The Clipper Race is one of the toughest endurance races in the world. Will Stokely, a crew member of Visit Seattle, opens up about his experience of this round the world yacht race and reveals what it was really like travelling over 11,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean and North Pacific…
The Clipper Race is one of the biggest challenges of the natural world and an endurance test like no other. It’s a record breaking 40,000 nautical mile race around the world on a 70-foot ocean racing yacht, and it’s open to people who have no previous sailing experience.
Someone who had never taken on a challenge like this before was Will Stokely. Despite having no experience of an endurance race like this, he successfully completed two of the eight legs. As a crew member of Visit Seattle, he took on Leg 1, The Atlantic Trade Winds, a 6,363 nautical mile race across the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool to Punta del Este, Uruguay, and the Mighty Pacific Ocean Leg 6, a 5,528 nautical mile month-long race across the North Pacific, the world’s biggest and most remote ocean, from Qingdao, China to Seattle.
Can you introduce yourself?
I am Will Stokely, a 47-year-old father of two. I work for a leadership coaching business, running a team of software developers, supporting and developing our bespoke business management software.
How did you first hear about the Clipper Race and what made you want to sign up?
I have always enjoyed watching survival type programs and always wondered how well I would do if I was really challenged and pushed to the edge of, and beyond, my comfort zone. Then, in mid-2015, I read a magazine article in which Sir Robin was talking about the Clipper Race and a lightbulb came on. I realised that this would be a way to combine my love of sailing with my desire to test myself.
Have you always had a passion for sailing?
I grew up in South Devon so have always been around boats, large and small. Whilst growing up I did a lot of yachting, both racing and cruising. Having had a break from sailing as my young family grew up, I am now Sailing Secretary at Tudor Sailing Club in Portsmouth, where I enjoy sailing and racing dinghies in Langstone Harbour.
What type of training did you do before the race?
As well as the mandatory Clipper training, I did some racing on a J97 in the Solent. I also worked on my fitness and strength. As someone who runs for fitness, I needed to work particularly hard on my core and upper body.
How did you mentally prepare yourself?
I think that I was very well prepared for what Leg 1 would deliver. In fact, perhaps too prepared, as when I got to the end of the leg, although I had thoroughly enjoyed it, I just didn’t feel like I had had the challenge that I was looking for. There was an itch that hadn’t been scratched and I was really not ready to come back to the reality of home and work, and consequently struggled to get back into real life. I was very fortunate that my family and work agreed to me going back out again in March this year, when I re-joined my yacht, Visit Seattle, for the Pacific crossing from Qingdao to Seattle. Known as the Mighty Pacific Ocean Leg, and one which traditionally tests crews perhaps more than any other Clipper Race leg, I was under no illusion about what to expect. Once again, I went out with a positive mindset, and was ready for the cold, big seas and the strong winds. When I got to Seattle, whilst I would have loved to have sailed on the next leg, I felt that I had achieved what I set out to achieve and, this time, felt ready and prepared to come back home to the real world.
What type of difficulties did you face?
Whilst we had plenty of sailing difficulties, the greatest challenges were around living on board with limited space, a shared bunk, and 20 other people to share a small space with. Add into this sleep deprivation and it’s a potential for real problems. On board Visit Seattle, we were extremely lucky. Not only did we have a skipper, Nikki Henderson, who worked incredibly hard at building a strong team on and off the boat, and below as well as above decks, but, I think, we also lucked out with a great bunch of people in the crew. Lots of generous and adventurous people who bonded together into a great team who rarely had any issues between them.
Looking back, what were the most memorable moments for you?
The two legs are full of amazing memories. On Leg 1, departing Liverpool, with the dockside teaming with people was very special and another fun memory was the whole crew grabbing shower gel to have a wash in a rain squall in the Doldrums. Leg 6 provided plenty of memories too. Our final view of land was a beautiful sunset looking back at Japan and being in a force 12 storm with 15 metre seas was incredibly special – especially as so few sailors will have experienced nature like this, at its rawest. A disaster when we ripped a spinnaker turned into a great demonstration of teamwork as both watches clicked into action and, within 20 minutes, the various parts of the spinnaker were safely back on board and we had other sails hoisted and were back up to speed again. Arriving in Seattle was also very special. As the home boat, with several Seattlites on board, it was great to arrive at the waterfront, with the sun rising over Seattle and the usual warm welcome from both the Clipper team and Visit Seattle team. Those beers tasted great!
Why would you recommend others to sign up to take part?
The Clipper Race is so much more than just a sailing adventure. I could talk for hours about all the ways that I have developed and grown as a person as a result of the two legs I have completed, and I know that the majority of crew in the race would say the same. But I would also invite people to consider the impact it has on those around you. Clipper Ventures do a great job of communicating all the action and drama through their website with the Race Viewer and daily blogs. Your family and friends become hooked on the race and can’t wait for their daily fix of blogs from the yachts. When you come back from the race, not only do you have a whole new set of amazing friends from the race, but suddenly you have many people who you realise have been vicariously living the race with you through the various media channels. I was told at my interview, two years ago, that there are many more sensible things you could find to spend your money on, but none of those ‘sensible’ options would have delivered the value, fun, adventure, challenge and growth that the Clipper Race experience has given me. I don’t have any doubt at all that it is worth every penny. Go on, sign up!!!