Skipper Trials underway for 2017-18

04 October 2016

“A potential Race Skipper who doesn’t feel nervous stepping on board a Clipper 70 for their trial doesn’t know what they’re in for!”

The words of one of the twelve successful candidates who applied for the Clipper 2015-16 Race, Skipper Peter Thornton, who eventually guided his GREAT Britain team to third place in the tenth edition.

There have been over 200 applications from all over the world for the role of Skipper in the 2017-18 race, and last week the first of eight trials got underway at Clipper Race HQ in Gosport.

Deputy Race Director Mark Light was on board to assess the candidates during the on-the-water trial and interview process, accompanied by Chief Training Instructor Ben Bowley and other members of the Race Office staff including Race Manager Sarah Hoare and the Communications Team.

“The first thing we do is read through all application forms and CVs, after which the strongest candidates are invited for interview. After that, it’s time for the sailing trial and it is definitely a trial because we need to ensure they are fit to take on a challenge like no other, that of a Clipper Race Skipper,” says Mark as he begins to explain the rigorous selection process.

“It’s tough! We put them under pressure with various incidents and emergencies on board. We test their sailing ability, their skippering ability, leadership qualities and how they act under pressure in a crisis. We throw a few shenanigans in there now and again and basically see how they can handle a big boat, handle a crew, how they teach and obviously their racing ability.

“Primarily we are looking for good sailors and people who can lead. They’ve got to have a strong personality to be able to lead a team in extreme circumstances. They must also be good teachers to develop the crew’s sailing skills, and good characters who can cope with all the demands of sailing a boat for eleven months,” Mark added.

Mark knows exactly what the candidates are going through having applied for the Race Skipper role ahead of the Clipper 2011-12 Race. Despite years of racing and coaching experience, like many of the applicants, Mark had not worked for the Clipper Race before and never stepped on to one of the Clipper 68 yachts being raced that year, so the whole experience was very new.

“My Skipper trial was quite nervy. It’s a tough experience for the candidates especially if they have no prior experience with us because they come in brand new and cold but it’s got to be realistic to the situations they may face on the race. Our standards for the Skipper job are very high and we can only let the right people, the best people, in. My trial was scary, nervy, but my advice is the all potential candidates to be confident in your abilities, stick to what you know, and do your best to stay calm in the face of adversity. We want our Skippers to succeed but it is our duty to test them and make sure they are up for the challenge.”

Mark went on to be appointed Derry-Londonderry Skipper for that race before going on to become Deputy Race Director for the past two race editions.

Similarly to Mark’s experience, Peter Thornton had not stepped on a Clipper 70 before arriving for his trial.

Reflecting on a cold winters day in 2014, Peter says: “I remember being caught out while trying to explain the not so finer points of asymmetric sailing to the Chief Instructor, only to then run out of time to actually get the asymmetric kite down before rounding the leeward race mark off the Eastern Solent and ended up blasting straight past it, probably being closer to France than Portsmouth by the time we managed to turn around…

“That’s my standout memory but obviously the rest of it went okay and by making that mistake I learnt that it takes a bit more time to do stuff with a pre-briefed trouble making trial crew than I had appreciated.”

Speaking of crew, alongside the new faces of the candidates, there were some very familiar faces from the last race, as former race crew returned to help during the trials and provide their assessment of the candidates being put through their paces.

One of those on board was Derry~Londonderry~Doire circumnavigator Paul Upson.

“I’ve missed the boat so it’s lovely to be back on board. Shame it’s not Derry~Londonderry~Doire but we did have our spinnaker flying so that will do.

“During training ahead of my race, I met a man called Mansell who has been crew on the Skipper trials for the last three races, so when he told me what it entailed I really wanted to get involved,” he continued.

“It’s funny being back because it’s made me realise how much I learned in the last year. We haven’t had any problems today but I can see how things could have been done faster or smoother, but that will all come in time once the Skippers become more familiar with the Clipper 70s. One of the candidates hadn’t been on a Clipper 70 before and has done incredibly well. The other has been a training Skipper so we could see he knows the Clipper Race processes and I think he will go far,” Paul added.

So far there have been Skipper applications from across the UK and the rest of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Skipper trials will continue until the New Year with approximately 30 candidates taking part from the 200 applicants before the final 12 elite are appointed ahead of the Crew Allocation on 20 May.

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