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A Q&A with Wendy Tuck about Leg 5 of the Clipper Round The World Race

by David Schmidt 23 Jan 08:00 PST January 29, 2018
Line honours for Sanya Serenity Coast in Clipper Race Leg 1 © onEdition

Sailing offshore is undoubtedly one of the greatest pleasures and highest pursuits offered by our sport. Trouble is, working your way into the close-knit fraternity of offshore racers can be a tough ask, especially if you are high on ambition but shy on experience and/or the ability to build a team ground up (read: a massive war chest). Enter the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which was founded by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner of the 1968/1969 Golden Globe Race and the first person to sail singlehanded around the world (a feat that-at the time-was akin to a NASA moonshot in terms of commitment level), as a way for greenhorn sailors to learn the ropes of offshore sailing from a trusted mentor and skipper.

Sailors learn their craft in a series of pre-race training seminars and-once the race begins-aboard a fleet of 11 identical Tony Castro-designed 70 footers that the race uses to circumnavigate via a series of stage races that go from port to port, giving sailors the chance to see the world whilst allowing the race to expose myriad visitors to the possibility of offshore sailing.

The Clipper 2017-18 Race left the UK on Sunday, August 20, 2017 and is now in Airlie Beach, Australia, preparing for a 5,954-nautical-mile leg that will stretch up to Qingdao, China, crossing the equator and (eventually) giving teams an opportunity to hone their upwind sail-trimming skills. Leg 5 is actually carved into two races, the first from Airlie Beach to Hainan Island and the city of Sanya, then from Sanya to Qingdao, which was home to the sailing portion of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Given the race’s next stop, Sanya Serenity Coast, which is skippered by Wendy “Wendo” Tuck (52; AUS), caught our eye. Wendo’s team is currently topping the leaderboard, and while each squad determines how much emphasis to place on hardcore racing versus learning seamanship and offshore-sailing skills, the simple reality is that a team can’t sail their way to the pole position if they can’t sail well together, meaning that Tuck has worked hard and realized great results during this lap.

Impressively, this is Tuck’s second time through as a Clipper Race skipper (she served in the same role during the 2015/2016 race), and she has also racked up eleven Sydney-Hobart Races, including the 2017 race when she skippered Sanya Serenity Coast across the finishing line to win the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy for the first female skipper across the finishing line. (N.B., the Clipper Race times their arrival in Australia to allow teams to participate in this fabled Southern Hemisphere ocean contest.)

I caught up with Tuck via email, to learn more about her team’s ongoing adventure.

What do you see as the toughest bits of sailing in this next leg, from a tactical perspective?

It will be a tough leg as we go through so many different weather patterns and, of course, the Equator when things can get very fruity very quickly with squalls around and then suddenly no breeze.

The main tactical decisions will be how far off the islands we go.

What about from a crew comfort and team-building perspective—what do you see as the highest hurdles and can these be used to help the group bond together?

It does work that way - everyone bonds over the temperature issues.

The hardest is the heat, the boats are incredibly hot down below and it just rains condensation, but everyone looks out for each other by watching out for each other’s water intake, making sure that everyone has sunscreen on, all that kind of stuff.

On the Sydney to Hobart Race when we had a small amount of upwind sailing we all talked about how the hell did we put up with eleven days of upwind on Leg 4 so, yes, when you look back on what you’ve been through, you realize that you have bonded over the unpleasant experiences.

The welcome that the sailors will likely see in Sanya has become legendary in the sailing world—will this be a tool that you will use to help some of your crew get through the tough and unpleasant bits of the next Leg (say, the expected upwind work)?

Absolutely, we have had so much support from Sanya along the way, so everyone wants to arrive in a good position.

Are you and your crew happy to be leaving the Southern Ocean after so much high-latitude sailing, or did you and your team learn to love the full-on sailing conditions down south?

It will be sad to not sail in the Southern Ocean again, it’s always sad leaving the Southern Hemisphere-we loved it down there and not many people get to sail there, so we are very lucky.

When you look back on the Clipper 2017-18 Race to date, what are your favorite memories and what makes these memories stand out compared to all the amazing other sailing/miles that you’ve done with the Clipper Race so far this year?

Seeing my crew grow in confidence and ability. The guys who know how to sail are sharing their knowledge, so we all improving as one team.

Finally, is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

I just love being out on the ocean and all the competitiveness of it all - the finishes are just getting closer and closer all the time, so you can’t switch off or make one mistake.

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