By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
After attending the Seattle Boat Show a couple years ago, Xiaohui “Tony” Chen decided to take on a huge sailing adventure. He learned about the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and signed up to be a part of the almost two-month ocean adventure. The race made its stop in Seattle during mid-April as part of leg 6 of an 8-leg, 40,000-nautical mile voyage around the world.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo nonstop around the world, came up with the idea for this event. It is now in its eleventh year. The uniqueness of allowing normal individuals with a passion for adventure and sailing to partake in this experience is what draws many to the race.
This year, the race features 712 non-professional crew, the most-ever, including many who had no previous sailing experience prior to signing up. The full 11 month circumnavigation costs roughly $61,245, which includes accommodation on board, all food and drink, and ocean racing clothing. A leg of the race costs about $6,800. Clipper Race training is mandatory for everyone and the crew must pass each of the four levels of training which take one week to complete. Joining crew also get tested in port before they can sail. Safety drills are carried out before each race starts. Some crew members will undertake additional theoretical and practical training to become Clipper Race Coxswain Crew members. The training is designed in collaboration with the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA).
“This is the first time doing the Clipper race,” said the software engineer from Issaquah. “I learned to sail in 2014 because Seattle is a great sailing place.” Chen participates locally in the summer and dabbled in some events, including a sailing race in Victoria.
Born in Beijing, China, Chen came to the United States to attend graduate school in Missouri. He moved to Seattle in 2007.
“In 2015, I saw a commercial for the Clipper Race and I thought it was a good way to gain sailing experience.” In addition to the hands-on experience, there is a competitive aspect of the event.
Days before leaving, Chen spoke about his excitement for the race. He would be on a yacht racing with a crew that would start in Seattle, sailing in the Pacific along the West Coast and through the Panama Canal by the end of May, and then arriving in New York by mid-June. Chen noted that it was the longest time he was able to take time off from work, otherwise Chen may have decided to stay on.
The Clipper Round the World Race includes 12 70-foot ocean racing yachts. The race is divided into 8 legs and individuals can complete the full race, which begins and ends in Liverpool, England, or participate in individual legs. This previous leg started in Qingdao, China before docking in Seattle.
Chen took the mandatory 4 week training courses required for the race. “You need to have the physical strength.” Chen added, “There is a mental part, too.” Chen noted that there is little privacy on the yacht and his sleep schedule is sporadic. There is also the need to work together with the crew members who come from different backgrounds with different personalities. Chen has met many fellow competitors through his training for the event, as well as participating in other local sailing activities.
There is also the issue of preparing to be seasick. Although he enjoys sailing, Chen acknowledges that there is a likelihood that he may become seasick while on the trip. “It’s something that I need to deal with,” Chen said.
Chen will be separated from his 13-year-old daughter during the race. Despite the hesitancy of being away, his daughter has been supportive and understands his passion for sailing. When Chen told her about the opportunity, she told him, “Dad, you need to go.”
“I appreciate her understanding,” he said. “I owe her two months,” indicating the time Chen will be away that he’ll repay his daughter when he returns.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.