Round the World Yacht Race: Liverpool 2018 skipper talks to YM Liverpool
Taking charge of a 70ft yacht during a gruelling round the world race is bound to throw up a few challenges but attempting a mammoth 40,000-mile expedition with a team of amateurs… that’s going to be tough.
Over the next 11 months that’s exactly the scenario facing Skipper Lance Shepherd, a former Royal Marine, as he takes on the illustrious Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
Now that the Liverpool 2018 has set sail, we caught up with the captain to find out how he plans to tackle such a unique test.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
What is it that attracted you to this race and made you want to take part?
Well it’s the biggest thing you can do as a semi-professional sailor other than being picked for something like the Volvo Ocean Race which draws the ‘rockstar’ sailors.
It’s the biggest achievement you can reach as an instructor by taking a group of non-professional sailors around the world. I’ve sailed to most places but never joined up in a single trip so it’s exciting to be doing a full circumnavigation.
How much of a challenge will it be to look after a novice crew for 11 months at sea?
It will be pretty tough although the sailing side of things should be quite straightforward. We’re going to have our challenges in the Southern Ocean, the North Pacific and the adverse weather conditions, but I think the biggest challenge is going to be looking after the people.
They’re from all different walks of life and different age groups, and they’ve all got different agendas around what they want to get out of the race. Living in close confides for such a long period of time there is bound to be conflict so managing that is going to be a challenge.
Do you think your background in the Royal Marines will help you deal with being thrown together with a random group of people?
Yes, it’s not something I haven’t done before but with [the Marines] you’ve got the military background and a kind of given authority whereas with this it’s an earned authority so you’ve got to win their confidence.
At the end of the day they are effectively paying for the experience so you’ve got to deliver that experience – you can’t just tell them what to do, you’ve got to get them engaged and make them feel valued and part of the team.
How did you get picked to lead the team on this once-in-a-lifetime journey?
The application process is particularly rigorous. For every race, which is biennial, there are about 300 applicants who want to skipper a team.
It starts by discounting those who simply don’t have the qualifications or the experience.
Then it moves on to a series of trials which include evaluations at sea to test your sailing ability. Eventually I was shortlisted and made it through to the final 12.
What are the biggest challenges a race like this will give you?
The biggest one is going to be the weather.
Next it’s probably the food and water. We have to make our water as we go around because we simply can’t carry enough for 22 people over six weeks.
We have a water maker which needs managing and that produces around seven litres an hour so we really need to look after that or we’re going to run out of fresh water very quickly. After that it’s the people – making sure there are no conflicts on board, managing sleep and all that sort of thing.
Do you know where you may encounter bad weather or is it a case of wait and see?
We already know we’re going to get a mix of good and bad weather due to when the race is taking place.
The Southern Ocean, which we will pass through during three legs from Uruguay across to Cape Town and then along the bottom of Australia, is particularly notorious – that will be quite rough.
Also the North Pacific is infamous for its weather with anything up to gale 10 force hurricanes possible. It really depends on what Mother Nature wants to throw at you.
It’s a matter of having to deal with it, get the right sail plan, manage the crew to work through that and change the watch systems so that the crew is only on deck for 20 minutes at a time because of the extreme cold and bad weather.
The skipper is responsible for the boat in its entirety so that includes managing the crew and managing the route around the weather to achieve that slingshot effect off the high and low pressures.
Have you ever had to face similarly rough conditions at sea yourself?
Yes, once when I was doing a delivery down to Barcelona from the UK we got caught up in a gale 10 going round Cape Trafalgar.
It was a little bit scary but the boat was well found, the crew was good and we just pushed on through.
Is there a chance the Liverpool 2018 team could win this?
There is! We’ve got as good a chance as anybody. The skippers have been working together now for almost 12 months – cross-fertilising each other with knowledge and sailing skills. There’s not one skipper who stands head and shoulders above the rest.
I’d like to win it. There’s the old adage that two boats going in the same direction is a race but I’m sure all of the skippers want to win as well as hopefully making lifelong friends and enjoying the experience of sailing around the world.
You can follow the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race race live, and read crew diaries, skipper reports and more at clipperroundtheworld.com.