Article written by Aditya Tambe
It was a dream come true when I got the opportunity to join the Clipper 68 boats as a Delivery Crew member from Cape Town to Albany (Western Australia). While undergoing my Ocean Graduates Course to qualify as a Yacht Master Coastal at the Isle of Wight, we were told about the Clipper yachts and the thrills and adventures associated with them. I was always fascinated with stories that those sailors told about racing on Clipper boats. In the past I wondered if I would ever be able to experience all those thrills and adventures.
It was a God sent opportunity when I communicated with two gentlemen who assisted me in joining a Clipper yacht for a delivery voyage. They were none other than Mr John Lawrence and Mr Peter Lambert, both from the International Institute of Marine Surveying. It was a start of a great on-the-job learning experience I’d never thought about. Yes there were many questions in my mind regarding the yacht and the delivery trip; the main being: “Will I be able to accomplish it?” It was the first time I was going to sail with such a professional and experienced crew and it being my first ever Ocean Crossing, which is termed as one of the harshest legs of the Clipper round the world race.
It was a long journey from Mumbai. The day came when I was in the City of Good Hope – none other than Cape Town. The moment I saw the yachts, CV5 and CV10, at the V&A Waterfront Marina, it was a sight that I can never forget. Finally I was going to step on to Clipper yachts, one of the elite and prestigious names in the yachting industry.
The first three days at Cape Town were pretty much routine with the basic introduction of the boat by the Skipper and Mate along with one other crew members who were already on board. It was the time to familiarize myself with the yacht, CV5. Other crew members (including two elderly ladies) joined the boat from their luxurious hotel rooms, which they had taken up after their long trip from the UK to Cape Town. Two of the crew members were previous year’s Clipper race winning boat crew on the Gold Coast. It felt like there is really a lot more to learn other than just the academics that I did in the UK.
Polishing all the chrome on deck and preparing the boat for sea made me aware of the boat’s systems and fittings, more than any introductory or orientation talk. Doing this we found that the three winches were out of order. Spare parts were ordered but there was going to be a delay of another three days. I was really in a confused state of mind – should I be happy or should I be sad. Happy because I could stay in Cape Town for three more days and sad because I was going to see the shores of Albany three days later than expected. Finally, the day came when we got our spares for the winch, the mate just cracked on to it, and we were ready to sail this beautiful lady (CV5) to Albany. We departed from V&A Waterfront at 1600 hrs on 11th September 2013.
The weather report stated that there were some low pressure areas enroute and also some strong winds. There was a line of highs and lows. We planned to go in between the two to avoid extremely high winds and no wind at all. Finally the moment for which every crew member on board was waiting for – the sails were set and we were on our way to Albany.
We started making a good COG with boat speed of 7-8 knots on average, which was proposed by our Skipper, as the time given to us to reach Albany was just 30 days. As we started to go further south, deeper into the ocean, I started to witness rough sea and weather, which were amazing sights for me because it was the first time I had ever seen something like it. Also with some amazing sea life around. We saw a whale leap out of water just next to our sister boat, CV10, who was with us on the same passage to Albany.
Rains, heavy winds and sprays were the things that I was really concerned about, and yes, the one thing I can’t forget is the cold weather which I was not really used to. All of it took its toll on me in a small way; my stomach getting queasy and my body getting cold despite the layered clothing and the heavy weather gear. Nevertheless, that was not what should have bothered me – as I was always told by my father that “seasickness is the sickness of the mind and not of the body”! Trying hard to shrug off the discomfort, I was pitching in as best with the rest of the crew for my sea duties.
We started changing sails at night with a team of four people. One on the wheel, one in the snake pit and two on the fore deck to pull the sail down and rig up the new sail. Mainly the sail we used was the Yankee 3 and main, with second or third reef at times. That shows how bad the weather was! We also rigged up the storm jib in heavy seas and weather, so as to reduce the sail area and get good control over the boat.
Days started to pass. The only thing I could take in during these days was my deck watch time and watch duties, nothing else mattered. What was happening on land did not matter, for there was much happening on the water! Finally, the skipper came up with the news that we had made it to the half way mark and the weather was going to be worse than expected. I just thought to myself, “So what was this that we experienced to date!”
The sea state started to build up further and so winds as well, which gusted suddenly from 20 knots to 35/40 knots without any warning. It was really a big learning period for me because, during my Ocean Graduation course, I had never faced such strong winds. With the queasiness in my stomach slowly subsiding I was more alert and available on deck duties for a much longer period of time. I was on watch at night. With me at the helm and a lady crew on deck. The winds howling at me – sort of trying to say “Back off you young, inexperienced sailor”! I was hell bent on steering the course that was ordered by the skipper at the start of my watch and at the same time trying to keep the boat level and upright in those winds. Seeing a steady speed of 18.5 knots on the speed gauge and a wind speed of 45 knots on the anemometer for quite some time, the skipper shot out of the companion way, “How the hell are you managing to keep the boat level and upright? The winds are 45 Knots!”
Personally, for me that was the most rewarding moment on board; my skipper was really happy that I was able to manage the situation at night without him getting any hint of what was exactly happening on deck until he saw the wind speed and speed of the boat.
Some more days of hard sailing finally saw us at the headland of Australia. We were all excited to smell and see the land after 27 days (three days ahead of the scheduled ETA). Our sister yacht, CV10, was just 2.5 miles away from us and we both did a considerable journey from Cape town to Albany with a distance of 2.5 NM away from each other. It was time to get the boat back in shape for the stay at the marina and get ourselves presentable (no showers for 27 days) in front of immigration officers.
What a warm welcome we received out there from the local people who were in the bay for fishing. It was really joyful to see such a great interest about Clipper yachts in their small town.
I cannot forget the moments where we all were soaking wet, changing the sails, grinding it. Especially the squid attack on us at night and now we were in close proximity of the comforts of the land. If one asks me, what I would choose – the harsh sea conditions or the comforts of the land, well I would say, “Let me sail a lot more before I settle for the comforts on the shores!”
I really appreciated the concern and co-operation of the crew members towards me, a novice sailor sailing with an experienced and successful racing crew. I would also thank them for supporting me in every manner and for teaching me a lot of things about these big boats. I would also like to express my gratitude to IIMS for giving me this opportunity and a chance to learn in a different way and all of those professionals who supported and guided me on this path, whenever I needed their help and advice.
I hope I get many more similar opportunities to sail alongside such hard core sailors and on such beautiful boats.