Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 12:25 UK

Novices in high seas adventure

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Alison goes on a tour of the yacht with her headcam

By Alison Harper
BBC News

Waves as high as hills, sea sickness, hot sun, snow and ice, a 68ft ocean-racing yacht crammed with an amateur crew - the 35,000-mile Clipper Round the World yacht race is not about luxury travel.

But perhaps that's part of its appeal and why about 450 complete novices are taking part in this adventure of a lifetime.

There is a frisson of energy, excitement and anticipation as the 10 yachts line up in Hull ahead of the race's start from the Humber.

Yacht crew
The novice sailors undergo at least three weeks of training

Each 68ft (20m) boat, with a crew of 18 and one professional skipper, is ready for weeks at sea.

Packed into the tiny storage areas are spares of all essential equipment; food is bagged up and labelled for specific days; there are literally thousands of tea bags.

Leave anything behind and the crews will regret it for a long time.

The race was the dream of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo non-stop around the world.

Forty years ago when he set that record he pledged to make sailing more accessible.

"For a mountaineer, the highest thing you can do is climb Mount Everest.

"There must be thousands of people who would like to circumnavigate who don't have the money, the confidence or a boat," Sir Robin said.

The first time we go sliding down the front of a 40ft wave, I'll be screaming
Jane McDonald

Since 1995, Sir Robin's Clipper Ventures company has helped more than 1,750 sailing novices complete a round-the-world voyage.

From Sunday, dozens more will set out to try to join that group.

"I think some of the legs will be terrifying, especially some of the waves in the Southern Ocean," says 41-year-old Londoner Jane McDonald.

"The first time we go sliding down the front of a 40ft wave, I'll be screaming."

Life-changing

A knee injury kept Plymouth police officer Simon Lemon from competing in the 2007-8 race.

The 38-year-old said: "As a police officer, it's our bread and butter being able to communicate with people, weighing up different environments and people, and I think that's going to be very useful on board the boat."

The fleet are leaving Hull, sailing to La Rochelle, France, where they'll then head out into the Bay of Biscay for the first major challenge - crossing the Atlantic.

The crew of the Scottish-sponsored boat, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, will have me on board during their Atlantic crossing.

Route of Clipper race

On the yacht making preparations for departure is 20-year-old Cassie Milligan from Edinburgh, a homeless, aspiring chef who applied for the Clipper after seeing an advert in the job centre.

Has this changed her life? Yes, she says. Two months ago she had never sailed; after three weeks of training on the water she's now looking at how to make sailing a permanent part of her life.

"I'm a chef, perhaps I can become a chef on a yacht," she says.

"I'd like to do my yachtsmaster qualification and then, who knows? But when I'm 22 I'd like to say I've got two careers to choose from - and I will only be 22."

About half of the 450 people taking part are "leggers" - on board for one or more legs of the race - like Cassie, who is taking part just in the first leg to Brazil.

Everyone was sick; there were just four of us on deck. It was amazing. It was everything I wanted
Jo Jackson

Jo Jackson, 49, from Chesterfield, is among the remainder who are on board for the duration.

The nurse practitioner, mother and grandmother is one of many crew members who have made life-changing decisions to be on board.

"I've been a nurse for 30 years, I've given so much to so many people for so long," she says. "This is for me."

Taking more than 10 months off from work isn't an easy decision - especially during a recession - but it was actually partly down to the credit crunch that Jane signed up.

"I'm a freelance editor and, to be honest, there isn't that much work around at the moment so why not just go now - while I can," she says.

Jane has rented out her flat, moved all her possessions out and now has just one 18kg bag for the next year, containing all her kit for the storms of the Bay of Biscay, the heat of the equator and the freezing waters of the Yellow Sea as the yachts head for China.

Leggers' new sea-faring home
Features of Clipper race yacht
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
Hull type: Monohull
Length: 68ft (20.8m)
Mast height: 89ft 7ins (27.3m)
Displacement: 31.2 tonnes (31,200kg)

Seafaring dangers

Everyone must complete at least three weeks of training at sea before the race; learning how to rig the boat, tie bowlines and sweat a sail to the top of the mast is all new to most crew members.

Then there are the man-overboard drills.

This is practised several times a day during training, drilled so hard into the crew's heads to make their reactions second-nature.

But being the man overboard itself is a completely different experience.

Armed with my camera encased in waterproof bag, dressed in an immersion suit so big that it flapped around my feet, I was carefully pushed off the stern.

Yacht crew
The yachts are due back to the UK in July 2010

The yacht moves so quickly away that even in the calmest of waters in the Solent, you get an idea of how petrifying it must be to be alone and helpless at sea.

The crew on board are as efficient as expected and I'm hoisted on board with my arms through a helicopter strop within minutes.

It may be a drill, but could be so real. In the history of the Clipper race there has only been one man-overboard situation.

The casualty was picked up in nine minutes in the darkness and rough waters. The skipper at the time seriously believed she would be recovering a body.

The race is not a jolly around the world - every minute poses its own dangers.

In the North Sea delivering the yachts to Hull before the race, the crews experienced gale force 10 winds, sometimes pushing 11.

"I stood at the helm for four hours with water up to my knees. The waves were breaking over the bow and it just couldn't drain fast enough," says Jo.

"Then another just came over the side straight over my head. I just stood there, thinking yee-ha, this is it. Everyone was sick; there were just four of us on deck."

"It was amazing. It was everything I wanted," she adds.

The 35,000-mile race will take 10 months to complete - with stop-overs in Brazil, Capetown, South Africa, Perth in Australia, Qingdao, China, San Francisco, US, and in the Republic of Ireland at Cork - before returning to Hull next July.



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SEE ALSO
Crowds watch Clipper race start
13 Sep 09 |  Humber
Events to mark Clipper race start
12 Sep 09 |  Humber
Clipper yacht fleet dock in Hull
07 Sep 09 |  Humber
Crowds watch Clipper race finish
05 Jul 08 |  Merseyside

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