Exclusive Interview Simon Rosbottom, Clipper Round the World Race

“Night time sees bodies sleeping all over the boat, attempting to find a cooler spot. A result of this temperature is that it is comfortable to spend all night on deck without a shirt but this isn’t without it’s hidden dangers. Girls if you only knew the trials and tribulation of being a man, the things that we suffer endlessly (mostly) in silence. One such burden is the trapping of ones chest hairs in the buckle of ones life jacket.”

-an excerpt from Simon Rosbottom’s journal entry

We were very lucky to be in Seattle the same time as Paula and Simon. The Clipper had a stop in Seattle from April 15-20 and they raced all the way from Qingdao, China. Simon and Paula are friends of my husband and it was my first time meeting Simon, a 48-year old civil engineer from London. The race is open to anyone over 18 and the oldest member is 74!!!

I was ecstatic to get a personal tour of the Great Britain team’s yacht. The race is the world’s longest yacht race and is open to anyone with or without experience. Adventures on the ocean are certainly not for anyone without the desire to take on the challenge. This may be a once in a lifetime experience you may be interested in. I will try to persuade you to take on the challenge by writing this article. And if you do find out about the race through this article and join one day, give me a shout so I can learn more about your dream!  The short hour and a half I spent with Simon, I think he has inspired me in many ways. He is funny and made me laugh and I do think you can’t be a straight face and introvert when you are basically living together with the rest of your crew and working together to reach every destination to finish the race. The next race starts August 2017 and finished July 2018. You are spending a lot of time together (11 months) and it will be strangers you meet for the first time. Don’t worry, you will get training.

Q:What if someone has never been on the boat before, how do they train you?
A: The race specifically markets itself as ‘no experience required’. There are 4 mandatory weeks training on board a Clipper vessel learning how to sail the boat and what to do in an emergency.

Q:What made you decide to join the race?
A: When I first enquired about the race and went to the talk it was really interesting. I then went home, watched every video on YouTube that I could find and signed up.

Simon has always been fascinated by the stories of extreme challenges like Scott and Shackleton’s journeys in the Antarctic and the early Space Race. He says that he’ll never get to see the Earth from space and so this ‘slow circumnavigation of the Earth’ is his own way to get a unique perspective on our planet. More people have climbed Everest than have circumnavigated the earth by boat so it’s still a pretty special challenge experience.

Q:What has been your favourite stop(s) so far and why?
A: Seattle – the city was hugely welcoming and put on lots of great events; there were lots of friends and family in town and we had a chance to get out into the countryside and go for a walk in the forest. It’s that kind of greenery you really miss when you’re at sea. That said, pretty much most of the stops have been spectacular in their own way. China put on dozens of drummers and ‘daytime’ fireworks. There were a media sensation in Vietnam. Airlie Beach was a beautiful resort with access to the Great Barrier Reef. And of course for Sydney – Hobart, there was the chance to be part of and participate in one of the iconic classic ocean races. Very special.

Q:What is a day on the boat like?
A: I wasn’t able to ask Simon directly for this one since he was already at sea by the time I got around to it! I referred to previous participants videos to get a gist of it.

From videos of previous participants, it looks like the day starts at 6am where you would get yourself ready and awake and put your life jacket on and get to work. The weather changes drastically and you may need to adjust change the sails and move things around. The morning shift finishes midday and during the handover you need to discuss what changed on the boat such as the weather, the position changes and what to expect. During the evening, the temperature drops, visibility is low and you need to make sure you are more careful and clipped on. Always communicate with the team to know where everybody is at all times. The opposite shift does the hours that the other people did on the previous day and you rotate.

I was able to ask about the sleeping arrangement for Simon’s team while touring the yacht. I walked by the beds and it was quite cramped. The beds could be adjusted at an angle and it almost reminds me of a hammock but something more sturdy. The watches are 6 hours each during the day then 4 hours each at night – so every other night you do 2 watches. BUT the ‘off watch’ doesn’t get 4 hours sleep- between getting changed after your watch finishes, maybe something to eat and getting ready again at the other side before next watch. So 2 to 2.5 hours sleep at a time is roughly what they get. Make the most of it when it is your time to sleep!

“Conditions continue to be hot and humid below decks, hampering attempts to sleep. I managed three hours on a bunk in the sail locker this afternoon, the sounds of gybing and a spinnaker drop disturbing my hot, fitful slumber. The deck below resembling the set of a zombie apocalypse film, with bodies everywhere as the rest of the watch tried to escape the heat and find a cooler, more breezy spot.”- Simon

Q: You are a civil engineer by trade, has it helped you on the boat?
A: Actually Simon is not the only engineer and he’s not an electrical engineer so someone else has the official job of taking care of the engine. It has been a huge advantage being a ‘handyman’ and Simon has made endless modifications to help the boat be more convenient or safer- from fixing a base to strapping the rice cooker into to an extra surface for preparing meals to railings and handles. He has also been on-call in various emergencies- like when 2 of them fixed the boat’s precious water maker following instructions by satellite phone from the manufacturer in England. Basically the boat doesn’t carry much drinking water and instead converts from salt water. It’s a crucial piece of kit; if they couldn’t repair it the boat would have had to stop racing to rendezvous with another boat for spare parts.

Q: Would you do it again in the future? All the way?
A: No. One leg? That depends. Paula, his partner is thinking of signing up for a leg in a year or two. They wouldn’t be able to sail on the same boat but it’s a bit tempting to get on another boat and sail against each other especially if we the route goes to Sydney- Hobart again as that was pretty special.

Q: Do you recommend it for others to experience this once in a lifetime?
A: Definitely. Anyone can do this – it’s tough in all kinds of ways and rewarding in others. (Tough- extremes of weather and temperature, lots of strangers having to share a small space, sometimes nothing much happening and you’re dealing with the tedium, sometimes people get hurt or things on the boat get broken) (rewarding- seeing the southern cross and the northern constellations in the same sky, at the equator, amazing views of the Milky Way, shooting stars, all kinds of wildlife. Helming when the boat is surfing down rolling waves at 23 knots. Some spectacular moments)

Q: What is your biggest motivation to keep going everyday?
A: Knowing how rare an opportunity this is, how few people see these ocean wildernesses. And the discipline of keeping on keeping on – focus on the next watch, doing the best you can for each task that presents itself. And one day at a time – suddenly you’ve crossed an ocean.

So did you know that in 2013-2014, the first Chinese woman, Vicky Song was the first to complete a circumnavigation? She was a crew member from Qing Dao. “For me, the Clipper Race was a life-changing experience which will never be forgotten. It is never far from my memories and reminds me everyday to continue to dream big. Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.” – Vicky

Q: What type of roles will you learn?

  • Bowman
  • Mid bowman
  • Mast man
  • Pitman
  • Grinder
  • Trimmers
  • Running back stay
  • Helmsman
  • Mother watch
  • Watch leaders
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Tactician
  • Navigator
  • Cleaner
  • Baker
  • IT specailist
  • Sail repairer
  • Weather forecaster
  • Medic

2017-2018 race

  • Leg 1: United Kingdom to South America ~33 days
  • Leg 2: South America to Southern Aftica ~18 days
  • Leg 3: Southern Africa to Western Australia ~23 days
  • Leg 4: Western Australia to Eastern Australia ~28 days
  • Leg 5: Eastern Australia to East Coast China ~ 53 days
  • Leg 6: East Coast China to West Coast USA~33 days
  • Leg 7: West coast USA to East Coast USA ~38 days
  • Leg 8: East Coast USA to United Kingdom ~22 days

I hope this story inspires you to dare to dream and chase those dreams. Nothing is inpossible. But don’t forget the ocean is the boss when you are racing and you have to be switched on the whole time and it is not a cruise you are going on where you sit back and relax.

Learn how to sign up at http://clipperroundtheworld.com

You can also follow along and read Simon’s team’s diary. He writes most of the posts. His latest:

“This morning as the eastern sky was lightening at around 5am, after our thunderstorm experience, we received a call from the Race Office that Race 10 would end at compulsory gate 3 or at 1200 UTC on 20 May, whichever came first.

At last, a known and definite end to this long, hot and disappointing race. Qingdao were still visible 6 miles away and we had about 70 nautical miles to go to reach gate 3. So, we still had business to attend to but try as we did, we couldn’t catch them. Wind and tide conspired cruelly to repeat the misfortune of the leading boats and we spent all morning and most of the afternoon battling to get back upwind and cross gate 3, the final gate, which we did at 1605 Local time in seventh place behind Qingdao . Immediately after, we came alongside and gave them our usual GREAT Britain salute of three cheers, then a general cross deck chit chat ensued.
A short time later, IchorCoal crossed the gate in eighth place and together with Qingdao, the three boats started to motorsail in company to Costa Rica, four days away. Here, we will refuel and then head on to Panama, a further two days away, arriving around 25th May. We will pick up Garmin along the way and the four boat flotilla will follow the leading four boats westwards. The watches will stay the same but we will only have half on duty at any one time with the others on standby, giving opportunity to read, chit chat, laze around etc.
I’m looking forward to the Panama Canal very much. To me as a civil engineer, it is one of the engineering wonders of the world. I was almost involved in the widening scheme some years ago which would have been interesting and fun. Instead of going on at length this time, I will devote an entire blog to the canal and it’s construction in the coming days.”
– Simon Rosbottom

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