Crew allocation is one of the most eagerly anticipated dates in the Clipper Race diary. It is the day when the excited amateur crew are told which boat they are going to be on and who their skipper will be. And most importantly the crew come together other for the first time. Some of these people will be living together for 11 months, in a confined space, so ‘getting on’, and having common goals and values is critical.
Crew allocation was a long, and energising day. I drove down late the night before and crashed in a friend’s room. We arrived early at the Portsmouth’s Guildhall on crew allocation day. The whole area was buzzing with people, you could feel the nervous excitement in the air. Everyone chatting away, lots of introductions going on, hustle and bustle and much speculation on boats, crew and skippers.
Notably, none of us particularly look like trans-oceanic sailors… a motley crew of mixed ages, genders, heights, shapes and sizes. But the queue for the crew kit soon dealt with that… a long snaky line to pick up your official gear, and after a short wait, in my hands I found a smart red ‘RACE CREW’ jacket. Wow!!! It is official, after months of waiting and weeks of training, I AM CREW. And guess what, after kit pick up, looking around… everyone suddenly did look like crew. We looked professional, if I do say so myself! Camera flashes were going off everywhere, lots of selfies, and lots of smiles. This is the day we have all been waiting for.
The excitement and energy in the air was contagious. 500 people all with a common ambition. We are undertaking the Race of Our Life. And today is the day when we find out who we’re doing it with.
I’ve made no secret of the fact I want to win this thing. I’ve read through the skipper profiles a dozen times, trying to work out which skipper I think is going to be the best leader for me, the most aligned to my objective, the best fit for me in terms of leadership style, and one that I can work most effectively with. My conclusion, and from personal experience of sailing with him was GT, or Gaetan. I emailed Clipper a few weeks before allocation asking to be on his boat. But they would neither confirm nor deny, so it was a few weeks of waiting patiently.
How the day panned out…
After professional photos, interviews, and kit collection, Approx 500 crew from 32 countries took seats in the main hall. Sir Robin Knox Johnson took centre stage. Opening the day with a speech about safety. “Keep reading, Keep training… Learn as much about the sea as you can” came his wise words.
He was followed by a series of speakers:
– Mark Light – Race Director. Talked about race rules and training
– Laura – Clipper Office member.Talked about key dates
– Julia – Head of Comms. Talked about the role of media crew
– Charlotte Westbrook – UNICEF. Talked about fund raising for the race charity, and played us a nice message from Eddy Izzard.
Tension and nerves continued to build. We are desperate to know what the route is, are there any secret announcements, and importantly we want to know who’s boat we’re on.
Dan Smith – Deputy Race Director took the stage and ran through the race route. Some of which is still confidential, so I unfortunately can’t share any more on that here.
Sir Robin returned to give one final speech, again mostly focusing on safety. Announcing the introduction of the ‘safety committee’ – which is effectively 3 x Coxswains on each boat who assist the skipper in maintaining better safety standards on board. It seems a sensible move.
“You’re doing something special. Why do the easy things in life? Congratulations!”
On that note, he looked around the room at the crew, with a look of emotion and joy on his face and walked off the stage… like a proud father. A round of applause erupted. With that, the Skippers filed on to the stage. Some looked tense, others confident. But make no mistake, this was taking most of them well out of their own comfort zones. Nerves started to rise.
The bit we’ve all been waiting for…
One by one the skippers stood up and read out 30 names (the first half of their crew). My name wasn’t read out. But notably a few of my close friends had secured a place on Gaetan’s boat. Hooray! The skippers then stood again, and read the 2nd half of their crew lists. All the while I was sitting, waiting nervously for my name to be read. As each skipper stood, I was really hoping to not hear my name, one by one they sat back down and I was so hopeful that I was going to make the cut and be on the boat with my friends and skipper choice. BUT…. In that moment, where I thought I was home and dry… my name was called. No, no, no, this cannot be happening.
I am not on the boat I want and nor am I with my crew. What to do, what to do. I have minutes to decide how to play this. All my friends around me are on GT’s boat, how can this be happening? Do I shut up and put up, go on a rival boat, make new friends, embrace this. Do I challenge it. What to do?!
I have to challenge it. This is no longer simply about skipper preference, this is more about all of my training crew., my good friends being together, without me! My heart is with them, on that boat. I am not even legging with them, but I want to cheer them on. How can I cheer on a rival boat? I need to be on that boat.
As soon as the announcements finished, I rushed to find the Deputy Race Director. This is not the essence of the race at all. It is not the spirit. And I know people will read this and not understand or agree with what I did. BUT I did, and I had my reasons. It was a split second decision. I had one opportunity to act. And I had to take it. Dan understood immediately my situation… I had made a request (as had most of my crew mates), their request was met, mine wasn’t. They’re all together (a group of good friends), and I am not. I am not able to attend crew bonding, so why start from scratch?! Within a few minutes Dan sought me out, and had moved me. Phew!
I don’t think in my life I have felt such an intense moment of disappointment, only to suddenly then feel the complete opposite – sheer relief, and disbelief of what just happened. Utter elation.
I made my way to find my new crew. A hug at the door awaited me from Gaetan (GT), my official race skipper. Followed by so many smiles and hugs from my crew. They were also in slight disbelief.
The crew are incredible… I have friends and former sailing crew – Art, Mike, Dave Smith, Lyndsay, Sammi, Steph, and Moxey. And many many new friends – we immediately gelled. Check out the full team here. We are a confident, competitive crew. Our goals align. We all support our skipper. And importantly our goals align with his.
It seems like a perfect recipe. I couldn’t be happier to be part of team GT. It was a turbulent day, and now we can move on and celebrate. And celebrate we did. A fantastic night to remember – the first night of our campaign. Many tactics and secrets are already bubbling away.
Now the fun begins. Strategising. Tactics. Training. Fitness. Team bonding…. Norming, forming. This is it. This is the race of our lives. And we are Team GT.