Circumnavigating the globe was an experience most people never realize and one I never thought of before I answered the ad for the “Clipper Race Around the World” on my Facebook feed. Their tagline: More people climb Mt. Everest in a year than circumnavigate the globe- was all it took. Now, after completing this adventure, I have boarded Virgin Atlantic, business class (I earned it), ordering up the first of many martinis’ and have begun to reflect on what has transpired.
What was supposed to be 11 months turned into a three-year ordeal- thanks, COVID! But even though it took us a total of 1062 days to complete this saga, we still beat Magellan’s fleet by 18 days – so, take that, you rookie explorer!
By the numbers: 15 races, 11 stopovers, six oceans crossed in eight legs, and one pandemic. 46,654 miles sailed; 249 days on board; 1,742 night hours; maximum wind Force 11, which equates to 64-72 mph (in other words, one bitch of a storm)!
What was the cost? Financially – don’t ask. Emotionally – still recovering. Physically – shredded shoulder (again), busted knees, but 35 pounds lost- so it was a wash for one James Feldkamp!
This race took me from London, UK – Portimão, Portugal – Punta del Este, Uruguay – Cape Town, South Africa – Fremantle, Australia – Airlie Beach, Australia – Subic Bay, Philippines – Seattle, USA – Papagayo, Costa Rica – Panama Canal, Panama – Hamilton, Bermuda – New York, USA – Derry, Northern Ireland – London, UK. On such a journey, you are bound to run into a few assholes; but more lifelong friends than I can list here. The entire crew made the whole experience worthwhile and one I will never forget (no matter how hard I try)!
Not only did I sail within ten miles of the ice line (45 degrees south) in the Southern Ocean, but on New Year’s Day, I also helmed around the southern tip of Tasmania in a 47-knot gale in 3-5 meter waves (always a good opener at the bar!). Sailing was amazing; crystal-clear nights with stars so bright you could read a book. Or when I was helmed by the stars of the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt and enjoyed pods of dolphins darting around and across our bow, jumping, and clearly having an enjoyable time. Watching pilot whales or a line of tuna jumping and hunting in the open sea. Of course, we also had flying fish randomly land on deck (even hitting crew members). Not only were they annoying, but they also smelled terrible and were not at all suitable for cooking – in case you are wondering. Speaking of food, the most depressing moment was watching our doctor throw all our meat and cheese overboard as our freezer failed on day three. Which is tough for a carnivore to go vegetarian for 27 days (but again, a good weight loss program).
We started 2020 with a bang – literally! On January 2nd, we hit a whale! In the middle of the ocean, we hit a whale – what were the odds? With the collision, the boat suddenly stopped, while everything else kept moving. So, everything, and everyone not tied down, was flung forward. While the cooks in the galley saw their red Bolognese sauce fly out of the pot throughout the galley, transforming the kitchen area into what looked like a murder scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Then, when we rounded Australia, it appeared we were sailing across a red Martian skyscape as the ash, and smoke from the massive Australian wildfires blocked out the sky 200 miles offshore. Those two events ushered in 2020 and set the stage for the four horses of the apocalypse to let loose the Corona pandemic.
On the wild side, I got inundated with walls of water on the foredeck while working on headsails. Surfed our 35-ton racing yacht down the front of 15-20’ waves at 20 plus knots. We also lost steering in the Pacific Ocean, bobbing around like a cork at the mercy of the waves and the winds. It was an exhilarating experience, to say the least (read big pucker factor).
Surviving a watch system of 6 hours on; 6 hours off; 4 hours on; 4 hours off; 4 hours on; 6 hours off (then repeat) that is relentless and uncaring about how tired, dirty, thirsty, hungry, sick, frustrated, grumpy, or anything else about how you may feel. Additionally, the spa experience of a sauna or steam room loses its appeal when it is below deck on a boat with NO ventilation while sailing in the tropics or stuck in the doldrums.
Learning to cook for nineteen people in a space 3’x5’ using just four pots/pans, dull knives, and a gas stove while rolling, banging, and pitching in wild 30-40 degree swings across all three axes provides a good “core” work out. Gordon Ramsey should do an episode on a Clipper boat.
Back to the wild side: I almost had to stand on the spokes of the helm wheel to keep the boat from broaching in heavy gusts and strong seas. Or climb up the bulkhead (wall) to get in and out of my bunk. A corollary to that was trying to use the bathroom in those sea states (an exercise in panic if there ever was). The day-to-day struggle to stay clean, warm, and dry and keep a brutally utilitarian environment clean and functioning was relentless.
I can’t say I’ve stumbled across a life epiphany. But I was looking for an adventure most people never experience. For me, it was worth it to try something audacious, physically and mentally challenging. It echoed my experiences in the Navy, and FBI and brought the satisfaction of being in a small team and facing daunting challenges that require mental, emotional, and physical discipline over extended timelines.
What’s next? I don’t know. Probably something less epic but still demanding. I do know that having a personal challenge to work for in parallel with work and everyday living was motivating and forced me to up my game across all fronts. I liked that. But, for now, as I buckle up my seat, I’ll just bask in the satisfaction that I am one of the few to circumnavigate the globe.
So ends the Clipper Race experience for Jim Feldkamp. Another martini, please!