When Garth and I were about to sail to Hong Kong during our seven-year voyage around the Pacific, friends who’d been part of our T-bird racing fleet suggested we contact their daughter, Christa, who was leading youth adventures in Hong Kong. Shortly after we arrived we did, and she treated us to spicy Szechuan fare and Chrysanthemum tea in a posh Hong Kong eatery. Then she introduced us to one of her work colleagues, Sandra, and Sandra’s husband Nigel, both avid sailors. We immediately loved their humor and can-do attitude and forged a strong bond.
Garth and I originally planned to remain in Hong Kong for only a month or so, but an early season typhoon convinced us to stay longer. Over the next eight months, while multiple typhoons rolled over the region, we lived aboard our 31-foot sailboat, Velella, in steamy Hong Kong. We fully immersed ourselves in the rich community there and spent a lot of time with Sandra and Nigel, especially Sandra. While Nigel flew to distant horizons as a pilot with Cathay Pacific, Sandra and I raced sailboats together. Later we worked together leading youth adventures in Hong Kong and China. I quickly learned that she’s a trooper—no matter what she’s facing—who shares and maybe even surpasses my thirst for adventure.
Once Garth and I sailed away, Sandra and Nigel worried about us as we headed south to the Philippines, then on to Taiwan and Japan and particularly as we crossed the cold north Pacific on our way home from our seven-year, 34,000-mile voyage. We’ve stayed in close touch ever since, as Garth and I readjusted to life back on shore and Sandra and Nigel raced to the Philippines and campaigned their boat in regattas around Asia. We’ve returned to Hong Kong to visit and met up with Nigel on a stopover in San Francisco while Garth and I were there for the annual boat show, but we kept urging them to visit Seattle. We were eager to share the natural beauty and hiking challenges that our region boasts plus the fantastic sailboat racing we enjoy here.
In 2015, their annual holiday letter mentioned that Sandra had fulfilled a “bucket list” dream of winning the Sydney Hobart race. Not one to post much on Facebook, she shared a rare photo of the fêted arrival of her victorious Danang team that participated in the race as a part of the Clipper Round the World route.
Garth and I had heard about the Clipper Round the World Race at Seattle’s Corinthian Yacht Club shortly before we left on our voyage in 2000, and later met its creator and sponsor, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, in New Zealand. At the time, we wondered why anyone would want to pay to race around the world with strangers. Upon further reflection, we realize that the race offers a rare opportunity to many people in search of a worthy challenge. Not everyone has the experience or the luxury to outfit a boat and take off for an extended voyage as Garth and I did. The Clipper Race (www.clipperroundtheworld.com) provides a complete adventure package that lets even non-sailors learn what they need to know to participate in one or more legs of this yearlong nine-leg journey around the globe under the guidance of an experienced skipper on a well-prepared boat. No need to buy and outfit a boat from scratch; no need to find crew or risk a good marriage in tight quarters. It offers built-in camaraderie and tough, one-design competition aboard 70-footers and the flexibility to choose as much or as little as you desire to undertake … at a price. While paying to participate in this race might be expensive, it might be far more doable than the kind of voyage Garth and I undertook on our own. We could certainly relate to a desire to test oneself against the elements. The race incorporates extensive preparatory training that can take a non-sailor through the demands of sailing and guide them into becoming a valued crewmember in one of the most challenging situations a sailor can face, that of racing on the open ocean.
Our friend Sandra sailed two legs of the last Round the World Clipper Race, the Sydney Hobart race into the Southern Ocean and all the way to Danang, Vietnam. When I learned that the Round the World Clipper Race fleet would stop in Seattle the spring of 2016, I urged Sandra and Nigel to come for a visit. “You could catch up with your old team mates!” I told her. She replied jokingly, “Be careful what you suggest because I just might!”
Soon, the idea developed momentum and we made plans. In April 2016, when the fleet began arriving, I headed down to Bell Street Pier to see them. I enjoyed touring the boats and chatting with the sailors and race organizers. Each day a few more boats showed up, making multiple dock visits interesting. Seeing these weary, salty sailors brought back vivid memories of our arrivals in foreign ports after a long passage. Like them, Garth and I struggled with conflicting priorities between a hot shower, a hot satisfying meal, a long walk, and a good night’s sleep—all things we had foregone during our many long passages. I watched with amusement as team mates unloaded soggy gear onto the dock and began removing broken equipment in need of repair. Some aspects of sailing are universal, paying or not.
During the Pacific crossing in 2016, Sandra’s team, Danang, suffered a violent knockdown in the North Pacific that damaged their steering, which slowed their progress as they sailed the remaining distance. When the team finally limped into port long after their rivals, I greeted Sandra’s teammates with a bottle of champagne. Skipper, Wendy Tuck, had a terrible three-inch gash, sewn closed with fresh stitches just above her hairline, from being thrown across the cabin from her bunk during the knockdown. Sandra, who was flying to Seattle on standby, managed to find a flight into Seattle late one night just a few days after her team arrived.
After catching some sleep, Sandra and I walked down to where the fleet was gathered at Bell Street Pier. Unfortunately Danang had relocated to Shilshole’s Seaview West to address the damage caused by the knockdown. This added to the logistical challenge teammates often face whenever they arrive in a new port, that of needing to run extensive errands to provision and repair the boat, often without decent transportation. When Garth and I sailed around the Pacific, we encountered this problem often, so I could relate. In addition, because the boat was in the boatyard, the crew couldn’t stay aboard as they’d hoped. So besides race fees, the crew needed to be prepared to find and cover the extra costs of a place to stay, restaurant meals, and transportation. I quickly saw a way to help by chauffeuring the crew and using my car and local knowledge to run errands. Sandra and I enjoyed aiding them any way we could. There was so much to be done to prepare for the next leg of the journey. And so, just as I did in New Zealand during the Around Alone race, I went from being an enthusiastic groupie to becoming a team contributor. It was déjà vu. Alongside the crew, I loaded and sorted food into daily provision kits stored in body-sized dry bags. It took six of us to haul and bend on the enormous main. We wrapped, coated, and cleaned.
We met crew who were just joining the team in Seattle and those who would be flying home in a few days or a week after the adventure of a lifetime. We met the “Round-the-Worlders,” folks who had signed on for the whole enchilada—racing every leg—and the very same people that Sandra had raced alongside in the Sydney-Hobart and beyond. The team welcomed me warmly, appreciating the help offered that they desperately needed. The crew dinner at Ivar’s later in the week was a memorable one I’ll always treasure, and not just for the buttery salmon. I am grateful to them for including me as though I were one of them. Perhaps the fact that I had been offshore for 34,000 miles in the same body of water they’d experienced had something to do with it, but I suspect it was more about reaching out and making friends across borders by sharing a common goal of getting the boat prepared for the next leg of the journey. We shared an enthusiasm for what they were doing and that transcends boundaries. By the time the start came, I was caught up in the energy of the crew and the cheering crowd and felt primed to face the open ocean. It felt wrong when I didn’t also step aboard the boat that last time to sail away with them on one of the biggest challenges of their lives.
After the racers left, Nigel arrived and Garth and I shared a few of our favorite haunts with Sandra and Nigel and even took them racing around Port Madison aboard our friend Evan’s Cal 40. Our common love of sailing and the great outdoors brought us together so many years ago, and we were glad for the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company in person once again.
Now two years later, it’s an honor that race organizers have chosen Seattle as a host city once again. A special surprise for me came when Sandra told me she’d be racing again. It seemed so appropriate that my dear friend Sandra would be on her way to Seattle once more, this time under sail. For this adventuresome woman, I think it will feel so much more satisfying than arriving by airplane as she did in 2016. I am so excited to see her and to cheer her on. As I write this, she is battling the wintry North Pacific aboard PSP Logistics.
Knowing she is out there on the cold North Pacific, as we were years ago, has brought so many memories flooding back. Our voyage across the north Pacific took Garth and me 49 days nonstop. Their crossing is expected to take 24-28. I am following their progress closely and I feel as though I am with them every step of the way. As they traverse these waters, I can vividly picture what they are facing – the heavy fishing and vessel traffic near the Asian coast, thick fog, and the rough waters of the Kuroshio Current near Japan, and thousands of miles windless flat water or storm-whipped waves without any features on the horizon for as far as the eye can see – to traverse the unimaginably frigid waters of the North Pacific that has taken so many lives. Though I crossed this very stretch of ocean myself, I find myself worrying about her, capable though she and her teammates are. (I now have a newfound sympathy for my mother, forced to passively wait for news of us.) Sandra’s team, PSP Logistics, is sitting in a good spot at present, but it is a big ocean—over 5,000 miles of some of the toughest conditions Mother Nature can throw at you. The teams are expected to arrive around April 19-21—depending on the wind, of course. Keep an eye out and you may spot them making their way down the Sound after conquering a rough ocean.
I can’t wait to see Sandra and to celebrate this huge undertaking. Unfortunately, by the time Sandra signed on to the team, I had plane tickets to San Francisco to present at the Pacific Sail and Power Boat Show. I am disappointed that I may not be here when she arrives. Do me a favor: Keep track of PSP Logistics and give Sandra the warm welcome I would if I were here. While you are at it, give them all a warm welcome.
I am so encouraged to see two women skippers in this race, Wendy Tuck back again aboard Sanya and Nikki Henderson on Visit Seattle. I’ve been following them just as closely as Sandra and the PSP Logistics crew. Plus, I’m happy to see how mixed the crews are aboard these vessels. I love sailing in all forms, racing or cruising. It’s all good. For this city of sailors of varied interests, it’s a treat to have such a world class event sail into our incredible local waters. We want them to return again and again!
I urge you not to miss this unique opportunity be an ambassador for our city. Attend one of the “meet and greet” events scheduled around town. Take a tour of these impressive racing machines and imagine yourself shoehorned into their cramped, smelly interiors living among twenty strangers under volatile conditions. Look for the telltale Clipper RTW jackets and listen for accents from all parts of the globe. Welcome them. Help the crews navigate this confusing traffic-bound city of hills and waterways. Help them obtain the provisions and boat parts they need to carry on. Offer a lift, a sack lunch, or a helping hand and you may make a friend.
See a full details of Clipper Round the World Stopover activities here: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/port/west-coast-usa-2017-18
Fortunately, I expect to be here shortly after the finish and before the start of the next leg, when local sailors like Seattle’s own Lizabeth Rose will join others embarking on the journey of their lives.