Hikers in Wales saw a rare sight last month – sailors.
Twelve sailors were recently chosen to skipper the dozen ocean yachts that will race this year’s Clipper Round the World. Starting in August, the 10-month, 40,000 nautical mile race is the longest of its kind.
One of the skippers is Diane Reid, 42, who first filled her sails at the local Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club.
She is the only Canadian woman to land the job.
But before she can sail the first leg of the Clipper, a gruelling 33-day sprint from Britain to Brazil, Reid and the other skippers had a less fearsome task – scrambling up a Welsh peak called the Sugar Loaf.
It was an exercise in team-building, perhaps the handiest skill a Clipper skipper can have.
Besides extreme length, Reid said the Clipper is an unusual race because it is mainly crewed by amateurs, and the crew can change at every port.
“If I’m lucky, I’ll have seven or eight round-the-worlders,” she said, speaking to Beach Metro News from a training centre in Gosport, UK.
“Really, it’s a whole new team every time we start the next leg.”
To crew a Clipper yacht for the whole eight-leg race costs about $84,000, so most people sail just one or two.
On April 25, all 600 crew will gather with their skippers for the first time.
All the crew take a month-long course on the 23-metre long, twin-rudder Clipper yachts, which can race up to 35 knots (65 km/h). Reid will teach her crew for the final week of the course, which covers racing maneuvers.
“It’s an honour,” said Reid, who teaches sailing when home in Toronto.
“It’s such a difficult job to be one of these skippers, it’s so encompassing.”
Once she sets sail, Reid will face every kind of ocean challenge, from high-seas swells and island chains to dreaded doldrums at the equator.
Reid expects some of the toughest sailing to come on the Southern Ocean, when they race from South Africa to Australia.
“It’s bitterly cold,” she said, noting how icy storms tend to blow round and round the South Pole.
“They’re always massive – they’re these huge, never-ending storms that just keep pressing around.”
And even after marathon Atlantic crossings and route-finding in the South China Sea, Reid said in the end, it’s not uncommon for the top three yachts to finish hours, even minutes apart.
Commanding a 20-person crew on such a big, powerful machine is about as different as Reid could get from the last big race of her 16-year sailing career.
In 2013, she competed in the Mini Transat, a solo trans-Atlantic race done in relatively tiny, 6.5-metre craft.
Freak storms and a broken mast part forced Reid to end that race early, waylaid on the Canary Islands.
Now, after a whole year of work to beat out the 200 other sailors who applied to be Clipper race skippers, Reid is gearing up for a crewed race 10 times as long.
“I’m incredibly excited,” she said.