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Allen Brothers USA Newsletter: Female skippers dominate the Clipper Race


Female skippers dominate the winner’s podium of the 2017/2018 Clipper Round The World Race

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Clipper 2017-18 Race - Ist place - photo © Kathryn Foulkes

Dear Recipient Name

It's not often that the sailing community gets a front-row seat to watch history being rewritten, but that's exactly what happened in Liverpool, England, this weekend when Wendy Tuck (AUS; 53), skipper of Sanya Serenity Coast, crossed the finishing line of the final leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which took the fleet from Derry-Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, back to where the race kicked off last August. While Tuck didn't win the Race Finish Sprint, their finish was enough to secure Tuck's overall win and to make her the first female skipper to have won a major around-the-world sailboat race.

Even more impressive was that Nikki Henderson (GBR; 25), the skipper of Visit Seattle, secured second place overall in the 2017/2018 Clipper Race.

Tuck and Henderson were joined on the winner's podium by Chris Kobusch (GER; 32), skipper of Qingdao, who was the sole male skipper honored at the victory ceremony.

"I can't believe it," said Tuck in an official Clipper Race press release. "It hasn't really sunk in really but I am just so happy. It is so, so special.

"I don't think it's about being a woman," continued Tuck. "I just do what I do. But I am very proud and even prouder of my team. They are the ones that did all the work and considering many had never sailed before, what they have accomplished is incredible."

Sanya Serenity Coast and Visit Seattle at the start of Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race 13 - photo © Martin McKeown
Sanya Serenity Coast and Visit Seattle at the start of Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race 13 - photo © Martin McKeown

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Likewise, the feeling of elation was also high aboard Visit Seattle when the crew dispatched the final 18-mile Race Finish Sprint up Liverpoool's River Mersey to secure their proud second-place finish. "We didn't get the win but I am so proud of how my team dug deep and kept fighting right until the end," reported Nikki Henderson in an official race release. "No matter how hard it got, they turned up on deck ready to work, and deserve every bit of this success in coming second."

Here it should be noted that, unlike the fully crewed and professional Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) or some of the long-distance solo and shorthanded races, the Clipper Race uses a format where paying amateur offshore sailors are paired with professional skippers - such as Tuck, Henderson and Kobusch - who serve as skippers-cum-coaches-cum-mentors-cum-teachers. Moreover, some crewmembers sail an individual leg or three (AKA, the "leggers"), while others opt to sail the entire way around the world, making for a challenging leadership role that essentially involves rebuilding one's team with each new leg.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race: Race 9: Sanya Serenity Coast racing in the North Pacific Ocean - photo © Ming
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race: Race 9: Sanya Serenity Coast racing in the North Pacific Ocean - photo © Ming

The net result is that, while the overall level of competition is (significantly) lower than in the Volvo Ocean Race, the level of pressure for the skippers is as high or higher than that of VOR skippers, as Clipper crews arrive on the dock with vastly different levels of skill, experience, and ambition, whereas VOR sailors are all professionals who have earned their berths. And while the Clipper Race transits the Panama Canal, rather than rounding The Horn, Clipper sailors spend plenty of time in and near the Southern Ocean, while also tackling a marathon 5,528 nautical mile leg from Qingdao, China, to my hometown of Seattle, Washington.

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In short, Clipper skippers must be able to perform every onboard job while being capable of leading (relatively) greenhorn crews through extremely rough weather (and sometimes complex onboard dynamics) and also serving as their coach and mentor. This is no small ask, especially for Henderson, who, at just 25 years old, was significantly younger than most of her crew, as I saw firsthand in late April when I sailed with Henderson and some of her crew aboard Visit Seattle during the race's Seattle stopover.

Skipper Nikki Henderson and some of her female Visit Seattle crew welcome guests onboard - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2017-18 - photo © Clipper Race
Skipper Nikki Henderson and some of her female Visit Seattle crew welcome guests onboard - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2017-18 - photo © Clipper Race extends our heartfelt congratulations to Tuck and Henderson for shattering an important glass ceiling in the sport of sailing. Given the VOR's recently announced new format that will see two classes of boats competing (more on that next week), it will be very interesting to see if these skippers are given the chance to step up onto faster boats that are sailed by professional crew, or if they opt to pursue different directions.

Either way, we at wish them the best, and we look forward to hearing about their next successes.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, North American Editor

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