Traveling On a Race Yacht May Seem Glorious, But Isn’t Always Smooth Sailing

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The environment on board the ship is not for everyone.
(MARCUS SANTOS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

This article originally appeared online at the New York Daily News.

Sailing seemed like a breeze.

As I clambered aboard the Garmin Clipper race yacht last week, the waters of New York Harbor were calm and lulling.

With all of Manhattan under a brilliant blue sky as a back drop, even the physical exertion of hoisting the sails on the boat didn’t seem overly demanding. It was easy to think, “I could get used to this.”

But the sailing isn’t always smooth aboard the 70-foot yacht, which was taking a break before the final leg of its nearly yearlong around-the-world sail beginning and ending in London.

The crew of about two dozen is made up of amateurs, paying about $62,000 for the experience, working under an experienced skipper.

After getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D, I descended into the bowels of the boat for an immersion into what life is really like for the sailors.

“Mentally, dealing with this environment is hard,” said Simon Parker, 29, a journalist sailing and cycling from China to London in 130 days — and making part of his journey on the yacht.

“We saw waves which just defy belief. That seascape and that environment is just so inhuman. People just aren’t meant to be out there.”

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Diana Crandall (l.) helps sail the Garmin Clipper in New York Harbor.
(MARCUS SANTOS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It takes a certain type of person to thrive in the environment — and Ross Ham, a 59-year-old Australian, is one of them. Deciding that sailing around the world once wasn’t enough, Ham is on his second trip — and considering a third.

“I learned to sail when I was 6,” Ham said. “It stayed in my blood. When I get an opportunity to do it again, then yep — I jump at it.”

New Yorkers are no strangers to close quarters, but even the most hardened city slickers would find a healthy challenge in taking up real estate below deck. The tiny bunks are shared between two people who wake up every four hours to sail.

But with those tribulations come the thrills. Those aboard the yacht not only get to compete in a race against 11 other identical sailboats — they get to visit incredible destinations around the world.

“Anyone can do it,” said Marina Thomas, senior press officer at the Clipper Race. “It’s not an exclusive thing for professionals.”

Thomas added that ordinary people, including those who have overcome serious illness or disability, look at the race as the next great challenge to push their limits.

In the sunshine on deck, it was hard to imagine hurricane-force winds or frigid seawater battering the boat as its sleep-deprived crew worked around the clock to keep things moving.

But hearing the stories of the crew made it easy to imagine the triumph of finally hitting land after developing some serious sea legs.

If you want to see the yacht off to London yourself, the 12 amateur teams will depart in a Parade of Sail in front of the New York skyline and Statue of Liberty between 11:15 and 11:45 a.m. on Monday.

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