Sailing a boat can vary from being a simple job for one person on a little dinghy to extremely complex manoeuvres requiring 12 or more people on a large racing yacht. The Clipper 70’s fall into the latter category, with even the simplest sailing manoeuvres requiring at least 5 or 6 people. Add into this a mix of darkness, rain, wind, waves, and tiredness and things become a lot more difficult. This is not an issue for professional sailors or those with years of experience. Clipper however is an adventure for experienced sailors and novices alike. Everyone needs to be able to not only participate but work effectively and safely to ensure the boat stays safe. To do this everyone, regardless of experience, goes through a comprehensive training programme.

The training programme consists of 3 mandatory week long courses, with an optional additional week. These are creatively known as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and the Optional Theory. These are run by the training team in Clipper, which is based out of Gosport / Portsmouth in the UK. Each course has approximately 10-12 people on it, with a professional skipper and mate. This is well under the capacity of the yachts but allows for good individual tuition while still being able to sail the yachts.

Level 1

Being the first course this focuses on introducing the basics of sailing. Learning and understanding the various parts of a yacht, their names and purposes are a key part of this week. This isn’t just focused on the sails, it covers all of the systems on-board, including the numerous safety devices and processes. An ocean going yacht needs to be a self sufficient home for her crew, therefore everything from a kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms need to be included. Anything that goes wrong needs to be fixed from things on-board. All of this can’t be covered in a week, but an introduction is included.

The week is spent usually day sailing and tied up alongside in a marina each night. The days are split up between informal lectures on each topic and practical application of the things being taught. Some night sailing is usually included towards the end of the week. This general involves an introduction to the watch system of half the crew resting/sleeping while the other half sails the boat, being sure to avoid other boats and the land ;-). The watches change periodically, usually every three or four hours.

For people who haven’t sailed this can be a big and daunting week. Most people handle it pretty well, however there are a few who don’t think it is for them and pull out of the adventure during or at the end of the week.

Level 2

The second week of training builds on the first. It’s a refresher on everything that was covered in Level 1. This week introduces some new sailing configurations and evolutions. This is usually the first introduction to spinnakers and often poled out headsails. As well, further details of the other shipboard systems are covered, including emergency steering if something breaks and how to fight fires. There are some fairly sobering points made during the training and you realise how dependent on the other crew and the other boats we are going to be.

Time is spent getting into the routines of shipboard life. Including taking turns cooking, cleaning, and sailing. Some nights are spent alongside in a marina, while others are spent sailing or at anchor.

One day is spent off the boat and on a Sea Survival course. This course is run by an external expert and meets external standards within the industry. Along with some theory on how to survive is something goes terribly wrong (it’s much better to be prepared) a couple of hours are spent in a pool, experiencing what it might be like if you had to abandon ship. This includes floating and swimming with a life jacket and using a life raft. All very useful and hopefully something we’ll never have to use.

Level 3

The last course moves away from how to sail and focuses more on ocean racing. The focus is on refining and improving the sailing skills learnt in the previous two courses and putting it into a racing context. Unlike the previous two courses, on this one the boat leaves on the first day and doesn’t return to land until the last day. This is to give everyone a taste of what the race will actually be like. It also includes some mini races with other boats, to get right into the spirit of things. The Clipper race attracts people from a wide range of backgrounds, but they do generally have some things in common. One of those is definitely a healthy sense of competitiveness. By all accounts the races are hard fought, but everyone is friendly come beers at the end of the course.

Up until this point, the training has been with anyone on the race. This includes crew who are likely to be on other boats. The level 3 course is different, it’s designed to be undertaken with crew you’ll be racing with and with your race skipper. This means the courses are only run after crew allocation. The Level 1 and Level 2 courses are run in the 18 months prior to the race start.

Optional Theory

A shore based week of theory is offered to those crew members who wish to attend. The course covers a wide range of topics from navigation to winch maintenance and everything in between. It’s a useful supplement to the mandatory training, especially for those who are newer to sailing.


I’ve complete the Level 1 and Level 2 courses already and start the Level 3 tomorrow. I’ll write some more on the individual courses in the coming weeks.