I will be crossing the Pacific Ocean from Qingdao, China to the west coast of the USA in the spring of 2020 as a crew member of the 2019-2020 Clipper Round The World Race. This race provides amateurs, such as me, the opportunity to cross an ocean or circumnavigate the planet under sail on an ocean-racing sailboat. Ocean racing used to be the exclusive domain of professional sailors and the super rich before Clipper. I am neither.
This page will detail my journey not just across the Pacific Ocean as crew on a 70ft sailing vessel, but my journey to get to the starting line. Though I don’t have to fork over millions of dollars for a boat and crew or go back in time to devote my life to becoming a professional sailing athlete, I do still have to save up a whole boatload of vacation time and as much overtime money as I can. There’s a long journey ahead before I ever set foot on a Clipper 70.
How it Began
My journey to cross the Pacific began in the spring of 2013 when I was 43 years old though I didn’t know a Pacific crossing was the destination. After almost 10 years of marriage my wife, Stacey, and I had just embarked on a journey towards living the lives we wanted. We had completing numerous personal and relationship development classes as our first steps. One evening, while enjoying a rare couple’s weekend in Long Beach, Washington, she asked if there was anything I always wanted to do but had never done. I told her I always wanted to learn to sail. The next morning while enjoying a hotel continental breakfast she showed me a Groupon she had just purchased for sailing lessons in Seattle. My sailing journey had begun.
Life had other plans though, so sailing had to wait a bit. In fact it had to wait 3 years. We decided to move to Kauai, Hawaii. My wife, Stacey, moved to Kauai while our daughter, Lauren, and I stayed in Tacoma to finish 1st grade and sell our house. We sold the house, moved into a rental, stuffed all our belongings into a 20 foot container and eventually joined her about 8 months later.
When we moved back to Tacoma about a year later I still had this craving to learn how to sail and I still had an unused Groupon. I contacted Seattle Sailing Club at Shilshole Bay in Seattle and set up my beginner classes. I guess I’m supposed to say that I immediately fell in love with sailing and became obsessed with it. While I did become obsessed with it, I was actually terrified. I grew up on land surrounded by land. I am not a water person by nature. I can swim well, but I am not a boat person. Prior to these sailing lessons in 2016 I had never set foot on a sail boat and had only been on powerboats less than 10 times in my life. It all seemed very unnatural. It kept heeling over making me feel as if it was about to capsize. There were a million things (or so it seemed) on board that could break bones, crack my skull, cause deep cuts and burns, and just generally make life miserable. Crawling around on a fiberglass hull cracking my elbows and knees on fittings and grinding winches with my torso torqued at odd angles left me sore and bruised for a week.
Like I said, I became obsessed. I read everything I could get my hands on about sailing. I watched every movie and youtube video I could find that had something to do with sailing.
While I was uncomfortable on board (did I say terrified earlier?) it was that fear that drove me to delve deeper into sailing. I’ve led a pretty risk-filled life thus far and this was yet another fear to become friends with. I don’t quite know why but I know I like doing things in spite of fear. All of this makes me sound like an adrenaline fueled Patrick Swayze in “Point Break” but I assure you I am not.
Anyway, back to sailing–As part of this sailing obsession, I bought an old 19ft wooden sailboat that I saw on the side of the road. It was cheap, which those in the boating world know means super expensive after the sale is final. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that I got to learn a lot about boats. I learned wood working, varnishing, metal working, rigging, trailer repair, rope work, and some engine maintenance. I still haven’t got her under sail due to a stuck centerboard that I can’t figure out, but she does float and is pretty smooth under engine power.
I’ve since taken more sailing classes through Puget Sound Sailing Institute and spent some afternoons crewing on friends sailboats and in a couple races in Commencement Bay near Tacoma. Our daughter, Lauren, is also into sailing and has become a very competent dinghy sailor. She’s way more comfortable than I am.
One night while driving along the Seattle waterfront at Bell Harbor I saw flags and inflatable display tents announcing the arrival of something called the Clipper Round the World Race. This was shortly after I took my beginner classes in 2016. I had no idea what it was but it seemed to be something similar to the Volvo Ocean Race. This seemed cool that I’d get to see a professional race stopover and maybe look at the boats. Howvere, when I researched it I realized that, while it was really similar to Volvo, it was for amateurs. The more I researched it the more interested I became. The race was founded by a man named Sir Robin Knox-Johnstonwho was the first solo non-stop circumnavigator of the world back in 1969. He had conceived of the race as a way for regular people to circumnavigate without having to fund a boat and all the supplies and crew.
As I drove past the marina night after night while working the graveyard shift I thought about it more and more. One night around midnight I decided to park my car and look at the displays up close. I must say, Clipper knows how to attract those of us looking for an adventure. As I looked at the vivid pictures of waves crashing over soaking wet, frozen-looking crew dressed in bright red foulies with day-glo yellow hoods I was hooked. It looked terrifying, and I was hooked.
As I stood there taking it all in, I suddenly became aware of someone standing next to and slightly behind me. I turned and saw it was a night watch security guard hired to protect the displays. She was staring at the pictures and reading the captions. “I’m doing this,” she said more to herself than to me. “I’ll figure out a way, but I’m doing this.” “Yeah,” I said, “me too” and I turned and left.