If you had been in Portsmouth City Centre a couple of Saturday mornings ago, you would have seen a polite queue of people wearing red jackets, waiting to get inside the Guildhall. These were the Clipperati (some prefer the name Clipperites) who had signed up to take part in the Clipper Race. And Saturday May 11th was Crew Allocation Day when the 650-odd racers got to discover who their crew-mates are when they take part in a voyage around the world.

The Clipperati come from many different backgrounds – in my training so far, I’ve met a Wing Commander from the New Zealand Air Force, a silver medallist from the 1976 Olympics and a student who took up sailing after being treated for cancer.

Plenty of the Clipperati are from in and around London – most of them seem to have been convinced by adverts they saw on the Tube. And there are many different reasons for doing so.

One of my training crew-mates was Wendy from Surrey, who decided to join when she was recovering from a hip operation. She told me: “I was sitting in a wheelchair and somebody brought in a newspaper and said, ‘Do you need a challenge?’” Before long, she had signed up to do two legs of the race which will take her from San Francisco, through the Panama Canal and back to the UK.

Stewart from Blackheath had done some sailing and said he was “hell-bent on doing something new”. And he’s also looking at the race as an opportunity to learn about himself: “I think you’ll grow inside and then project outside.”

Nev from Farnham will be doing the final leg back home across the Atlantic. He will have to wait almost a year before he gets on his boat. And though he’s been trained, he’s aware that he’ll find things tough: “It’s going to be horrible. All the training isn’t going to prepare for a leg.”

But he added that what he’s looking forward to is the sense of achievement when he finishes.

Many different nationalities working together to fold a sail. Credit: Chris Paxton

Doing the race isn’t cheap – it costs around £10,000 just to do one leg and that doesn’t include much of the equipment you’ll need. Some people have sold their homes to do it while others won’t see their families for months on end as they go around the world. It’s going to be an extreme challenge for all of us but as Wendy put it: “I have no intention of turning up as a lemon.”

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