watch, as I’ve led these people for over 40,000 miles, and now everything has culminated in this moment of exhilaration.
“Leading the Parade into London was immense. It was an experience that you won’t really get doing anything else, I can’t put a comparison on it. As the Skipper I was still in control of the boat, motoring in close quarters with the other boats, so I wasn’t quite able to relax! But you see the joy on everyone’s faces and you think, wow I contributed to making that happen. It’s a real privilege.”
Image: Jeronimo Santos Gonzales is the first Spanish Skipper to lead a team in the Clipper Race
Skipper of second-placed team Punta del Este, Jeronimo Santos Gonzales, who was also the first Spaniard to Skipper in the global circumnavigation, added: “It was wonderful to see so many people cheering for the different teams, and incredible to see so many yellow shirts! Punta del Este has many supporters everywhere we go. It was just amazing to see thousands of people cheering for the teams, and enjoying the finale. It was a wonderful atmosphere and almost humbling to see that.”
Image: Mike Miller celebrates on stage at Race Finish with his team
Mike Miller, who took over the reigns on Visit Sanya, China, having previously been Race Crew on the winning Sanya Serenity Coast team in the previous edition, spoke about his experience as a Race Skipper: “It was an amazing race, we achieved so much as a crew, overcame so many obstacles and saw so many things, and I can’t quite believe it’s finished. It was a bittersweet moment coming into Gosport- the Round the Worlders especially put so much time, money, energy into the race for the past four years. Once the race could restart, it was a case of putting more time and effort into getting the boats ready in Subic Bay, and then crossing some of the world’s greatest oceans together- it will leave quite a hole in all our lives.”
Being a Race Skipper on the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is an extraordinary role. Throughout the global circumnavigation, the Skippers withstand immense challenges to successfully lead their team through everything that Mother Nature chooses to serve up, from the painful windlessness of the tropics to freezing temperatures and fierce storms in the North Pacific. Alongside the physical aspects of the role, Skippers have the unique job of managing a crew of up to 22 people from many different backgrounds, personalities and levels of sailing experience, as they learn to sail a Clipper 70 across the world’s greatest oceans.
Image: Clipper Race Finish in London
For Ian Wiggin, Skipper of Unicef, the team that placed fifth overall, coaching people to become ocean racers was of key importance to him in taking on his role as Race Skipper. He said: “My motivation to skipper a team in the Clipper Race is to facilitate the opportunity for everyday people to race across oceans. Team development and team building is important to me. It is very much a team sport, and to race these boats competitively, 24 hours a day for up to four weeks at a time, it takes a massive crew effort, and I’m very grateful for what we have on Unicef. The crew developed along the way. Seeing the circumnavigators grow to where they are now is phenomenal. They’re now Watch Leaders and running the boat, and won the final race together.”
Ha Long Bay Viet Nam’s Josh Stickland said: “We’ve sailed 48,000 miles, and a lot has been learnt during that time, and I’m still learning. I suppose I’ve learnt more about people management and now have this confidence to lead the team and the yacht. I was very nervous at the start of this, and I’m happy with how it’s gone. On racing, I learnt a lot from Hugo, our former AQP, about when to push hard and when not to push hard. Our original goal was to get one podium and finish in the top half and we got seven podiums and a third place overall. It feels amazing!”
Image: Ian Wiggin (right) on board Unicef
Dare To Lead Skipper Nigel Parry joined the Clipper Race in Subic Bay, stepping up from being a Training Skipper to become the Race Skipper of Dare To Lead. He told us how you learn things from every experience, and that “this has been a very extreme thing that we have done, with lots of highs and lows not just for me but for everyone involved. I’ve learned that people can come together in a small space in extreme circumstances, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is how those people can overcome their fears and achieve their dreams.”
David ‘Wavy’ Immelman, Skipper of GoToBermuda, concludes with some advice he’d give his past self: “I’d give him trimming advice and how to make the boats go faster! Also one or two things about looking after the crew in different ways, how to hand out responsibilities, taking less upon yourself. The only other advice I’d give myself is to stick it out and just do it all the way, because it’s brilliant. I’ve done a number of trips around the world, and it feels phenomenal, but this one even more so because you take a bunch of people out and you give them their dreams. I’ve had the opportunity to do that for the crew and it's a helluva lovely thing to do.”
Image: Race Crew in Derry~Londonderry
With over 40,000 miles of ocean racing, Skippers and their Race Crew have seen the ocean at her most fierce and unforgiving, and at her most beautiful. From blissful sunsets whilst sailing under spinnaker to storms with waves the size of houses, alongside wildlife that few people get to see up-close, the Clipper Race offers memories of nature and racing that will last a lifetime. Not to mention, the teams have managed to visit some enviable destinations around the globe.
Reflecting on the highlights of the Clipper Race, Skipper of Seattle, Dave Hartshorn said: “When we crossed the line of longitude we crossed in Uruguay in 2019 [therefore completing a circumnavigation of the globe], we didn’t just cross it, we stormed across it doing 24 knots. The race between New York and Derry~Londonderry was just Champagne Sailing- we did 620 miles in two days, which was definitely a highlight.”
Wavy added: “There were so many sunsets, magnificent sunrises, whales, dolphins, seals and sharks that were just incredible. There were just so many sights that were breathtaking but I can’t pick one.”
Image: Skippers and their Race Crew have seen the ocean at her most fierce and unforgiving
Jeronimo Santos Gonzales reflected: “Every ocean has something specific that is different from the others. In the Southern Ocean, we had a huge storm, over 80 knots of wind and it felt like we were watching a National Geographic programme, everything was so clear and beautiful! The North Pacific had freezing temperatures, with ice on the sails, which was challenging. Every ocean has something unique.”
Patrick van der Zijden, who skippered a team in the 2013-14 edition, returned to take the helm as Skipper on Zhuhai for the re-start from Subic Bay. Patrick reflected on the past six months of racing: “I don’t know if it was a highlight but the North Pacific was way colder than I’d ever experienced it before! The North Atlantic was actually a beautiful sail, we had a great fast crossing. In terms of stopovers coming into Seattle was great, Bermuda was beautiful, and definitely Derry~Londonderry was a highlight.”
“The Zhuhai team is a happy team. Like all the teams I’ve been sailing with, we make them happy teams. I think the important thing is for everybody to get out of it what they’d like to get out of it. What they try to achieve we try to make that happen, whether that’s helming, or trimming, or whatever they’d like to do they should be able to, in a safe manner of course. This makes a happy team because everybody feels valued.”
Image: The Clipper 2019-20 Race fleet
Rob Graham, who previously led a team in the 2018-19 edition, returned to lead Imagine Your Korea from Subic Bay. He said: “What a journey it has been. I’m sure that everyone involved has been changed by it and will remember it, and have something truly significant to look back on in the years ahead. Everyone arrived with their own goals, and everyone will leave with their own special memories, but I believe that the challenge, development and adventure that ocean sailing brings are eventually more important than Race Points.”
Dan Jones was the youngest Race Skipper on this edition of the Clipper Race at just 24 years old, having stepped up from his original position as AQP for the restart in March 2022. Talking about his experience in leading WTC Logistics, he shared: “Gosport has a fond place in my heart, but it was strange coming back here. It’s the home of these boats, and the yachts haven’t seen it for three years. The crew on board were surprised to be parking in the same spot we left from!”
On keeping the crew motivated throughout the race, he said: “I think if you show the crew that you have energy, then that energy is infectious and it carries throughout the fleet and the team, so they’ve been driving the boat as much as I have. At the start of this race I wouldn’t have thought that I was very good at leading a large group of people, to be able to hold their attention and coach them. Sometimes I’ve even had to be the dad figure to some 50 year olds!
“To aspiring Clipper Race Skippers I would say, you’re going to have a very stressful eleven months, but it’s incredibly rewarding. You’re going to have a lot of miles under your belt by the end of it and an amazing experience.”
Think you have what it takes to lead a team of non-professionals in a 40,000nm race around the world? Applications are now open for Race Skipper and First Mate positions on the Clipper 2023-24 Race. Head to https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/jobs to find out more and apply.Join The Race