LEARNING ROPES ON CITY’S YACHT

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My feet are braced to keep me upright, I’m clinging onto the laptop, and a couple of crew members are staggering past leaning at peculiar angles as they try to pull on their foul weather gear. And this is just a straightforward tacking exercise, in a light breeze, in sheltered water.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to try to move about – let alone cook, eat or sleep – on board a clipper yacht in gale force winds.

But I’m probably going to find out.

I’m on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the 68ft racing yacht sponsored by the city council in the Clipper Round the World yacht race.

On July 31, she will set sail from Southampton on a year-long circumnavigation, crewed by non-professional sailors who have trained specially for the task – and I will join them, travelling as far as the first port of call in Madeira.

At the moment, I’m in for a much easier ride, joining the crew on their fourth and final training session in the Solent and Channel.

As I type away, I hear skipper Gordon Reid on deck cry “positions to tack please” and brace myself to tip back into my seat instead of leaning forward towards the floor.

There’s a shout of “Lee ho” and a thundering above me as the “coffee grinder” two-person winch is put to use, shifting the vast sail from one side of the boat to the other – and I’m pushed back into my seat.

The first two days of training will be made up of drills like these and then the crew will knuckle down to a mock race with the other clipper yachts.

It is then the serious stuff kicks in, including the watch system, where the crew divides into two teams, working four hours on, four hours off, so the boat can be sailed round the clock (if you’re particularly attached to getting your full eight hours of sleep, round the world sailing’s not for you).

Today the pace is less frenetic as the learning continues – thoughtful, considered, the instructions and guidance bounce back and forth between the skipper, the more accomplished members of the crew, and the relative newcomers.

It is all part of the process of forging an efficient round-the-world yacht crew out of an incredibly varied group of people.

Each has paid thousand of pounds to be here, some going for just one of the eight legs, others – known on board as “RTWs” – going right round the world. Today there are sailors on board from Norway, Germany, Italy and Russia, as well as Britain.

Skipper Gordon says the challenge of bringing everyone together is one of the reasons he wanted to take part: “It’s for the pure adventure of it, and then it’s for the personal challenge for me to mould a team of non-professional sailors into a cohesive racing team,” he says.

“The most difficult part of it is managing everyone’s expectations because they all have different expectations – it’s trying to find a common set of goals out of all these expectations and maintaining my own focus at the same time - that’s my personal challenge.”

And the expectations and motivations of the crew are certainly diverse.

Among them is Holly Cocker, 26, part of the Transplant Ambassadors Project which is taking part thanks to an anonymous sponsor. Every leg of the race will have at least one transplant doctor or patient, and they hope the publicity they attract will show how transplants can transform lives, encouraging more people to sign up as donors.

Also on board is Chris Foster, a 67-year-old farmer from Bradford, who says he wanted to take part to find out if he suffered from seasickness (he doesn’t, is the happy discovery).

He has another motivation, too. “I’ve always worked on my own as a farmer. You’re on your own the whole time and I thought I’d see how I got on as a member of a team,” he says.

“I’ve always been a loner and I thought I’d see how I find it with other people.”

Among the international crew members is Joachim Bruchhauser, 52, an architect from North Bavaria. He learnt to sail ten years ago and then stopped as family and work commitments crowded in.

“Two years ago, on my 50th birthday, I gave myself this present, to do the Clipper Race,” he says.

“It’s something where you have to find your limits – even when you say, ‘I don’t want to go further,’ you can still go further, so it’s a way to find your limits and push them. You can push almost every limit, but you have to learn how to handle it so it was a personal challenge for me to do that.”

Yesterday’s session, day one, started with frenetic preparations in the marina.

The pontoon was a hive of activity, sails being taken on board, people pushing trolleys loaded with enough stores to feed up to 18 people for six days. And, for the Edinburgh Inspiring Capital crew, there was an extra job – everyone had to be measured for their official kilt to help them in their ambassadorial duties as they tour the world.

It was a racing start, which meant we were to leave the pontoon bang on our assigned start time. Just ten minutes before departure, our final crew member made it on board. Russian marine engineer Anton Larkin, 42, has come all the way from St Petersburg for this, and having misunderstood the instruction to muster at “midday”, made it by the skin of his teeth. But sure enough, at our allocated time of 3.02pm, we were under way.

Despite the different levels of experience and backgrounds, everyone works closely together – there’s not much choice when the job needs teamwork and the living space is so small. Most of the crew say the challenge is just as much about learning to live and work together as it is about mastering the technical aspects of sailing.

The accommodation is certainly compact. Everyone sleeps in the bunkroom towards the bow. Each bunk has a small amount of storage space and a strong sheet of canvas which can be pulled up at the side to stop you falling out in rough weather. The floor is deep in unused sails, which are tough enough to be walked over, and if piled up high enough make a handy ramp up to the top bunks.

The galley, where high-energy meals must be prepared for the whole crew, has room enough for two cooks before people start tripping over one another.

The toilets, or “heads”, as they are known, are right next to the galley and the door is just zippered canvas, like a tent door – it’s a touch disconcerting to use them with people preparing coffee just two feet away on the other side of the canvas.

On deck, the drills continue. I’ve no experience as a sailor, so it’s a matter of trying to do whatever I can to help, lifting, hauling ropes, listening to instructions peppered with words I don’t recognise. The word rope is useless when the boat is criss-crossed with them like a giant cat’s cradle, each with its own purpose, so they have far more specific names – halyards, runners, springs, shrouds – the list goes on.

At one point I spot someone apparently just holding on to a rope and offer to take over so he can do something more skilled. He gives me the rope, and then I realise that I’ve inadvertently just taken over control of the spinnaker, the vast billowing sail hoisted at the front of the yacht when it is sailing downwind. Gordon leaps up to show me the safest way to handle it, and before I know it the rest of the crew are settling back to enjoy the sun and review their latest manoeuvre, while I cling on, directing Joachim to winch in a little from time to time when the sail starts to fold.

The boat has a new set of sails for the race, and on this trip the crew attaches its new mainsail for the first time. It shines brightly in the sun, the Saltire and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital logos way up above me as we skip across the Solent.

Over the next 12 months they will be subjected to the roar of the trade winds and the calms of the doldrums, be winched up in gale force winds and under baking sunshine – and take the name of the Capital right around the world.

n Visit www.clipperroundtheworld.com

sgyford@edinburghnews.com.