The Clipper 2019-20 Race Restarts

GRA's Brand Ambassador, Pat Turner, on board Team Zhuhai, gives us the run down on his preparation for the race restart and some insights into the team and leadership challenges he thinks his team may face during this latter half of the race.

GRA are the Official Learning and Development Supplier of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, appointed ahead of the 2019-20 race (which has spanned 2021 and into 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). We were appointed to deliver tailored training that focuses on honing the leadership and team development skills of the Skippers, First Mates and Race Crew ahead of the 12th edition. 

It's been a long two years! No one needs me to say this, but it has and it feels better to say it again as we shrug off the recent past and start to move towards what looks like a 'new normal'. Aspects of our old work and home lives are starting to return. For many people and businesses, life over the last two years may have led to significant changes, different directions, unexpected challenges, putting previous plans on hold or a mixture of all of these.

Prior to the pandemic I had set off in March 2020 to take part in the Clipper 2019-20 Race, flying out to the Philippines to join the fleet as it sailed in from the East Coast of Australia to Subic Bay. This was, for me, the culmination of just over two years of training and preparation, working towards taking part in Legs 6, 7 and 8 and being part of the Zhuhai team as crew. 

I had always wanted to sail across an ocean, even though I was a novice sailor prior to my Clipper Race training. I never thought I would actually do this but I was about to experience the mighty North Pacific in the race to Seattle via a number of stopovers in China - I was excited, apprehensive but also as ready as I could be. The 2020 stopover in the Philippines included a Crew Changeover (some crew leave, some join and some stay on, based on what individuals had signed up for), followed by a short 4-5 day race in the South China Sea to bring the new team together before we set off for China and then Seattle. It was during this short race that the world rapidly went into lockdown. On our return to port and after a few days of quarantine in the marina at Subic Bay, the Clipper Race teams were required to leave the boats behind and to head back to our home countries - around 50% of the crew are from the UK with a plethora of other countries represented by other crew members.

Looking back, I think we were all initially hopeful that the postponement of the race was at best for six months, possibly stretching out to a full 12 months. I don't think anyone anticipated that a full two years would go by and even now, knowing that the virus is still working its way through new variants and impacting several countries. I hope we are truly seeing the end of serious infections, major restrictions and the economic turmoil that has impacted many people and countries across the world. We desperately need to refresh our lives, or so it feels to me.

From a very personal perspective and like many others, I have filled the last two years by doing a number of planned and unplanned things. I have:

  • Returned to work on a reduced part-time basis, which has been great for the work-life balance side of things
  • Moved house during the second lockdown, resulting in a long list of the usual house and garden jobs for me to work through and keep me occupied
  • Re-joined a gym to strengthen my upper-body and balance. I'm not a gym person but this, I felt, was necessary just to get me in better shape for the race
  • Practiced knots and mentally rehearsed various sail evolutions (where we change our direction of travel, change sails etc)
  • Managed to fit in a few short breaks in the UK with my wife
  • Thankfully, travelled out to Singapore at the start of this year to visit our newly-born first grandchild (and our daughter and son-in-law), following an easing of their travel restrictions

The Clipper Race team hasn't been quiet either! I was able to take part in one of a number of Refresher Sailing sessions for crew waiting to restart the race, in August 2021, and I also joined a Level 3 Training event in October 2021 which formed part of the training programme for new crew either joining the postponed edition or the Clipper 2023-24 Race. These sailing events have been excellent in building knowledge and confidence during this period - and it was so good to get back on the water and to be within the Clipper Race environment again. 

As we move towards the Race Restart, the Clipper Race team has been very busy out in Subic Bay. At the time of writing this their Maintenance Team, the 11 Skippers and 11 AQPs (the "Additional Qualified Person" on each boat, also known as First Mates) have been out working on the boats for several weeks. We've had regular updates via social media and our boats look to be in great shape and will be ready to sail when we join them onboard on 28 February. Prior to that date, the crew have to complete the pre-flight Covid-19 requirements and then complete a three night hotel quarantine period in the Subic Bay area, alongside a further 'fit to sail' PCR test. We then complete a Level 4 Training programme (a refresher sail for some crew). After that we have almost a week to finalise what we need for the big sail across to Seattle starting on 20 March. During this time we will all be within a protective Clipper Race bubble with twice-weekly Covid-19 tests, all of which is designed to look after Clipper Race Crew and Clipper Race staff whilst in the Philippines, ensuring that we are safe and healthy when we finally set off.

Joining the Skipper, AQP and crew for the Zhuhai team presents some interesting leadership and team dynamics. We have a new Skipper, some 'old' crew (with varying levels of previous sailing experience) and some new crew who have been trained up over the last six months or so. 

I like to explore Tuckman's Team Development model, which I find easy to relate to and sets out in simple stages the evolution of a team. You can sense that we too will almost unconsciously work through the Forming, Storming, Norming and then Performing stages. As a group we have all completed the same rigorous Clipper Race sail training and are like-minded in many ways. I would expect us to move through the initial development stages relatively quickly to then work on and refine our team performance (a continuous process that will run all of the way through to London and the end of the Race). 

One of the external dynamics that I enjoy is the diversification of the crew - gender, age, nationality, careers (to date) and social backgrounds which provide for a palette of rich life experiences, exchanges and engagement. The Clipper Race brings this diversification, and the people that contribute to this, together in a very special way creating friendships that will run for long after our race has been completed.

So, with just a few more days to go before I fly out (and Covid-19 test permitting), I am ready for this challenge and for the experiences ahead of me. I'm itching to get started!