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A novice sailing round the world

The crew of the Londonderry boat from the 2011-2012 race enjoy the ride. Photo: Clipper Ventures

Imagine living on a boat with 19 other people. This boat is 70 feet long (that's 3.5 feet each) and is spending weeks at a time travelling across the world's biggest oceans. It has no washing machine, no television and toilets that have to be flushed by pumping a handle. All the crew's food and kit are packed into tiny lockers and they must deal with any mishap by themselves, including mechanical failures and medical emergencies. The boat does have an engine but the crew are not allowed to use it except in a crisis - the vessel is powered by the wind on its sails. Though it has an experienced skipper in charge, some of the crew have had only a few weeks of training to learn how to handle the boat.

And this time, one of those sailing novices will be me!

The 2011 Clipper Race gets underway from Southampton. Credit: Clipper Ventures

This is the Clipper Race - you may have seen their adverts on the Tube. It is held every two years and lasts around eleven months. This year's race, which starts on September the 1st, will be the ninth time it has been held and will visit a string of countries including Brazil, South Africa, Australia, China, the USA and Mexico. There will be twelve boats taking part - all of them will be identical - so the only difference between them is the ability of the crew. Around 650 people have signed up for the race and the Clipper organisers have divided them up so each boat should get a mix of experienced and inexperienced sailors. The race itself is actually divided into 15 stages and the boats will get points depending on how well they do on each stage. So a boat that starts off poorly could end up winning stages if the crew is motivated enough to turn things around.

Clipper boats going under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Credit: Clipper Ventures

So what have I made of it so far? Well, I've done two weeks of training and the first thing to say is that sailing is tough. It involves hard work pulling on ropes, turning winches and hanging on as the boat veers from side to side. And while it's tough enough on deck, it can be harder below where the crew are having to prepare meals, work out their route or trying to sleep.

And so far, I've only done voyages around the Isle of Wight - the Pacific and the Southern Ocean will be a lot more rough.

Sailors get used to living life at an angle. Credit: Chris Paxton

Sleep, and the lack of it, is a major issue. The crew will operate on watches - one half will be running the boat for four hours as the other half sleeps. Then they switch over. As my training went on, I found that my ability to concentrate on a job diminished because of a lack of sleep, and I've heard stories of crews getting very grumpy with each other.

The sleeping quarters on my training boat. Not very luxurious. Credit: Chris Paxton

The question I've been asked the most is: do I get seasick? The answer is yes, and it's not been pretty. Plus on both my training courses so far, my seasickness tablets have disappeared overboard. However, the body does get used to it over time and once the sun comes out, sailing can be quite fun.

Sailing can be fun... once you get used to it. Credit: Chris Paxton

In August, I'll be leaving the office to begin final preparations for the race. I'll be keeping this blog as I go and you can follow me on Twitter.

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