South Atlantic crossing

As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I was looking to gain offshore sailing experience, with possibly bad weather to deal with. The only outfit I found to organize something along those lines was the Clipper Race. It’s a race on 70 feet sailboats around the world in 8 legs. Aboard are a professional skipper and up to 22 crews. The organizers take all participants through 4 weeks of training, with an intense focus on safety. Participants select the legs they want to join or the whole circumnavigation.

Personally, I chose to join two legs: Leg 2, which is the South Altantic crossing from Uruguay to South Africa (it was to be a warm up for the next leg), and Leg 6, which is the Atlantic crossing from China to the USA. I was very excited about the whole adventure, which was going to cost me a pretty penny too. Just in case I took insurance for one leg, which would help reimburse of fraction of the fees.

Crew in training in Gosport

The training

Anyone can decide to participate in any leg. In fact, the Clipper Race is a powerful marketing engine. Mamy folks sign up with no idea of what they’re getting into, excited by the allure of adventure. The training is what is supposed to bring every participant up to the task. There is nothing easy n handling a 70 feet sailboat; everything requires good crew coordination. And then there’s the business of holding 22 crew together in a tiny space, much akin to a washing machine.

Training is split into 4 weeks. I chose to group them into two weeks to reduce travel to costs to the UK, where I went to get my training. I was very excited by the whole thing and gave it all. My previous sailing experience helped a little; overflow with energy, I tended towards leading tasks on the boat. It was taxing, being around so many people, the good lot of them who seemed to be there to party during the evenings.

Super excited before race and problems start.


The last week of training was going to be with the skipper assigned to our boat. She proved to be very competent, condescending and not particularly caring for the crew. The race came, all boats left the UK for Uruguay. Our boat won the first leg and everybody was happy. I joined the crew in Uruguay, some folks left the boat and others joined, like me. The boats were prepared and then sent off for Leg 2 on their way to South Africa. I started as an assistant watch leader.

Skipper quickly proved to be a toxic person to be around at sea. I won’t go into the details, other than saying that I discovered that participants in the first leg knew about this, and it had been discussed with her already. Some folks took the brunt of her demeaning behavior; I was one of them. I am not used to being around folks like that, as I tend to stay away from toxic people. She wore me thin and the whole experience ended up being the worst time of my life. The whole thing was a really sad affair.

PJ on the bow of a Clipper 70 in the South Atlantic

In addition, sailing across the South Atlantic proved more for the crew than anticipated, with several injuries aboard. All injuries were under-diagnosed (dislocated shoulder was thought to be a bruise; a broken wrist was thought to be a sprain).

We did not do well in this crossing but the boat did win the overall race. Several round the world crew were experienced sailors. Skipper did manage to bring the boat whole and everyone safe after the circumnavigation was completed. And our boat won the overall race.

Clipper boats in Punta Del Este, October 2017


After lots of inward reflection, I chose to bail out of Leg 6 as I could not bear the idea of being 4 weeks at sea with this person. After discussing my situation with the race organizers and other crew, I found out that I was not an isolated case, far from it. Many folks bail out because of skippers who get a little crazy out there.

Panoramic view atop Table Mountain in Cape Town

Would I recommend this to someone else? I don’t know. There are in fact other folks out there who organize long distance sailing adventures, which would have been better for my purpose. If your goal is to circumnavigate then this certainly is a good option. Do know though that your skipper may be coming out of hell. Just be ready to manage accordingly.

And if you’re a skipper … remember that a happy crew is probably one of your top 3 priorities.

Final words: ultimately this crossing, although started in strong winds (35 knots if I recall correctly), did not help me build experience with heavy weather as I had hoped.

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