Bermuda’s two “ambassador crew” recruits for the Clipper 2019–20 Round the World Yacht Race have successfully made it through the halfway point, passing the first two levels of intensive training over recent weeks in the United Kingdom.
Chanara Smith-Rookes, 20, a private in the Royal Bermuda Regiment, and Matthew Stephens, 18, an Endeavour Community Sailing programme instructor, admit their training completed to date at the Clipper Race training center in Gosport, Hampshire has proven extremely rigorous as they contended with cold weather conditions and learned the ropes of life onboard dynamic, but stripped-down ocean-racing yachts.
Yet the pair, who are now completing Levels 3 and 4 before they return to the island next month, remain upbeat about mastering vital skills, meeting other crew, and preparing themselves for next year’s high-seas adventure. All Clipper Race crew must undergo four levels of training to qualify for the challenge of their respective legs in the 40,000-nautical-mile ocean race.
“Sailing is a physically and mentally challenging sport that tests your ability to function and perform at an intense level,” noted Smith-Rookes. “At any moment, something could go wrong and you don’t have the luxury of calling an expert to come fix it, because that’s what they’re training us for—to fix it ourselves. One of the highlights of this training is getting the chance to helm the boat, feeling how powerful the ocean and winds are, and using my senses and the stars to guide me.”
Both recruits were chosen to represent Bermuda aboard GoToBermuda, the island’s debut team entry in the epic race, currently underway in the Southern Ocean. Stephens will race on Leg 7 from Seattle through the Panama Canal to New York City next May–June, while Smith-Rookes will join the 11-strong matched fleet when it leaves New York June 27 for the final Leg 8 to Bermuda, then on to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and the Race Finish in London, England next August. Each Clipper Race yacht has a professional skipper and mate, with the rest of the crew made up of non-professionals aged 18 and up from around the globe.
“I have been on the water, and sailing, almost my entire life, however sailing in both the Solent and English Channel have been very cold and wet for the last couple of weeks straight,” said Stephens. “The sailing itself has also been a new experience, as we’ve had to learn how the boat is run and all the evolutions of changing sails, reefing, along with living, eating, and sleeping on board.”
Stephens and Smith-Rookes typically spend up to a week aboard yachts during each training level and maintain a watch system of four hours on duty, four hours off, when offshore.
“We’ve received a lot of support, though, and through all the highs and lows, our morale has been high,” said Stephens. “We’re still pushing strong and enjoying every bit of it and are proud and grateful to be Bermudian ambassadors!”
As Host Port and Team Partner, Bermuda will welcome the Clipper Race fleet during its week-long stopover next July. The City of Hamilton is one of 15 host ports, along with ports such as Portimão, Portugal; Punta del Este, Uruguay; Seattle, US; and Qingdao, China.
GoToBermuda and the other teams are currently racing the 5,500-mile Leg 3, one of the route’s most challenging ocean crossings, from Cape Town, South Africa to Fremantle, Australia.