Life onboard a Clipper 70 as she rounds the world

The Clipper Round The World Race 23/24 is now on. The Clippers arrived in Freo late last week and leave again tomorrow. You can follow them on @clipperrace.

Our Shipping Correspondent Jean Hudson* was invited to sail with the Clippers on Saturday, an invitation she couldn’t resist. On her return, Jean filed this report.

​All eleven 70-foot Clipper racing yachts have safely arrived at Fremantle Sailing Club, having completed Race 4: Marlow Roaring Forties Challenge all the way from Cape Town, South Africa.

The last yachts to finish the grueling race spent 26 days at sea and had to battle with a frustrating wind hole off the coast of Western Australia after surviving the Roaring Forties.​

​Fremantle Shipping News joined skipper Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez and five of his crew along with other invited media guests for a four-hour sail out of Fremantle Sailing Club on their racing machine Qingdao.

The crew was happy to sail in the sunshine. Weather conditions were perfect: a calm Indian Ocean with clear turquoise water, 32 degrees and a light breeze – very different to the super crazy weather they endured over recent weeks.

However, on their way here, the crew experienced freezing and wet weather, with winds of over 70 knots when sailing at 45 degrees south. They battled through 6-7 metre waves with water coming over the deck constantly.

Qingdao finished in 6th place, after 25 days at sea and experienced just about every weather condition possible. At times the boat reached 24 knots surfing down waves but then spent 30 hours in a wind hole on the approach to Fremantle.

Imagine life onboard a clipper yacht for almost a year; the days revolve around watches, sleep and food. Crew lose track of days and time while doing 6 hours on and 6 hours off watch rotations, along with other 4 hour watches – this means everyone gets a good sleep once every 24 hours.

The Clipper Yachts are designed for speed, safety and months at sea. Qingdao had 22 souls on board for the recent leg – that’s a lot of people confined to a 70-foot boat. Below decks the Clipper 70s are stripped of all luxuries so they can sail fast.

Crew sleep in tiny bunks along the port and starboard sides. These letterbox bunks are narrow with no room for anything other than your body. The crew has to ‘hot-bunk’ – this means as soon as you leave your bunk, you roll up your sleeping bag and roll out the next person’s. Then there are the heads, or toilets. If you block them, you are not popular.

Each crewmember burns about 5,000 calories a day – so they require a diet high in carbs. Food is very important for crew morale and adds to crew performance. Each boat has a menu-plan to feed the crew three healthy and nutritious meals a day.

On our sail, we had a chance to hoist the sails to the top of the 95-foot mast by sweating the halyards – this means grasping the halyard (rope that is attached to the sail and comes out of the mast) – and hauling it towards oneself and then down to the deck- very physical and blister inducing work. Also grinding the huge harken winches and the two coffee grinder winches and tailing the sheets.

A Clipper 70 weighs 30 tons – and carries a large main sail, plus a selection of jibs and spinnakers. We had an opportunity to steer the boat — Clippers have twin helms and twin rudders.

Jean Hudson at the helm

During the sail, Zhuhai another clipper was on our starboard side. Jeronimo our skipper shouted ‘If you have a boat next door, it is a race’ – we duelled with them for a while.

Halong Bay Vietnam with their crew, all in yellow oilskins, was also out sailing.

At the end of our sail, all hands were on deck to flake (fold) the sails and make everything ship-shape before heading home.

Our crew hasn’t much time to enjoy Fremantle – winches have to be dismantled and oiled, sails repaired between dashing into Perth to obtain visas for China.

The fleet of eleven Clipper yachts leaves Fremantle tomorrow, Tuesday afternoon, 19 December.

At 1pm, all eleven yachts will do a spectacular Parade of Sail the length of the Inner Harbour, from the Fremantle Traffic Bridge to the North Mole.

Head on down to Victoria Quay or the South Mole and cheer as they sail past.

Then head to North Mole to watch the clippers move to the start line at 2.50pm.

Leg 5 of the global race will take them east across the Great Australian Bight, below Tasmania and up the east coast to Newcastle, then Arlie Beach, Whitsundaysm, and then onto Vietnam, China, USA, Panama and Scotland.

We wish them well, fair or at least safe sailing, and a Merry Christmas on the water.

* STORY by Jean Hudson @jeansodyssey. Jean is our Shipping Correspondent and also a regular feature writer and photographer here on the Shipping News. You may like to follow up her informative Places I Love stories, as well as other feature stories and Freo Today photographs, right here.


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