Race Team - Greg North
17 September 2014
“My office is 90 foot up, but after nine years I don’t feel apprehensive or worry about falling. I get my tools, put my headphones in and work away. There is nowhere better to be than at the top of the mast somewhere sunny. I’ve never wanted to be stuck at a desk pushing paper.”
An extreme sports fan, Clipper Race rigger Greg North originally looked at a career in forestry and ranger work because of the climbing and heights aspect of the job.
Following a degree in Sustainable Design and Environmental Management at the University of Portsmouth, a friend set Greg up with some maintenance work, antifouling a Clipper Race boat in 2005.
That job led to more, and he continued his work on the maintenance team for the next month.
“The ‘Chief’ (maintenance manager Jay Haller) hugs the rig like a koala when he has to go aloft, he’s not a big fan of heights, whereas I enjoy climbing so I naturally stepped into the role working up masts. My first stopover experience came in China on the 2005-06 race. Since then I have been a permanent member of the race team.”
Greg assisted a spar manufacturer and riggers fitting out the Clipper 68s and learnt how to fit and tune rigs, and build masts on the job.
His most amusing, yet frustrating moment came in Sydney on the 2013- 14 race in an incident known as CockatooGate, which was hilariously documented on the front page of national broadsheet, The Australian (by Nikki Short/News Limited/The Australian).
Flocks of cockatoos decided they had an appetite for the wire in the masthead instruments and chewed their way through hundreds of pounds worth of material, rendering the speed devices useless.
“CockatooGate got me angry with the local wildlife,” Greg reflects. “We were already very busy changing elements of the coding ahead of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race and the fleet had to also come out of the water for antifouling.
“As soon as I told a local sailor about what had happened, he said, ‘That will be those bloody Cockies’. They have an appetite for expensive mast wiring. You could see the beak snips. But suspiciously, the only Clipper Race boat with an Aussie skipper did not get chewed!"
Once all the wiring was re-spliced, Greg had to rush around with his spanner hitting the mast and sending a shock up the rig whenever he saw a cockatoo flying towards a rig. Even Christmas tinsel and cable ties failed to stop the birds having a go.
Greg and the other Clipper Race maintenance team members are fondly known as the ‘Blackhand Gang’.
“We are a good cheerful team,” adds Greg. “It is amazing to work with the ‘Chief’. No one knows their way round the fleet like he does.
“You also get good friends with the crew and build a rapport with the mechanically minded ones who are interested in the yacht’s running.”