Clipper 2025-26 round the world yacht race.

Raced by people like you, this global ocean race is an endurance challenge like no other. Crew come from all walks of life and nations around the world to tackle one or multiple legs of the record-breaking circumnavigation. Train from novice to become an ocean racer as part of a team onboard a 70-foot ocean racing yacht. Guided by a professional race skipper and first mate you’ll face the world’s most extreme ocean conditions and mental challenges before returning victorious.


Amateur  race crew, exhilarating race  legs, one global circumnavigation.



Led by a professional Skipper and Mate, you can choose to compete in the full 40,000 nautical mile circumnavigation, or test yourself on one or more of the eight unique race legs to suit your schedule and budget. This bucket list experience can see you taking on the notorious Atlantic, Southern Ocean and North Pacific including stopovers in some of the world's most spectacular destinations.

We take lessons from having raced more than 3 million miles and apply them to our pioneering four-level training. Even if you have never sailed before, our mandatory program will enable you to take on some of the most extreme environments on the planet with confidence. As part of your training package we'll kit you out with cutting edge foul weather gear, tried, tested and approved by the world's top professional sailors.


Can't sail start here.

Discover what we are looking for in our Race Crew, the selection process, training for ocean race conditions and what you can expect from the Clipper Race experience. Find out everything you need to know and get your questions answered live.




The world's first solo, non-stop circumnavigator, chairman | clipper round the world yacht race.

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Let the sea set you free.

Release the shackles of normality.  With adventure your guide, courage your companion you'll chase unfamiliar stars to distant lands and follow the horizon to its edge and keep going. You will be humbled by the fury of mother nature and rewarded in equal measure, with vibrant displays from the natural world.

The Clipper Race will challenge you to step outside your comfort zone, stretching both your physical and mental limits. Whether you're looking for the challenge of epic ocean storms, facing 15m waves and hurricane-force winds, or the tactical challenge of navigating the Doldrums now you can prove to yourself what you are truly capable of.


This will be the race of your life.


clipper round the world yacht race cost

clipper round the world yacht race cost

Published on August 30th, 2022 | by Editor

Preparing for Clipper Race 2023-24

Published on August 30th, 2022 by Editor -->

The 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was to finish in just under one year, but when the teams arrived in Asia during the pandemic, with health restrictions postponing further progress, it would take nearly three years to complete this contest for amateur crews led by a professional skipper.

But with the twelfth edition crossing the final finish line in July 2022 , which was the fourth circumnavigation for the 11 Clipper 70 racing yachts, it was time to get them to HQ in Portsmouth Harbour, UK and ready them for the start of the next race.

Having just crossed over 40,000 nautical miles though some of the most inhospitable stretches of the world’s oceans, withstanding both extreme heat and freezing temperatures, the equally-matched purpose-built fleet will undergo an extensive decommissioning, refitting and commissioning process ahead of the Clipper 2023-24 Race.

No stone is left unturned as the 20-strong team of both dedicated refit and Clipper Race maintenance staff will invest approximately 35,000 work hours to strip out, lift, inspect, maintain, clean, and, where necessary, repair or replace parts or fittings.

clipper round the world yacht race cost

Justin ‘Jay’ Haller, Chief Engineer, has been with the Clipper Race for 20 years. He has worked on every generation of Clipper Race ocean racing yachts and oversees the mammoth refit operation.

“These boats are over-specced compared to what you’d see on a regular yacht,” said Haller. “Everything down to the thickness of the hull is over-specced. So although I’m not surprised, I’m pleased to see that the boats have held up really, really well. I have no qualms about them doing another race. There are some cosmetic repairs, naturally, but that’s to be expected. “The boats come out of the water for 36 days and we work on them two at a time. After the masts are removed, one of the first jobs we do is take the generators and main engines out to work on them in the yard.”

Former race skipper Dan Jones is part of the refit team and has been overseeing the first engine lift. “When we lift the engines, we have to disconnect the gear box and the shaft to the propeller,” he explains. “We then have to disconnect the fuel lines and the water pipes, battery cables, alternators, mounts and then the actual engine mount.

“We can lift the engine through the hatch on deck and then lower it to the hanger floor so that we can sandblast the brackets, replace the mounts, remove and service the raw water pumps, remove the alternators to send them away for a strip and service. Once it’s out it’s much easier to do that way.”

Scheduling the work is a task in itself to ensure the yachts are ready in time for the next intake of training and to fulfil Clipper Events sailing commitments. The workload is extensive, as Haller explains: “Each boat is stripped, sanded and painted in the interior. Once painted, we replace all the piping – saltwater, freshwater, all of it as a matter of course. The floorboards are then inspected and if any are damaged they will either be sanded down, repainted and covered with kiwi grip – or replaced if necessary. The gas infrastructure is replaced as a matter of course.

“Each yacht’s wiring gets inspected and replaced, then all the standing rigging is stripped off and replaced. At this point, we often get the team at Sta-Lok to take a look at the fittings that have come off so they can see how well it has stood up against the elements and for future product development. The masts are inspected and stress tested where necessary.

“We have had surveyors down who confirmed that there’s nothing major we need to do. However, we will still remove the keel bolts and inspect them as a matter of course to see if there is any corrosion on the keel and to check the bolts themselves.”

For the first time, thanks to the Coppercoat covering, the Clipper Race fleet doesn’t need antifouling – saving time and reducing the refit’s carbon footprint with the environmentally responsible coating. “The Coppercoat has lasted REALLY well!” noted Haller. “Each of the hulls will have a light sand.

“We had a rudder for one of the boats rebuilt in Cape Town which we didn’t have time to Coppercoat, so we had to use regular antifoul on it. It’s a stark comparison, it has about half an inch of growth on it, whereas the rest of the boat had Coppercoat, including the yacht’s other rudder and it was as good as new with just a simple pressure wash.”

The refit also offers Haller and his team the chance to update, upgrade, or make changes to improve performance, comfort or the sailing experience for future race crews. Once back in the water, each yacht has its mast, which has also undergone full inspection and had each wire replaced, restepped and is rigged with a whopping 1,439m (excluding spares) of Marlow Ropes lines.

There’s no rest for the refit team, which is split up to tag team the conveyor belt process of each stage of the refit. “A week before the pair of yachts are ready to go back in the water, we begin decommissioning the next pair of yachts,” said Haller. “Everything comes off and goes into a container, and then will swap over with the current two yachts which be recommissioned and ready to go.”

Once the yachts are back in the water, the refit team thoroughly tests the systems before they are used again. But even when the entire fleet has been through refit, and systems are checked, the inspections don’t stop. “The fleet is Cat2 registered – for UK inshore and coastal sailing – until Race Start,” explained Haller. “Then before the race they have the CAT0 survey which is another in depth survey.”

The Clipper Race is looking to expand its refit team, and is hiring refit staff to help ensure the fleet is race ready ahead of the 2023-24 edition. Find out more via the Clipper Race careers page .

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-69. His aim was to allow anyone, regardless of previous sailing experience, the chance to embrace the thrill of ocean racing; it is the only event of its kind for amateur sailors.

Held biennially, the 2019-20 Clipper Race got underway September 1 for the fleet of eleven identical Tony Castro designed Clipper 70s. As the most subscribed round the world race, the 12th edition had attracted 688 crew representing 43 nationalities for the 41,000+ nm course.

However, when the fleet arrived in Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic blocked the fleet from the planned routes in China. The 11 Clipper 70s remained at Subic Bay Yacht Club in the Philippines since March 2020 after organizers and Race Crew were forced to return home due to pandemic restrictions. The race restarted in March 2022 and finally concluded in July 2022.

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clipper round the world yacht race cost

Clipper Ventures PLC


An adventure like.

clipper round the world yacht race cost

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is a renowned and extraordinary sailing event that pushes participants to their limits.

Spanning over 40,000 nautical miles, this epic race takes non-professional sailors on a challenging journey around the globe.

Divided into multiple legs, teams navigate epic sea states, battle unpredictable weather conditions, and experience the thrill of ocean racing.

With a fleet of identical yachts, the race promotes camaraderie, teamwork, and personal growth, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ambitious individuals to embrace the extraordinary world of offshore sailing.

clipper round the world yacht race cost


clipper round the world yacht race cost

Race Crew choose to participate in one leg, combine several or complete the full eleven month circumnavigation, a profound experience that expands horizons, tests limits, and fosters a deep appreciation for the vastness and diversity of our planet.


The Clipper 70 racing fleet of eleven identical cutting-edge, high-performance yachts is specifically designed for the demanding challenges of ocean racing. These state-of-the-art vessels showcase innovation, speed, and reliability, providing a thrilling platform for teams to compete safely in the Clipper Race.

Our brands centre around adventure and breaking out of comfort zones to embrace the unknown. To do this successfully, safety is core to what we undertake everyday, for everyone.

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Home > News

Clipper Race to visit Qingdao for 9th straight time

Eleven Clipper Race boats start their voyage to Qingdao, China's sailing capital, on March 14. [Photo/Qilu News]

The 2023-24 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race (Qingdao) will be held at the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center in Shandong province from March 21 to 27. After a six-year hiatus, the Clipper Race will make its ninth stop in Qingdao.

The 2023-24 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race set sail from Portsmouth, England on Sept 3, 2023 (local time). This season has attracted 11 teams composed of more than 700 sailors from over 55 countries and regions. The race has an expected duration of 11 months, and participants will visit six continents, eight countries, and 14 ports, covering a total distance of 40,000 nautical miles.

Currently, the race is in the midst of its sixth leg, with the Chinese yacht  Qingdao  having already secured victory in one leg of the race. Based on the current sailing trajectory, the fleet is expected to arrive in Qingdao around March 21 and depart for Seattle, United States on March 27.

The race is now on its sixth leg, with Chinese yacht  Qingdao  having already secured victory in one leg. [Photo/Qilu News]

This year marks the third time that Qingdao, known as China's sailing capital, has sponsored a leg of the Clipper Race.

The Chinese yacht  Qingdao  clipper continues to serve as a global mobile promotional platform, showcasing Qingdao's status as a vibrant marine city. Ten ambassador sailors have been recruited again this season to represent Qingdao. Wang Ziqi and Bu Xuan are currently competing on board the Qingdao and are expected to arrive in Qingdao in one week.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the world's largest global sailing event, and Qingdao is the first Asian city to host the race.

As China's sailing capital, Qingdao is committed to both hosting high-end sailing events and cultivating and expanding independent brand events, striving to increase the quality and attractiveness of sailing events and become a new sailing hub.

Qingdao's way toward a prosperous and beautiful city

Qingdao, china, government work report receives positive feedback from envoys, video: what is 'two sessions' and why it matters.

clipper round the world yacht race cost

3,500 calories a day, tiny bunks, bruises and sea sickness: What it takes to train for a round-the-world sailing race

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By Sadie Whitelocks , Freelance Writer | Avid-adventurer - 26 countries in 12 months, two polar regions, one Mountain, hand luggage only.

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‘One thing we have in common, is that we’re all a bit mad,’ our skipper said with a grin as we sat down for our first session.

I was with nine other people embarking on my first week of training for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

The annual event, which first started running in 1996, was conceived by Sir Robert Knox-Johnston who was the first to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe in a 32ft boat named Suhaili in 1969.

After achieving the intrepid feat and scoring a number of other titles, he decided to make sailing accessible to everyone, and the Clipper Race was born.

Sadie gets to grips with sailing during her Clipper Round The World training

Anyone can apply to do the epic 46,850 mile / 75,500km race, which cuts through some of the world’s most treacherous waters, but they must undergo four weeks of intensive training before getting the green light.

There are various topics covered during training including knots, the main logistics of sailing and, most importantly, safety at sea.

Some of the main concerns include capsizing, losing control of the steering, fire and man overboards.

The round-the-world race is split into eight legs. This year, the race starts on September 1 and is due to finish August 2020.

Participants can elect to do all eight – if they have £43,500 spare – or a more affordable way of tapping into the experience is doing a leg or two.

Each leg varies in length, with the longest being 40 days and the shortest 17.

I had signed up for the latter, with my route (leg 2) set to take me from Uruguay to South Africa in late October. On this leg, the weather is mixed – temperatures would range from 10c to 30c – and the seas are unpredictable.

Being a bit of an adrenaline junkie, the brochure blurb describing this 17-day stretch definitely appealed to me.

‘This leg can throw everything at you – from raging South Atlantic storms to long surfing runs which combine to pose a unique mental and physical challenge.’

The Punta del Este Clipper boat which will be taking part in the race

This year, there are 11 boats in the race, with each sponsored by a company or destination.

I would be aboard the Punta del Este, supported by the namesake Uruguayan city where we would depart.

On the kit front, the Clipper Race has selected British brand Musto as the technical clothing partner, with all racers provided with a bright yellow weather-proof uniform to see them through.

What immediately struck me after arriving for my first race training session was how diverse our group was.

There were people who had travelled from all over the world to Gosport in Portsmouth to ‘learn the ropes’.

In our Level One training group there were a couple of Canadians, a few Americans, a German lady, a man from the Netherlands and several of us flying the British flag.

The Clipper race attracts a diverse range of people from different countries

The age range was equally spread – this year I’d heard the youngest race participant will be 18, while the oldest is in their late 70s.

Some people in our group had some sailing experience, while the majority had none.

Everyone had different reasons for being there – retired, just finished school, just sold businesses, just received some inheritance, just got divorced or like me, looking for a new challenge.

I had never had never really sailed before so this was all new to me.

All I knew was that I enjoyed spending time out on the water and had sailed on some fairly rough seas aboard engine-powered expedition boats, from the wilds of Antarctica to the choppy west coast of Mexico.

Along with being told that we all had a shared trait of ‘being a bit mad’ we were also told by our skipper what a life-changing experience the Clipper Race was going to be.

The tiny bunk beds on the Clipper boats. During the race participants must hotbed

His daughter had done the full circumnavigation a few years back, so he could vouch for its impact.

First things first, we were given a tour of the 68ft boat we were going to call ‘home’ for the next week.

I’m used to camping, so the Clipper Race boat didn’t faze me too much with two tiny toilets that needed pumping by hand to flush (up to 30 times!) and a squashed sleeping compartment with tiny bunk beds that have to be hoisted up at an angle to prevent you from falling out.

During the race, participants have to hotbed and share the bunks with a partner as everyone does shift work and sleep at alternate times.

Luckily, to ease us in slowly we would have our own beds for the first three training sessions.

On the food front, our skipper warned us to keep our energy levels up as we would be burning around 3,500 calories a day during training and up to 5,000 during the race.

The key pieces of kit for Clipper Round the World Yacht Race training

I completed my sailing training during the summer months so lighter clothing was needed.

Each Clipper Race participant gets a pair of Musto sailing salopettes, smock jacket, shorts, T-shirt and long-sleeved top. Here are some of the other pieces of kit I used during the four weeks which came in handy…

  • Quechua Aluminium water bottle and holder, from £5.99 – Essential to keep hydrated, helps fend off sea sickness
  • Musto Dynamic Pro Lite deckshoes £110 – Lightweight with good grip and drying ability. Rope laces stayed tied up throughout the day
  • Musto Hydrotech Gloves £70 – Great for keeping hands warm in colder weather and especially during night shifts
  • Musto Active Base Layer Zip Neck Top £65.00 – Fits well, absorbs sweat, great for changeable weather conditions
  • Anker SoundBuds Slim + Wireless Headphones £24.99  – Great to help you get to sleep with snorers on board. Wire means you won’t lose these in bed
  • Petzel Actick Core Trekking Headtorch £39.99 – Headtorch is needed for night shifts with a red light required so you don’t strain your eyes
  • Musto Gore-Tex Ocean Racer boots £225 – Waterproof and comfortable to wear, keep your feet warm during night shifts too
  • Musto Performance Short Finger Gloves £35 – Help protect hands from rope burn
  • Filson Double Mackinaw Wool Hat £105 – The warmest piece of head gear I own, with a under chin tie so it doesn’t fly off

We would be taking it in turns to cook for each other as ‘mother’ (sailing lingo for chef), with all ship duties divided up equally.

The kitchen had a cooker on a gimbal so it would remain balanced while sailing along at a 45-degree angle. There was also a harness so you could strap yourself into for added safety while you cooked!

The thought of rustling up meals for more than 10 people in the tiny space filled me with vague horror… although the menu looked fairly uncomplicated with the likes of pasta, pasties and soup being the staple spread.

The crews eat three times a day, with breakfast usually around 7am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7pm. Depending on the weather, meals are served out on deck or in the saloon. To keep energy levels up, there are also a plethora of snacks stored away in netted cubby-holes.

Other parts of the boat we would become familiar with included the engine compartment, the saloon (where all of the goodies were stored), the navigation room and the rope room.

Many of us agreed that learning how to sail was a bit like learning a foreign language.

For instance, a rope is called a ‘sheet’ and a sail is comprised of three edges called the ‘luff’, ‘leach’ and ‘foot’. The bedroom is called the ‘ghetto’, the kitchen the ‘galley’ and the toilets the ‘heads’.

The toilets on the Clipper boats operate via a hand pump

Each day, our vocabulary continued to expand, as did our sailing knowledge. My confidence also improved each day.

The first time I took to the helm it was a pretty scary experience. Little me in control of this big boat.

I’d capsized canoes, kayaks and even little catamarans previously but thankfully the Clipper Race boats are extremely difficult to flip over. The big wheel takes some manoeuvring, especially in choppier waters, and it certainly proves to be a great arm workout!

One of the things we quickly learned about the process was the importance of team work.

The saying ‘many hands make light work’ kept ringing through my head as we went about preparing the boat for sailing, powering it through the water and packing it down at the end of the day.

The pack down, which can take around an hour, is certainly one of the more tedious tasks, as everyone is tired but the heavy sails and ropes need to be put away below deck and put in order.

I was really worried I would struggle with it all but I quickly found myself settling into boat life.

The most important thing for me was getting stuck in at every opportunity and maintaining a positive attitude – something that can be a little tricky to do when living with strangers in a small space!

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Video: Sailing along the Solent during the Clipper Round the World Race training

Sailing along the solent during the clipper round the world race training. nice, huh.

I looked to the small things to keep me going… having a shower at night back at harbour and catching up with everyone over a beverage at the local pub – luxuries that aren’t available during the actual race.

Most people choose to divide their training up, doing a week at a time when getting time off work permits. This is probably the more sensible option but me being a slight glutton for punishment did my first three sessions back-to-back.

I felt pretty frazzled by the end of it all, as sailing proves to be a non-stop workout and my body was peppered with bruises.

At the end of each training level we had to pass a test proving agility, boat and safety knowledge and our ability to tie knots, the main ones being a bowline, tugman’s hitch and Admiralty knot.

I was relieved to sail through each session. The toughest part for me was Level Two where we were put on a rota system, with our sleep patterns broken up between duties.

Sadie washed her hair in a mixing bowl one day with no shower available at sea

We also spent a few days off shore where we got to experience ‘life at 45 degrees’ and one girl had to be taken back to shore with acute sea sickness. She decided to drop out of the race altogether.

In August, I returned to Gosport for Level Four, my final training session before the main race.

This time round, I was put on my actual race boat Punta del Este (a 70ft vessel instead of a 68ft) with 17 people so we could get a real taste of what would be in store.

We worked in shift patterns, only sleeping for three-hour stints in our coffin-sized bunk beds and then waking up to complete duties for the following three hours.

These short sleeping stints were pretty tough. I listened to music to help me get to sleep through the crashing and pounding of the waves but I felt pretty delirious as the shift work ran on.

We were off shore for 6 days, with the training session culminating in a contest against the other 10 Clipper Race boats. The first to the finish line would be named winner.

Sadie said her body was peppered with bruises after three weeks of sailing training

The adrenaline was certainly pumping, as this was a simulation of the real thing.

Our charismatic race skipper Jeronimo Santos-Gonzalez helmed for the majority of the race, using his knowledge to steer us into second place.

High points? Learning to work as a team, boarding our beautiful Punta del Este boat, feasting on a delicious chicken curry one evening, achieving a top speed of 15.5 knots while at the helm and soaking up the sunny weather as we had some downtime out on deck during shift.

Low points? Having my period while on the boat certainly wasn’t great, trying to sleep while being bashed about from side to side was equally unpleasant and we had a frustrating night shift from 1am to 4am where everything seemed to go wrong.

There were even tears as these mishaps caused our boat to fall behind a few places but Jeronimo soon got us back on track.

Everyone in our team, as with previous training sessions, agreed it had been a great week.

‘If we’re not having fun then there’s no point in being here!’ Jeronimo cheered as we sped along on the Solent.

We all left Portsmouth feeling tired yet fulfilled and all a little nervous about what the real race will be like, crossing some of the world’s most treacherous waters.

But as the saying goes, ‘We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails’…

Sadie with some of her Level Four team members

Sadie’s place on the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is supported by , the technical clothing partner for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 editions of the event. More articles on her racing experiences to come.

Her gym training is sponsored by Anytime Fitness .  

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Great company run by great people

I worked for Clipper Ventures on and off from 2009-2014 as an instructor and race skipper and have to say they are a great organisation. So many sailing companies stay small or go bust because they are run by dreamers and/or sailors! Clipper is run by experts in their different fields, and that is how it has survived and continues to grow, in my opinion. They don't mess around, the contracts are pretty tight. If they weren't, the training program and race would be full of time-wasters. So many of the haters here seem to be judging them on the decisions they made in covid, when the boats were literally sailing towards the epicentre of the pandemic, which is pretty harsh. All the crews were given the opportunity to rejoin their boats and continue the race. From a professional point of veiw they were great to work for, and presented me with some amazing opportunities and challenges. All boats have jobs lists- I always felt I had the support of the maintenance team and race office. Still, they run a tight (but safe) ship. The people you meet doing the race are a truly amazing bunch of world-class adventurers. Equally you are going to meet people who don't enjoy the challenge as much as they expected. However, the more you put in, the more you get out. It's not cheap but the 'value added' wrt to overall experience I think makes it worth it. No one else does what they do, no one else sails where they sail, in the context of an amateur rtw yacht race. When they've had incidents and have been audited, the MCA have acknowledge the strength of Clipper's safety training. The sponsors make the race affordable for everyone else. Whether you get an active or passive sponsor does make some small difference to the experience but some of the best crews have had only minor sponsors. Even though Clipper do keep people (inc skippers) waiting for a certain decisions, you can count on them taking a whole host of different considerations into account. I made many life-long friends during that time, and had an adventure of a lifetime.

Date of experience : December 18, 2023

greatest test and i loved it

Amazing. Recommend. Sure it's dangerous, so is trekking the sahara or climbing Everest and that's why I signed up. To feel alive and experience something that not many others will. To witness lesser seen environments and discover how far my endurance and resolve could go. Made friends for life. Training was great and thorough, everything that can be done to keep us safe was and the rest was on us as a team. Skippers were world class. No cruise but if I find the cash I'll be back for more action outside of my comfort zone,

Date of experience : July 27, 2022

Avoid. Theres cheaper and better ways to sail

I worked for 3-4 years on and off at Clipper Ventures including as a Race Skipper for their round the world race. The experience of sailing around the world is a pro. The salary is tax free (UK resident) as you're abroad for over 9 months. The managements approach to safety is not great. The company is all about the brand. Some of the sub-par behaviour from management I experienced: I was asked to go to see without a VHF - I was told to sign documentation to agree that important sailing related papers were aboard, they were not but I was still pressured to sign. My race boat had a jobs list with 50+ items on the day before race start which Clipper didn't provide the parts. During training I recommended one crew member should not do the race for safety reasons. I was told by the race management that this person was a 'bum on a seat'. In my opinion and experience this is a not a race, it's a business focussed on revenue over experience. Finally there was a strong blame culture, maintenance problems whilst hiding problems from paying customers. In the end I encouraged the crew to complain the Clipper to resolve some significant boat problems as my hands were tied. Later in the race I parted company with clipper because of this.

Date of experience : October 08, 2022

Sail, but not with Clipper.

A great opportunity for adventures, learning and meeting new friends. But then there are lots of other sailing experiences to be bought and my advice is find another company. Clipper Ventures is a money making machine only and as far as they are concerned we customers are unimportant and easily replaced. Many of the current 19/20 crew are unable to continue now the race is two years overdue. Covid isn’t Clippers fault, but neither is it ours. They have resold berths without offering refunds to the original crew. Totally unethical and best avoided. Spend your hard earned money with a company who care.

Date of experience : November 21, 2021


BUYER BEWARE!!! Two years later after multiple postponements changes to race route and ports visited due to covid-19. Lives have moved on but Clipper do not offer refunds and are not covered by any travelling or adventure holiday guarantees. BUYER BEWARE!!!

Date of experience : January 20, 2022

I signed up for the Australian leg of the 23-24 race. Twice I’ve had my training cancelled at very short notice. The training you receive is good or bad depending on what skipper you get. I had a very bad training skipper for the third week of training. He’d had numerous bad feedback reports sent to clipper. As well as tired equipment and foul weather clothing. But clipper never acted on the feedback. Their marketing is fantastic but underneath is a very greedy money hungry operation. I pulled out the race and only received £3200 of the £9400 ifd paid as the contract is very geared up in their favour and none in the customers. They even charged me a£100 admin fee to pay the £3200 refund into my bank!! I can’t recommend clipper and would advise caution if you decide to use them.

Date of experience : November 17, 2022

Terrible communication

From signing up the communication and planning was abysmal - had to constantly chase via email and phone for updates and information (dates, kit lists, pre trip prep etc), no singular or consistent point of contact. Training weekend felt incredibly unsafe despite making explicitly clear my level of experience and given no pre-reading or work, unlike all others in my group. No apologies or refunds made when withdrew from the course over these concerns. Would not recommend to anyone

Date of experience : April 14, 2023

A truly corrupt company, stay away

A truly terrible company with an utterly corrupt customer experience. I paid £11500 (+ flight and extra equipment) to cross the pacific with several stops around China. After extremely poor communication this route changed last minute to a 4 day sail around the Philippines which ended suddenly in being quarantined in squalid conditions in the marina with the pandemic upon us. Since then for the last two years we’ve been given constant revisions to a restart date (in gross breach of our contract), and absolutely no option for a refund. My life has moved on now as have several others’, and even after many emails from myself and others asking for a refund they have refused and, in breach of our contracts, resold our berths. They don’t need the money, their 3 directors took out £1m in dividends in 2020. I’m down £11,500+ whilst some others are down £20,000+. Stay very clear of this company.

Despite covid halt, no refund

The training, the team and the actual boat will help you to get prepared for “the” race. I joined in Australia with the aim to sail two legs. During the first leg covid19 spread around the world, and so we ended in Subic Bay, Philippines. We all had to travel home with the hope for quick restart. One year after our travel home the race was delayed for the third time. I asked for a refund given the fact that the restart was becoming less likely. The answer was quick and definitive, NO. And that is disappointing given the contract wording and how other organisations have delt with covid impact. The sailing with the team is great, but how the Clipper organisition deals with special situations is baffling. The result is that Clipper keeps my money and I don’t get to sail.

Skipper doesn’t know port starboard

Skipper doesn’t respect port and starboard rules on the boat Corageous. Came right at us on port then refused to stay clear when our boat was on starboard in big swell.

Date of experience : July 01, 2023

Disregard for crew safety

Clipper maintain that crew safety is their number one priority, yet their behaviour in relation to the 2019/20 race suggests otherwise. Others have written about the conditions faced when the race was curtailed due to COVID. Now, with boats that have had only minimal maintenance for nearly 2 years and crew allowed to re-join with only a couple of days refresher training they are expecting to continue and complete the race. Apart from the financial gain for Clipper, the completion of the race solves the problem of how to get the fleet back to the UK. Those who signed up for the race did so knowing the risks. The level of risk has now changed - not just because of the poor state of the boats and the lack of recent crew training, but also because of the ongoing threat from COVID. Clipper refuse to acknowledge this and behave as if there has been some sort of minor disruption. My advice would be to find another company to sail with - and get legal advice before signing a contract

Date of experience : November 22, 2021

Fantastic adventure and experience

I did leg 8 of the race and absolutely loved it. A fantastic experience and an opportunity to learn, grow, and push the boundaries. Sure, living in a confined space is tough, as is racing across an ocean, but that's what makes us stronger right? Isn't that what life's about? I made some lifelong friends both in training and onboard and in the race. Training was good, comprehensive, and thorough -you learn how to sail a clipper boat, you won't come out with your Day Skipper or YM, but that's not what it's about. It's about ocean sailing, on a very specific boat. And you will learn that, and learn to do it safely. The skippers are mixed, all with their own unique ways, some will be more challenging to get on with, but again that's life, and that's part of the experience - communication, group dynamic etc. You'll get that on any sailing experience you do. I sailed with some fantastic skippers over training, and my leg, and learned a lot from them. If you want the opportunity to learn, grow, and sail the world with a great bunch of individuals from all walks of life, then this is the experience for you. As for Clipper themselves, opinions do vary, and you don't have to look far to see that, but in my experience the staff were supportive, friendly, amenable, and everyone got a very personalised level of service - in keeping with the cost of the experience. I was signed up to do 2 legs, and had to reduce this to 1, and it was no problem, i received a full refund on the leg i dropped, and it was all very straightforward. Equally, Clipper offered various additional training opportunities if they had spare spaces (with you only having to cover the food cost for the week), which was great, and loads of people took them up on that opportunity. I'm now a commercially endorsed skipper and cruising instructor myself, with tens of thousands of miles to my name in all types of boat and on all types of water, and I would wholly endorse Clipper, and wouldn't hesitate to sign up again.

Date of experience : October 10, 2023

When is a round the world yacht race not a race ?.…

I have taken periodic interest in the progress and reviews of Clipper since completing the full 2000 / 2001 race on Jersey Clipper . The experience was a truly unforgettable and memorable adventure and has given me confidence to sail extensively since then even at the advanced age of 66 . ( crew required ! ) However the experience was somewhat tarnished due to the fact that the race committee ie The Company saw it fit to supply the boat vying for first place along with ours a replacement heavy weight Spinnaker in Brazil after they trashed their original . This was in contravention of offshore racing rules but nonetheless they proceeded and when challenged by our crew they admitted it was for marketing purposes for the race to remain competitive until the finish line. This cynical act was not only in contravention of clearly defined offshore racing rules but was an insult to the passion and hard work of the crews of all boats who were under the impression they were in a genuine and fair race to be won by the best and fastest boat not down to an illegal intervention by the race committee to 'level the playing field '! I have read more recent reviews of later races and conclude that nothing much has changed Sir Robin !

Date of experience : September 19, 2023

If you enjoy throwing thousands of your dollars directly in the trash, Clipper is for you.

My name is Anthony Garcia, a US citizen and resident, and I participated as a crew member in the 19-20 Clipper race. I am a young guy who saved up for years to do this race (approx $25k) and devoted a significant amount of time off work to attend 4 weeks of training overseas when I could work it in my schedule. I had signed up for two legs (Australia to China to Seattle) to start in January 2020. We left Australia to China just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take off, and as you may have heard, the race was effectively cancelled before we could complete the leg from Asia to the US. You would think the reasonable thing to do after an event like this is process a refund for customers, like myself, who were not able to participate in the event they paid for in advance. But that's not the Clipper way. Instead, they did everything in their power to deny me and many other crew members a refund, relying on a strained, twisted, and disingenuous interpretation of the crew contract. Not only that, the whole COVID experience brought to light to me that at its core, Clipper really only cares about money, even above crew safety--they routinely appeared to ignore common sense safety protocols and maintenance for the ostensible goal of trying to keep the race going. In the end, we were mostly a crew of amateurs, and it could have been very dangerous situation. The training provided was quality, I'll give them that, but the way the race administrators treated their paying customers (who they make money off of) was so astonishingly atrocious that it far overshadowed any of the positives. You really should think twice about whether you want to participate in this race. They may have a nice smile when they talk to you, but they do not care about you at all. To them, you are just a money bag for Clipper to grab, while you are literally putting your life at risk for them. Better to just save your money and get your thrills elsewhere.

Good sailing - terrible customer service

It IS a great sailing experience, but terribly let down by Clipper's own attitude. There is plenty written about how amazing the race is - and I won't deny that. HOWEVER, every interaction with Clipper themselves has been so painful - for them, race comes above all else, then sponsors and welfare of the crew a distant 3rd. For example, I saw people reduced to tears because they really wanted to change boat part way round and Clipper just refused to enter meaningful discussion with them - these are people who paid £50k to join the race, but Clipper's view is that you are crew and should turn up, put any concerns aside and get on with it. Just before the race a crew member stole £2,500 from our Crew fund and disappeared. Clipper simply said it was unfortunate but made no attempt to investigate - as they said - it was not their money and they are not legally shows the kind of attitude that Clipper tend to have towards any issues during your time on the race. Finally, check your contract extremely carefully BEFORE signing up - get a lawyer to go through it in detail. You are actually contractually obliged to join the race once you sign - if you are unable to do so, Clipper might take you to court for not turning up. Do NOT assume Clipper will take any kind of personal circumstances into consideration - they will always talk first about the contract. People do leave the race for all sorts of reasons - for example family bereavement, or illness etc - bear in mind that in thes cases, Clipper will probably allow you to get off, but you will be 100% on your own and you will lose all money. There is nobody in Clipper who is professionally qualified to deal with customer service or care - the staff are nice, but tend to avoid sharing any information with crew (for example with Covid, the communication has been haphazzard) and if you have any individual needs, you will basically be on your own. Clipper stand almost alone in the travel industry as having refused to even discuss refunds due to Covid having stopped the 2019/2020 race. All the crew who were due to sail the second part of the race, are STILL contractually obliged to join the race at some point - Clipper refuse ANY refund for any purpose, even though they themsleves are unable to say when exactly they will be able to run the race. The Directors took £1M in dividends out of the business as soon as Covid hit in Dec 2020 - but meanwhile refuse to refund people for a race they signed up to do in 2020. Even now, they are pressuring crew to commit to a new race in March, (it's the 4th restart) without being able to say which date this will be. If you do quit, Clipper will resell your place - they are very open about this - BUT, you will never get any refund from them for any reason. There are lots of companies offering Ocean sailing - some of them show real care for their customers - Clipper is not one of them. Do the race, it is an amazing sailing experience - but do check the contract professionally, don't expect any good communication from Clipper, and if you have any problems, expect Clipper to walk away with your money and totally 'dump' you with no concern whatsoever.

Stormy OceanStormy Ocean - stock photo. GettyImages-110628389

Dark waters: how the adventure of a lifetime turned to tragedy

The Clipper round the world yacht race was created for amateurs seeking the ultimate challenge. But did they underestimate the risks?

O n 18 November 2017, Simon Speirs, 60, a retired lawyer from Bristol, was hauling on his waterproofs below deck on a yacht in rough seas in the Southern Ocean. For nearly three months, he’d endured cold, cramped quarters, soaked clothing, sea sickness and very little sleep. As one of the crews competing in the Clipper Round the World yacht race, Speirs had completed more than 13,000 nautical miles since leaving Britain, but the wild remoteness of the Southern Ocean was more challenging than anything he had experienced before.

Speirs had a hacking cough and a heavy cold, but as leader of the watch he had to get out on deck. The race had so far taken them across the northern Atlantic Ocean to Uruguay and back across the southern Atlantic to South Africa. Two months in, he’d asked for a break. But after only a week his replacement had fallen out of his bunk and hurt his wrist, and Speirs had to resume his role.

By 2pm, the wind was getting stronger; the yacht lurched up and down waves the size of steep hills. The captain ordered the crew to change the headsail to make the boat easier to control. Speirs made his way to the foredeck, but, at that moment, a massive wave hit, sweeping him over the side.

Speirs was still attached to the boat with a tether. For several minutes he was dragged behind the boat in the roiling waves, while the crew tried to haul him back in. Then the clip on his harness snapped, and he lost contact with the yacht. It took three attempts and 32 minutes to pull him back on board, by which time he was dead.

Simon Speirs is exactly the sort of person Robin Knox-Johnston, the veteran sailor, had in mind when he founded the Clipper Round the World yacht race more than 25 years ago. At that time, the only people who got to race boats around the world were professional sailors. Clipper was designed for ordinary people: offering training and the opportunity to join a mixed-ability crew, it would enable customers to achieve the ambition of a lifetime.

The race is held every two years. Eleven yachts, each with a paying crew of 16-22 amateurs, led by a professional skipper and a qualified first mate, start from an English port, and take up to 11 months to cover 40,000 nautical miles. Paying crew can choose to do one or more legs of the journey, and it isn’t cheap. To take part in the whole race, over seven or eight legs, costs around £50,000. The route takes in some of the world’s most treacherous seas, but you don’t need any sailing experience to participate. According to Clipper Ventures, the company that runs the race, around 40% of participants are complete novices. Since it began, the race has become hugely popular.

Yachts competing in the Clipper Round the World yacht race head down Southampton Water.

Clipper Ventures is not the first outfit to sell an iconic and dangerous challenge to amateurs. On 23 May 2019, 354 climbers made it to the top of Mount Everest in a single day . This included a dentist, an architect, a surgeon, a CEO and a housewife, who had each paid between £33,000 and £100,000. The oldest was 64. The commercialisation of extreme adventure has been made possible by advances in technical equipment like satnav and portable oxygen metres, and turbocharged by a hunger for personal growth and fulfilment. But it has also been accompanied by accidents and tragedies. May 2019 was one of the deadliest seasons on record: 11 climbers died on Everest in nine days . According to reports, overcrowding and underprepared climbers were partly to blame.

There have been other fatal accidents on the Clipper race, too. On 4 September 2015, Andrew Ashman , 49, a paramedic from Orpington, south-east London, was standing in a known danger zone in the yacht’s cockpit area when he was struck by the boom and suffered a fatal neck injury. Six months later, on the same boat, Sarah Young , 40, an entrepreneur from London with no previous sailing experience, died after being swept overboard by a wave. She was not clipped on.

According to a report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) into Speirs’s death, published in June 2019, 17 people fell overboard from Clipper yachts between 2013 and 2018. Just over two weeks before Speirs went overboard, a Clipper yacht ran aground and had to be abandoned in a “very serious” incident just off the coast of South Africa. An MAIB investigation into that incident published in June 2018 concluded that the inexperience of the crew was a factor: “With only one professional, employed seafarer on board, the Clipper yachts were not safely manned for the round the world race.”

“If you read Clipper’s material, you’d think their number one concern was to keep people safe, but they have failed in so many ways,” said Margaret Speirs, Simon’s widow, when we first met in 2020. “I believe the company is compromised by their desire to make money out of these races.”

Knox-Johnston has strongly denied such claims. “Safety is a core principle of the Clipper Race, ahead of the racing element of the event itself, and therefore the most important part of the training of its crew,” Clipper Ventures said in a statement to the Guardian. The company says it has made investments in safety gear, becoming “the first ocean-racing company to introduce personal AIS beacons into its lifejackets to aid recovery of a man overboard”.

After the deaths of Ashman and Young in the 2015-16 race, the future of Clipper looked uncertain, a source who works at Clipper Ventures told me. “I thought, nobody is going to want to sign up.” But, in fact, applications increased. People are drawn by the chance to do something exceptional – and the risk is part of the attraction. Many customers, the source said, tend to think: “This is really dangerous! This is something I’ve got to do!”

T he founder of Clipper Ventures, Knox-Johnston, became the first person to sail solo around the world , without stopping, in 1969. In the memoir he published soon after his return, he describes the hardships he endured. His boat leaks, his water supply gets polluted, his steering gear is smashed, he shoots a shark when it comes too close, and suffers what was later diagnosed as a burst appendix. He carries on, undaunted. This, it seems, is the Knox-Johnston way. At the age of 68, he became the oldest person to race solo around the world. He had got irritated with people saying he was past it.

In the autumn of 1995, the same year he received a knighthood, Knox-Johnston placed newspaper ads to see how many people would be willing to pay to become part of a round-the-world crew. The response suggested that there may be a viable business in the idea. William Ward, a former property developer, who became CEO of Clipper Ventures, invested £1.8m.

Knox-Johnston commissioned eight new boats – Bluewater 58 sloops – from Colvic, a shipyard near Chelmsford, Essex. The company set up a base in Plymouth, Devon, and Knox-Johnston recruited friends from the sailing world, many ex-servicemen, as skippers. As soon as the boats were completed, they began training crew, taking on additional skippers as they went.

On 16 October 1996, the first race left Plymouth with the eight boats. The race was a success, and over the next few years Clipper built itself into an international brand. Major companies started to sponsor the boats (Garmin, Nasdaq), as did charities such as Unicef, and, from 2002, British cities such as Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow. “Since the first race in 1996, the event has been transformed from a low-key amateur sailing race into a major, and highly profitable, international event attracting the interest of the world’s media and business leaders,” wrote Ward in Clipper company accounts in 2007. In the following years, the company continued to grow.

Robin Knox-Johnston aboard his boat, Suhaili, 2018.

After the 2011-12 race, the company upgraded its yachts, and launched the new Clipper 70s, manufactured in China. They were longer and faster than the previous yachts, reflecting Clipper’s ambitions for more exciting racing. In 2018, Clipper expanded its business to Asia with the launch of a China-based division, Clipper China. In 2019, the company made a profit of £3.2m; by 2020 it had a staff of 86.

The man at the heart of this success, Knox-Johnston, is, in the words of the Daily Mail , “a patriotic Englishman of the old school”, who “embodies the spirit of the stiff upper lip”. He has little time for what he sees as unnecessary bureaucracy. In his autobiography, he criticised the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the government department that enforces safety at sea and sets standards for the Clipper race. Knox-Johnston complained about its ridiculous and “inappropriate” rules for small racing yachts.

Knox-Johnston sees the race as a life-changing opportunity. Ben Bowley, a skipper and chief instructor, who worked for Clipper Ventures for nine years from 2011, was impressed by Knox-Johnston’s vision and belief. “He has drive, passion and his ability to convey the awesomeness [of the race] is quite captivating.” Having completed the race, Knox-Johnston wrote in his autobiography, people “usually feel confident to take on greater challenges”. He continued: “They have painted their lives with bright colours, not pastel shades, and that brightness is like a drug and they want more of it.”

T he moment Simon Speirs decided he was going to sail around the world came in 1992, when he was in his mid-30s. Watching the first TV footage of the Whitbread Round the World race, he was entranced by the huge seas of the Southern Ocean. “It then became more a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’,” he later wrote on his blog. Ocean sailing was his wife’s idea of misery, but she understood his obsession. “Simon was excited about it. It was his retirement dream to do it before he was too old, too infirm,” she said.

Speirs, a senior partner in a Bristol legal firm, was meticulous and thorough. He liked to-do lists and DIY, and had a dry sense of humour. He also had an adventurous side. Every two years he would take on a challenge to raise money for charity: he had climbed the Three Peaks (the highest mountains of Scotland, England and Wales), cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, run a 66-mile race in the Lake District.

Speirs originally signed up for the 2015-16 race. But he deferred his place because work was busy and his oldest son was getting married. Better to wait until the next race, 2017-18, when he would be 60 and newly retired. He kept fit by cycling six miles a day to work.

Speirs was a keen amateur sailor. He kept a couple of dinghies on a reservoir in Chew Valley, Somerset, where he had “sailing Sundays” with his children. He had a son and a daughter with his first wife, who died in 1991, and two sons with Margaret, whom he married in 1996. He had skippered chartered yachts on family holidays in the Mediterranean. “But that in no way compares with the experience of these huge racing yachts in these wild oceans,” said Margaret.

Training for the Clipper race consists of four courses, levels 1-4, each lasting a week. This process, which is compulsory for participants, covers basic sailing techniques – headsail changes, tacking, gybing, helming; as well as race strategy and safety. Trainee crew also sail offshore, mostly in the Solent, and later spend a few nights in the Channel. “The Solent and the Channel are widely recognised as one of the best sailing grounds in the world for training,” said a spokesperson for Clipper Ventures, because “of the complexity of tides, shipping, navigational hazards and inclement weather”.

Simon Speirs in training for the race, 25 June 2017.

The people who sign up for the Clipper race tend to be middle-aged men of means. Many are at a turning point in their lives: just divorced, promoted, retired, bereaved, recovering from illness. Nathan Harrow, then 43, a business consultant, decided to sign up as a round-the-worlder in the 2017-18 race after a period of stress and depression after redundancy. “Clipper was me drawing a line under the old me and getting my confidence back,” he told me.

Mary Morrison, a mentor for troubled children, from south-west London, was 65 and perfectly content with her life, when she did the 2015-16 race. “One of the guys I was sailing with said, ‘You’re the one least after change, but you’ll probably change the most’, and that was probably true,” she says. She gained new friends, an appreciation of the scale and sheer beauty of our planet, and a sense of how we need to look after it more. “And it gave me a lot of confidence,” she said. Another woman in her 60s, who did the third leg of the 2017-18 race, told me it was the best thing she had ever done.

Crew are assigned to each yacht a few weeks before the race. The aim is to balance experience and ability across the fleet. Whether everyone gets on is a matter of pure chance. “It’s one big social experiment,” said a crew member who did the race in 2007-8 and again in 2017-18. “If you’re lucky, you have a good time. It’s partly to do with the characters involved.”

Each boat is certified for 24 people including one skipper, who in 2017 was paid about £38,000 a year, plus £150 a day for six months of training beforehand. (“We ensure that our skippers share Clipper Ventures’ ethos of safety above all else,” said Clipper Ventures. “Anyone who fails safety standards is dismissed.”)

For many years, Clipper were required to have two professional sailors on board during the race, under the MCA’s small commercial vessel code. However, a freedom of information request shows that in 2010, Knox-Johnston lobbied the MCA to allow him to replace the second qualified person with a trained-up member of the fee-paying crew. The MCA refused. In 2012, with the MCA under new leadership, Knox-Johnston tried again. “We have tried to make the system of having two qualified people aboard each boat work,” he said in a meeting with the MCA on 1 August, but, he said, it is “not financially sustainable”.

Knox-Johnston had a subsequent meeting with the MCA at Clipper’s base in Gosport, Hampshire, at the end of September. Details of the meeting were not released. A year later, in October 2013, the MCA granted Knox-Johnston’s wish. From that point on, it wouldn’t be necessary to have two professionals on board. All that was required was one fully qualified skipper, and a second person who had successfully completed the company’s coxswain training course.

The Clipper coxswain’s course lasts 12 days, and is paid for by Clipper. The company aims to have two people on each boat who have taken the course, which covers use of radar, reading wind direction and force from a chart, calculating tidal flow and ocean currents, and manoeuvring the yacht safely into a berth in a port or harbour. Some sources I spoke to were sceptical about whether this training is really a match for hands-on experience. “As a professional sailor you’re trained to look and see things that are going wrong ahead of catastrophe,” said one skipper. “You’ve got to have this ability to stand back and look at the whole picture, all the time.”

After the deaths of Ashman and Young in the 2015-16 race, the MAIB urged Clipper to review its manning policy. “The special nature of the Clipper Round the World yacht race places a huge responsibility on one person to ensure the safety of the yacht and its crew at all times,” the MAIB wrote in April 2017.

Four months later, the 2017-18 race started without a second paid professional on board any of the boats.

T he race was not quite what Speirs had imagined. Seven weeks in, he described the trip on his blog as “acute discomfort mingled with elation and awe”. High points included the “beauty of the sky at night”, the “soft swish” of the boat through calm sea, the camaraderie of the crew and an encounter with a pod of dolphins. Less enjoyable was the sea sickness, the cold and the lack of sleep. Speirs had dropped two trouser sizes since the start of the race, a fact he attributed to the physical effort of sailing. Pulling ropes. Grinding winches. “I miss you very much,” he wrote in a letter to Margaret, on 10 October. The experience, he said, was “not a barrel of laughs”. But he still planned to complete all eight stages. “I am too stubborn to drop out,” he wrote on his blog.

Not all of his fellow crew members were so reluctant to quit. Mark Tucker, then 40, had signed up to do the whole Clipper 2017-18 race and was assigned to Great Britain, the same boat as Speirs. (The boat was sponsored by the British government, as part of a marketing campaign to attract tourism and investment; on 2 August, the crew were photographed outside 10 Downing Street .) However, Tucker left after the first leg because of his concerns about safety. He felt that there was insufficient time before the start of the race for maintenance and repairs to the boat. At the time, he wrote a resignation letter to skipper Andy Burns, explaining his thinking, but he wasn’t able to speak candidly in public because he’d signed an NDA. “In retrospect,” Tucker told me, “I view them very much as a media/PR company that happens to do a bit of sailing, rather than the other way around.”

By the end of the second leg, Speirs was exhausted. At the end of the 10-day stopover in Cape Town, South Africa, he wrote on his blog that he had used the layover to “repair and recharge”. He went to bed early and ate healthily. He got his haircut and met up with his daughter, Katherine, and her husband. She gave him a fruit cake baked by her mother-in-law.

On 31 October 2017, the Clipper boats began the third leg of the race: Cape Town to Fremantle, Australia. A journey of more than 4,700 nautical miles, it would take about 23 days and pass through the Southern Ocean, one of the world’s most dangerous waters. An area of almost constant high wind and frequent gales, it is where one of the highest ever waves was recorded – 120 feet.

For this third leg, the crew had dropped from 20 at the start of the race to 16. The average age was 50, but the overall sailing experience was greater than on the previous two legs. Tim Jeffery, then 56, an architect from London who had sailed small boats for 15 years, had signed up for the first leg “to get to know people”, and the third leg for the Southern Ocean. “It is the most remote place in the world,” he told me. “The sea is dramatic. It’s challenging because of the size of the waves. You also get very fast sailing and it’s hard work.”

The crew was divided into two groups operating a system of five watches a day: two shifts of six hours from 8am; three shifts of four hours from 8pm. Everyone was given a job: engineer, medic, treasurer. As well as head of his watch, Speirs was the nominated sail repairer. He became known as “Tailor of Gloucester” on account of the hours he spent at the sewing machine with glasses perched on the end of his nose.

Speirs was also the Clipper coxswain, regarded as the skipper’s second in command. Great Britain had actually started the race with three paying crew members who had completed the Clipper coxwain’s course: one was Tucker; the other, apart from Speirs, was Jon Milne, then 50, an IT director, who was injured at the time of Speirs’s accident. A common theme of Speirs’s blog was that he felt overworked.

Everyone on Great Britain was delighted with their captain, Andy Burns. Then 31, Burns had started sailing as a schoolboy in Lincolnshire. After working on superyachts and for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, he joined Clipper Ventures as an instructor in 2015. This was his first race as skipper.

Speirs regarded Burns as an ally. Both were good with people, patient, enthusiastic. Burns prioritised safety over speed. He “assessed the abilities and limitations of his crew to the extent that, during leg two, he made the decision not to race competitively, but to sail conservatively”, according to the June 2019 MAIB report.

Once the boat was sailing through the Southern Ocean in extremely cold weather, the shortage of experienced hands became a problem. Speirs wasn’t able to rest as there was no one to take his place. “The boats are set up for a certain number of crew,” according to a source at Clipper Ventures. “You need that many people to be able to work the boat. If you’re one or two people down that’s very problematic, and of course it makes the rest of the crew tired.”

After the 2014-15 race, a fitness test became part of the interview. Crew have to show they can climb on to a top bunk (not so easy when the boat is listing at 45 degrees) and get on the boat without using a ladder. The source said they felt Clipper Ventures’ vetting process needed to be tougher. Being at sea can be petrifying. “People become frozen with fear and start behaving out of character and become very difficult because they’re frightened.”

One person, who did not want to give his name, signed up for leg three on Great Britain in the 2017-18 race. In the final week of training, the boats raced down to France and back. “The weather was hideous. We had 18 people on board and there was probably only four or five of us that managed to keep the boat sailing. The rest were incapacitated downstairs. I was burning myself out covering for other people. When we pulled up into the dock, I packed my bags and I said, I’m done, it’s not safe.”

The dropout rate among round-the-worlders is 40%, wrote Speirs on his blog. Things must get very bad, because crew are liable for 100% of the fees if they drop out during the race. “People remortgage homes and invest significant amounts of money in the adventure,” said one former crew member. “Sometimes as much as £100k if you include insurance, food, accommodation, flights, kit etc. It’s going to take something pretty serious to knock them off course.”

A part from injuries and fatigue among the crew of Great Britain, a major concern was the condition of the boat. In an email to Clipper’s management on 3 July 2017, six weeks before the start of the race, Speirs had pointed out that Great Britain was leaking. “Still working hard to keep water out. Not easy job and pretty hairy when boat kicking around. This should have been sorted out at refit before handover. It’s a safety issue,” Speirs wrote in his blog on 12 August.

The boat was still leaking when it left Liverpool on 20 August 2017. Within two days the generator packed up. The water maker, which turns salt water into drinking water, didn’t work for three weeks. “Andy [Burns, the captain] was spending his entire time dealing with maintenance issues on a boat that was three weeks into a year-long circumnavigation,” said Mark Tucker. “If he’s down below sorting out why the water maker doesn’t work or the generator doesn’t work, he’s not on deck coaching people, making sure the boat’s being sailed safely.”

As part of its investigation, MAIB singled out an issue with the guardrail and supporting stanchions, which may have been partly responsible for Speirs’s death. The guardrail, which was designed to keep crew from falling overboard, was damaged in rough seas on 4 November, 13 days before Speirs’s accident. The crew managed to lash up the guardrail by wrapping rope around it. “The repair was not great,” said Tim Jeffery. “We had to be extra careful on the foredeck after that.”

The MAIB report identified a series of problems with Great Britain. “The cumulative effect of the defects was to increase workload for the crew, contributing to their fatigue, lowering morale, and distracting from sailing and gaining sailing experience,” it stated.

There were problems on other boats. Unicef had to be bailed out every four hours, on legs one and two, according to one round-the-world sailor. Unicef started the race with a broken fuel pump. The generator failed on the first leg. Two crew members who had signed up to do the whole race left Unicef after leg two, saying they were unhappy with the number of problems with the boat that needed attention.

Great Britain at the start of leg three, Cape Town, South Africa, on 31 October 2017.

Staff at Clipper put the malfunctions down to normal wear and tear. The boats had been around the world twice at that point, they say, as well as being used in training and for corporate events. “Some people believe that because they are paying to go around the world, the boat should be like hiring a car,” said Lance Shepherd, skipper on Liverpool during the 2017-18 race. “Everything should be immaculate, ready to go. But that is not how boats work. They are much more fickle and difficult to maintain.” Clipper’s management was prudent, he said. “They put safety first and foremost.” The boats “get stripped right back and overhauled” at the end of every race.

But there were also problems with the Clipper 70s from the outset. Clipper Ventures first discovered an issue in 2013, when the new hulls were shipped to the UK from China. There were gaps in the layers of fibreglass-type material, which could “make the boat more prone to cracks in extreme seas”, a marine surveyor told me.

Clipper had the entire fleet surveyed in February and March 2013. They had the “bad parts” cut out of the new boats and relaminated, according to Knox-Johnston. Not an easy job, given the scale of the problem, or the time frame in which repairs had to be done. The 2013-14 race was due to start in just over six months’ time. It couldn’t be delayed. Sponsors were signed up, the jamboree of corporate backers, supporters and families was already planned in each port.

Crew members later expressed concerns that there were too many problems to fix in the short time before departure. Garmin crew member Kira Pecherska, an experienced and highly qualified sailor, said there was no time for proper sea trials. “If you send a boat on a transatlantic journey, especially with beginners on board, who have no experience in sailing at all, at least these boats must be trusted. And you can only trust your boat when you test it.” (Clipper Ventures said: “Clipper Race yachts are well built, well tested and maintained by a dedicated and highly skilled maintenance team who travel to every port of call on the race route.”)

The source who works at Clipper Ventures told me there was anxiety about reporting problems: “There is a fear culture, that prevents a lot of that. They [skippers] are thinking, I’m going to get crucified for letting that happen.”

According to Clipper Ventures, on stopovers Knox-Johnston and Ward have “been accessible to all sailing staff and crew for any questions or concerns. They created a culture of openness and this continues with all Clipper Ventures staff today.”

A t about 2pm on 18 November 2017, Simon Speirs came up on deck, wearing a foul-weather jacket and salopettes. Conditions were rough: his fellow sailors had never seen such massive seas. His wedding ring was tied around his neck on a leather shoelace: jewellery was considered a safety hazard on board. He was one of five crew on the foredeck lowering the headsail. He was attached to the deck with a safety tether.

At 2.14pm, Great Britain was hit by a huge wave. The yacht dropped into a trough, slewed violently, and Speirs was thrown into the water. One crew member, who did not want to be named, saw Speirs with his lifejacket inflated, being dragged alongside the boat. He leaned over to try to grab him, but Speirs was just out of reach. He tried pulling on the tether, but the boat was going too fast. He could see Speirs was struggling as the water buffeted him. “He was constantly being hit by the waves. Never able to gather his breath.”

The crew member managed to hand Speirs a rope with a lifting hook to attach to his lifejacket, in order to winch him out of the water. Speirs tried to clip the rope to his lifejacket, but he was getting exhausted. “Water was going over his face and he was being bashed against the side of the boat.” As Speirs was dragged through the sea, his clip bent out of shape. At 2.22pm, it snapped open.

“My immediate thought was, thank God, he’s not going to drown by being dragged along by this boat,” said the crew member. “We can get the boat under control and go back and get him. We’ll get him in two minutes. It’s not dark. It will be fine.” But turning the boat around in strong wind and very rough seas was not easy. It took three attempts to retrieve Speirs from the sea. Finally, at 2.54pm, 40 minutes after he fell in the water, six crew lifted Speirs on board Great Britain. His lifejacket was cut off and crew carefully carried him below deck. He was already dead.

Simon Speirs and crew battle the elements during the race.

After Speirs’s body was brought aboard, the skipper radioed to the Australian coastguard. Clipper tried to contact Margaret, but when they couldn’t get through they called the family home and broke the news to their son Toby. “They told him his father had died,” said Margaret. “A 17-year-old lad who is on his own at home. Toby is a sensible lad but I’m sure it has scarred him for life. Clipper did wrong by us, very wrong by us.”

“We tried to contact Mrs Speirs, Simon’s emergency contact. Unfortunately she was not at home and her mobile phone was switched off,” said Jeremy Knight, then chief operating officer at Clipper Ventures, in an email to the crew of Great Britain, after being informed that the Guardian was investigating Speirs’s death. “This decision to break the news to Simon’s son has proved difficult for the family, and we understand that,” Knight wrote. “But the alternative, holding off and risking the family finding out through the media, was much worse.”

At 7pm that evening, the race director called Margaret and told her that her husband would be buried at sea in eight hours. “He was not giving me any options. He told me they had come to that decision for the benefit of the crew so that they wouldn’t have to travel with Simon’s body on board. And they told me the burial at sea would be at three o’clock in the morning our time. And by three o’clock in the morning we did have some friends and family gathered. The vicar came and we read the service at home that they were having in the Southern Ocean as if we were sharing it.

“The burial at sea has robbed me and my family of the opportunity of laying Simon to rest at a place of our choice and allowing us to say goodbye to him in a way that we would have wished to,” she continued. “It has also deprived our family of the opportunity for a coroner’s inquest. We didn’t get a chance to put questions, hear the responses, to help us understand what happened.”

Burns quit Clipper Ventures at the end of leg four. “Andy didn’t enjoy a second on that boat after Simon died,” said the crew member who had tried to rescue Speirs. Jeffery didn’t do the final leg, as planned. After Speirs’s death, he did not feel right leaving his wife and two daughters.

After Speirs’s death, the MCA would not allow the Clipper boats to sail with only one professional onboard. Clipper Ventures had to recruit a second qualified mate for each boat in the fleet for the rest of the 2017-18 race.

The MCA investigation into the death of Simon Speirs was closed in 2020. “The MCA received strong legal advice that the evidence was not enough to bring a prosecution,” stated a spokesperson. The MCA referred the case to Hampshire police to follow up an allegation of fraud in the certification of the boats, and they concluded that there were no grounds to pursue an investigation.

Ward was awarded an OBE in 2018 for his services to the economy and to the Great Britain marketing campaign. Knight retired from his role as COO of Clipper Ventures in April 2022 and is currently a magistrate. When we contacted Knox-Johnston in November 2022, he was at sea.

One bright morning last month I spoke to Speirs’s sons Mike and Toby on Zoom. For more than two years, the family had been fighting a civil action against Clipper Ventures, charging the company with an “immature safety culture”. They wanted to make Clipper Ventures answer for some of the failings that had led to their father’s death. “If you offer a service that is dangerous you have a responsibility to make it as safe as is reasonably possible and I don’t think that was done,” said Toby.

At the end of February, Clipper Ventures paid the family the net sum of £140,000 to settle the case. The family believe the timing of the settlement was no accident. Clipper Ventures is up for sale. In settling the case, the company admitted no wrongdoing. But the family felt vindicated. They donated the money to the RNLI.

Nothing can make up for the loss of their father. Toby is a student at his father’s alma mater, Queens’ College, Cambridge. “I just wish I could talk to Dad about that,” he said. Mike longs to tell his father about the grandchildren he never knew.

For Margaret, the settlement has brought a sense of relief. “I can hang up my sword and put all things to do with Clipper Ventures behind me,” she told me recently in an email. Simon Speirs had always been a loving husband and father. Now they could once again remember him not just by the way he died, but as the remarkable man he was.

This article was amended on 11 May 2023 to correctly refer to the Solent, rather than the “River Solent”.

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