Spike the Kite

Clipper Level II Training

At the end of March, I headed back over to England for another eight days of sailing and training for the Clipper Round the World Race.  I have been fortunate to be invited to participate in two legs of the yacht race. In March 2012, I will be racing from Qingdao, China to California for the one leg, then south through the Panama Canal and up to New York for the next. All in all, roughly 10,000 miles across the largest ocean in the world then down the coast of Central America before heading through the Canal and heading up through the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US.

This time around because of work commitments, I took the red-eye over from NYC to Heathrow (but no sleep this time), jumped on a train to Portsmouth, and headed directly to training. Our first day of training was spent again in the classroom, this time with a radar course. Although I had thought of myself as quite familiar with radar, the training was world-class – as were some of my classmates! Sitting next to me was a former Russian submarine commander, and needless to say, he was quite familiar with radar and could have easily taught the course! Another classmate, Elin rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, and then barely a year later, she then went on to row across the Indian Ocean.

On day two we headed out into the Solent for a long day of practicing evolutions (manuevers) which included constant tacking, gybing, changing sails and man overboard drills. We also had the opportunity to fly the spinnaker for the first time and that was quite exciting. The spinnaker is a large sail that is attached to the bow (front of the boat) and is used to sail downwind. The spinnakers on these Clipper boats are large sails, about the size of tennis courts and make for some exhilarating rides.

As I was wearing the climbing harness for the day, I had the pleasure of going over the side to ‘rescue’ a heavy coil of rope and fender as part of a man overboard drill. The drill essentially consists of the skipper or first mate throwing the rope and fender off the back of the boat when the crew are otherwise involved in other activities (tacking, gybing, tidying up). As soon as the splash is heard – or the ‘casualty’ seen going over the side – one or more of the crew members shout “Man Overboard” and will point constantly at the casualty. Immediately, another crew member goes down below to hit the MOB button on the GPS in order to mark the position and then start the engine. While this is going on, the helmsperson will turn the boat into the wind and backwind the forward sails in a maneuver called heaving to. This is designed to stop the boat as quickly as possible. As soon as the boat is hove to, other crew members will release the halyards for the two front sails, allowing them to drop quickly to the deck.

As the helmsperson take the boat around in a circle to pick up the casualty, one crew member (me in this case) ties a spare halyard (rope) to the climbing harness and is then lowered over the side of the boat, while walking down the hull until just above the water. Another crew member will call off the distance and direction to the casualty until the casualty (in this case the rope and fender) is close enough for me to grab and haul up on deck.

These MOB drills were practiced repeatedly over the next few days until everyone was quite familiar with the routine and could carry it out very quickly. A necessity to learn, but one I hope never to experience on our race across the Pacific or on our way to New York.

As the day winded down, we headed back to Gosport with the spinnaker still up. As I was still wearing the climbing harness, I ended up going out to the end of the spinnaker pole to ‘spike the kite’, a manouver that releases the spinnaker sail from the end of the pole so the crew can take it down and stow away. Sitting on the end of the spinnaker pole provides a great view of the boat sailing through the water as you are roughly 6 feet out from the bow of the boat and 15 feet above the water.

The next few days were largely a repeat of the first sailing day with constant tacks, gybes, and sail hoists and drops, until we were all functioning relatively smoothly as a team. It was very exhausting though, and there were times that I just crashed in my bunk after dinner while many of the other crew members went off to the pub for a quick drink.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience to sail and train on these stripped-down racing yachts and I am looking forward to the next level of training. By then, my body will have recovered and all the aches and pains largely forgotten – I hope!

Photo Gallery Below

Clipper Level II Training
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