At the stroke of 8am this morning, the first of twelve Clipper 70s arrived at the Port of Seattle’s Bell Harbor Marina. The arriving sailors were welcomed by a group of friends, family, fans, and media. The snowy Olmypics and Mt. Rainier even came out for the Derry Londonderry Doire team’s arrival. 48° North was lucky enough to be dockside to greet these sailors who have been at sea for 26 days and won Leg Six yesterday at Duntze Rock. There will be a number of ways to take part in the Clipper stopover over the next two weeks but the best thing will be, indeed has already been, connecting with the sailors!
The crossing was harsh for the winners, as it has been for all the teams, and they are thrilled to be in Seattle. Derry Londonderry Doire’s Scottish-born skipper, Daniel Smith, described the leg as a “tough one.” They had light winds and wind holds at the beginning of the leg and then “quite a lot of windy downwind sailing. But it wasn’t steady wind. It was very squally conditions, so it was a lot of work with a lot of sail changes going on.” Daniel also described to me how the temperature of the air and the water was difficult, that for much of the leg they reduced the number of people on deck so others could be below warming up and drinking something hot. Crew member, Joe Grosjean of Portland, OR, agreed, and mentioned that along the way they had snow and hail, and for the majority of the race the water was so cold that the spray hurt your face. And there was a lot of spray. Smith mentioned how steep the waves were, and Grosjean noted wind speeds up to 60 knots. The crew are all amateur sailors, but the conditions would have pushed the most seasoned pros.
The arrival is exciting, but it also had a bittersweet tone. All of the sailors I spoke with made some mention, each unprompted and in their own way but all with affected reverence, of the tragic loss of IchorCoal crew member, Sarah Young. The winning team also had a man overboard situation early in the leg, but thankfully this crewmember was clipped in with a harness and tether.
Despite the obvious challenges, the Derry Londonderry Doire team was all in good spirits and a celebratory mood. They were showered in champagne by their skipper and as soon as they cleared customs, the Seattle microbrew six packs were passed aboard and enjoyed before 9:00am.
I stepped briefly aboard the Clipper 70, and I can confirm that it is a big, STOUT boat. Weighing 70,000 lbs, the boat looks a fair amount like a high performance sled, but it’s heavy and overbuilt. Part of the winning team’s success was the avoidance of major breakage. My new pal, Joe Grosjean, mentioned that most of the other teams who had trouble broke because of jibe-broaches. Team Derry Londonderry Doire avoided this particular mishap and were able to stay intact and racing while others were suffering breakage.
The group of sailors has varied backgrounds, as is typical with the Clipper Race. Grosjean has an extensive offshore racing resume, punctuated by six trips to Hawaii, including TransPac and Pacific Cup, as well as over 30 races up and down the coast. Joe and his wife and three children are also leaving for a world cruise in September! Conversely, I talked to a young Brit named Ellie Fearon, who learned to sail as a part of the Clipper race. She’s doing the entire circumnavigation, and has developed into an obviously savvy offshore sailor after months of sailing with the Skipper Smith and the Derry Londonderry Doire crew. Six offshore legs into her sailing career, including in the Southern Ocean, she counts the North Pacific as the most challenging leg, with fronts that came through “quickly and violently.” She attributes the win to good navigational calls, though Smith also noted their team’s superior downwind speed.
Two more Clipper teams will arrive in Seattle this evening. And all twelve are expected to be here by the weekend. Once all the boats get in, the festivities will begin in earnest with boat tours available, bar nights with some of the teams, and a variety of other events. The full stopover event schedule linked here.
I hope to see many of you at some of the other welcomes and events!