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Preparing for the adventure

Clipper training can be cold and wet. Photo: Chris Paxton

It is 2.45 in the morning. I am woken from a fitful sleep by Charles. He, unfortunately, is not my private butler - Charles is a member of port watch and has come to tell me that I, as a member of starboard watch, have to get up and replace him because he wants to go to sleep. I get out of my bed, put on my boots and stagger across the room which is constantly changing angle. I put on thick waterproof clothing and climb a ladder up onto deck where the wind has reached a Force 5. The sailing books classify Force 5 as a fresh breeze - not too bad on land - but it is making our boat rock backwards and forwards. It is no surprise most of starboard watch are feeling distinctly queasy. Welcome to the wonderful world of Clipper training.

Clipper racers have to get used to sailing at night. Credit: Chris Paxton

To prepare for the Clipper Race, members of the crew have to get through three levels of training. Level 1 was an introduction to the basics including how the sails are operated and and how to operate equipment safely. Level 2 which I completed last week took us on a longer voyage to anchor in those basics and learn a few other tricks.

Hauling in the dummy we use to practise the man overboard drills. Credit: Chris Paxton

We started off from Gosport on the South Coast, set course westwards towards Devon before heading for the Channel Islands and returning via the Isle of Wight. In that week, we hoisted and lowered lots of different types of sails, practised man overboard drills and learned how to cook in a kitchen where nothing stays still. It can be tough enough to hoist a heavy sail on a calm flat sea but we got lots of practice doing it at night in very choppy waters. Luckily for me, I was lying in my bunk when some of port watch got a soaking in the dark halfway through a sail change.

Crewmate Adam supervises as the storm jib sail is hoisted. Credit: Chris Paxton

We weren't the only crews out training though. Above our heads one morning was a coastguard helicopter trying out winching drills. And much to everyone's delight, they agreed to our skipper's offer to use our boat for practice. A winchman was lowered on a rope to the deck, helped in by Ash and Flavio, our two mates on board. When he departed again, he had a bag of sweets with him - a gift from our crew.

The coastguard helicopter crew begin their winch onto our boat. Credit: Chris Paxton
The winchman is hauled in by our mates on board. He left with a bag of sweets. Credit: Chris Paxton

Not all the training took place on the boat though - we spent a day doing the infamous sea survival course in a school swimming pool. Though the Clipper Race has a good record in getting its boats round the world in one piece, the organisers have to make sure we ready if our boat caught fire or started sinking - though one of the rules is that you should only board your liferaft as a last resort. Crew who jump in a liferaft sometimes find they would have been better off staying on board their boat.

Though I discovered I can swim backwards in a straight line with my eyes shut, we found out that one of the hardest parts of sea survival is actually getting into the liferaft. Pulling yourself in on a wet and slippy surface is not as easy as it looks.

Liferaft training - if we can get into the thing. Credit: Chris Paxton

After a week of training, my fingers have taken a bit of a battering and I have various muscle aches. I should recover in time for my Level 3 training in a month's time...

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