Assumptions and Options

Ok. Against that particular title I have to admit that I was tempted to stray into politics rather than Clipper ………..

…………… but this is a blog about my involvement in the 2019-2020 (and beyond!) Clipper Round The World yacht race ……. so, resisting the obvious temptation, I’m going back to the sailing. Or more accurately some of the “assumptions and options” about the possibility of the race resuming, hence the title of this blog.

Since Blog 121: Batman and Robin???…No cloth ears!…THAT MAN and Robin!! published 14 Sep, we, the Clipper race crew, have received further communication from Sir Robin Knox Johnson regarding the resumption of the race next year. This is all dependent on a series of assumptions. Not surprisingly the Clipper team are insistent that racing will resume in 2021 and are equally insistent that they are doing all they can to facilitate the race getting underway. It’s easy to be cynical but this is exactly what I would expect right now. This “insistence” is based, again not surprisingly in the current circumstances, on a series of assumptions, and I’ll touch on these as I type.

It is still Clipper’s intent to visit all the original Host Ports (namely Sanya, Zhuhai, Qingdao, Seattle and Bermuda who all have “named” boats in the race) which means that Sanya – replaced on Leg 5 by Subic Bay because of COVID – reappears as a Leg 6 port. Should any of these ports be closed Clipper will make alternative arrangements and amend the route as necessary. They aim to publish details of race restart plans by late November/early December 2020 and clearly, the longer they leave this, the better chance they have of securing the best options for the race to continue. It will also give more time to investigate all necessary quarantines and to further plan additional safety measures. Although Clipper acknowledge that the availability of a safe vaccine by early 2021 will be a potential game changer, they are realistic enough to acknowledge that planning must proceed on the assumption that a vaccine will not be available and that quarantine arrangements may well be required for joining crews at the very least, in each changeover port.

Despite Jeronimo’s sterling work (see Blogs 116: Race Finish after 40,000 miles in London yesterday….. or maybe NOT! published 9 August, and Blog 121) the yachts will have to be properly and thoroughly recommissioned. If the race restart is to go ahead – around 18-21 February 2021 – the Clipper Race Maintenance Team will need to go out to the Philippines at the beginning of January. The Skippers and AQPs will need to deploy a couple of weeks later. These deployments are dependent on a number of assumptions regarding travel, quarantine, visas etc and a baseline assumption that Clipper can arrange dispensation as a sporting event to allow travel to Subic Bay and that the Chinese ports will be reopened. If this is the case then Leg 6 will race from Subic to Sanya, Sanya to Zhuhai and Zhuhai to Qingdao. Dates and duration of stopovers have yet to be published. The fleet would leave Qingdao towards the end of March for the race across the North Pacific to Seattle. This is Clipper’s Option 1. If for any reason Seattle is closed then the intention would be to sail across the North Pacific from Qingdao but then head direct to Panama. I haven’t yet sat down to look at all the speed/time/distance calculations in all this, apart from the obvious note that Option 1 or Option 1a as I’m going to call the Panama finish option, increases the duration and mileage of Leg 6 and that “direct to Panama” impacts Leg 6ers disembarking and Leg 7ers joining. There is also considerable impact on the Leg 7 programme.

Clipper Option 2 works on the assumption that the Chinese ports and Seattle are closed to us. In this instance the plan is to depart Subic Bay in early April and race across the North Pacific towards Panama. With the Leg6/7 crew changeover in Panama, Leg 7 would be “extended” to “take in more of the Caribbean” although, as yet, there are no details of dates/routes. At the moment there is also an Option 3.

Option 3 would be to leave Subic Bay in August/September 2021 taking in all the current planned stops, if available. Clearly this gives the countries/ports longer to become available and, self evidently, equates to a further 6 months postponement of the race. If the ports are not available then the fleet would go directly to Panama – in that instance Option 3 becomes Option 2 but later in the year. However it has long been Clipper policy to avoid the Caribbean hurricane season so it is not planned to enter the Caribbean before 1 December 2021. This would see the fleet arriving back into the UK …………….. in February 2022! Beyond Panama, New York no longer appears on the programme and thus Leg 7 finishes, and Leg 8 (across the North Atlantic) starts in Bermuda. If nothing else Option 3 probably means we may be on track to have taken part in the world’s longest sporting event: Clipper 2019-2022!

the original Clipper 2019-2020 Race Route

So, having read all that – what do I actually THINK? Most obviously there could be a number of variations on Option 1 depending on availability of the Chinese ports. It strikes me that any of them could be cancelled if required, and such cancellations could, within reason, be accepted at short notice. This would, however, lead to some significant logistic implications in order to ensure the fleet was stored for a longer North Pacific crossing, and the victualling/water/gas equation becomes more critical if Seattle is not available and the fleet routes direct to Panama. Access to Panama is critical. But so is initial access to the Philippines. That too is critical. Panama is not just about access to the Canal, in fact, as far as I am aware COVID has never closed the Canal. But the boats will require time alongside for deep cleaning, repairs, revictualling, refueling and crew changeovers. Right now, before I grope metaphorically for my charts, dividers and distance tables, I am trying to get my head around the decisions timeline and the implications of what we must be aware of and have permissions for before we reach the point of no return crossing the North Pacific. Arguably this point of no return should be Subic (or Qingdao), i.e. prior to departure, and I am left wondering when or even whether international uncertainty will allow planners to square that particular circle.

I have been involved in planning, sometimes very complex planning, for more time than I care to remember. I am aware of pretty much all the standard clichés about planning and I’m sure I have used them all. “Plan early, plan twice”, “A plan is a basis for change,” “No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless ….. but planning is indispensable.” I was always taught to plan for success, and plan to exploit success, but contingency plan for things going wrong and setbacks. My planning has always been based upon assumptions – and to stay with clichés for a second – the sayings that “assumptions make fools of all of us” and “assumptions are the mothers of all ****ups” are countered by always keeping your assumptions under review. And when your assumptions change, change the plan. And all planning requires decision making. The real art about decision making is not taking the decisions, that bit is easy. The art is knowing when to make the decision, or knowing when you have to make the decision. And that, somewhat clumsily, leads me to comment on the “missing option” or perhaps at best, the missing contingency plan”, the missing “worst case” – Option 4. What’s the plan if none of this is possible? This may be “remote” or “realistic” or even “very pessimistic” depending on your point of view, and a part of me fully understands why Option 4 wouldn’t be published just yet and that any Option 4 decision point is a long way off …………….. for the moment.

For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see

https://justgiving.com/teams/keithsclipperadventure

For UNICEF UK see

https://justgiving.com/KeithWinstanley-TeamUNICEF

Please take a look. Thank you.

Batman and Robin??? …. No, cloth ears! …….THAT MAN and Robin

Batman and Robin??? No, cloth ears ………….. THAT MAN and Robin! Jeronimo in Subic and Sir Robin Knox Johnson…..

Following my own future pontifications in the closing paragraphs of the previous blog (Blog 120: This time LAST year, this time NEXT year, published 4 Sep), today I post the latest “letter from Subic” from “that man”, Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, and an accompanying missive from Robin Knox-Johnson. For what it’s worth I’ll give you a precis of the former and the latter verbatim.

The monsoon season was in full swing when Jeronimo last wrote (17 August) keeping him busy monitoring humidity levels ….. and emptying bilges. The 33 liferafts and 350 lifejackets have been packed into a container for transportation back to the UK for the August servicing that would normally have taken place had the race finished on time. Having helped load liferafts onboard UNICEF during prep week then I know only too well what a physical job this is (halyards and winches to remove the liferafts from the yachts onto the pontoon and then transport them by trolley). To do this for all 11 boats in 35 degree heat and 90% humidity makes loading in Portsmouth seem a breeze! Jeronimo has also found time to help racing boats at a local yard – including replacing the bow section on a Philippine catamaran. He continues to be impressed with the local resilience to the pandemic and to life in general. The Filipino sailing community has been coordinating support for remote communities along the coast, helping with food and other essentials. In uncertain times it is the hope of continuing his Clipper Race adventure that is keeping him going.

Turning to Sir Robin: “Dear Keith, I hope you are keeping safe and well, wherever you are in the world. As you will have seen, Jeronimo is still out in Subic Bay, looking after the fleet. We are so grateful for all his hard work in keeping the boats in good order for our return to racing next year. Thank you Jeronimo! As you have heard from him, all lifejackets are on their way back to the UK (thanks to WTC Logistics) for routine servicing. The servicing includes the safety kit being unpacked, inflated, checked for wear and tear, repacked and certified for another year. We’ve seen that you have been fundraising for UNICEF UK, including a raffle for a fantastic Clipper Race inspired fire pit, which raised over £1000. Thank you for all your efforts and for helping us creep closer to our £1million milestone, we have just £9391 to go! UNICEF has been doing tremendous work to support children and families who have been affected by the pandemic helping to reach 224 million children with distance and home based learning. I know many of you will be looking for an update from us on the race next year. Being very honest here, and being straight with you all is very important to us, we don’t have a new update for you. However, we are continuing to monitor the global COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting travel and the hosting of sporting events. We are still striving to make sure the race can restart in February 2021. We are working with our Host Port Partners on the remaining ports of call for the suspended Clipper 2019-20 Race and are also consulting with remote medical specialist Praxes Medical Group, our Official Supplier which provides us with expert medical advice and support as we travel the globe. For those hoping to rejoin the race next year, or deferring to the Clipper 2022-23 Race, our Crew Team is working on information regarding insurance and hope to be able to update you on this early next month. We appreciate that those who are returning will need a comprehensive update on the logistics and safety measures regarding next year’s race. As soon as we have that information confirmed, we will be in touch. Best Wishes.”

ForDiabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see

https://justgiving.com/teams/keithsclipperadventure

For UNICEF UK see

https://justgiving.com/KeithWinstanley-TeamUNICEF

Please take a look. Thank you.

This time LAST year, this time NEXT year

I’ve blogged at least four posts looking forward – the “This Time Next Year” blogs – in particular when looking forward to race legs. Blog 55: This time next year. Leg 6, Race 9. A Four Video North Pacific taster, published 27 March 2019, is a good example. I posted at least three “Time Travel” blogs looking back, post the event, and a couple in which I used the facility to publish a blog I had already written in advance on a future date on which I couldn’t actually write because I was travelling. Phew! Blog 86: Time Travel….. or rather TIME to wind back the clock, while I TRAVEL, published 7 Oct 2019 and Blog 81: Race 2 Day 3 latest ….. 4,800 nautical miles still left to race, so let’s wind the clock back a bit, published 18 Sept 2019 are both good examples. With me so far? Well, prompted by a small catch-up reunion with UNICEF Clipper team mates over lunch and a beer in Eccleshall yesterday, this time I thought I’d have a go at both; Clipper this time last year and Clipper this time next. Or at least, with my usual literary flexibility, something like that. Anyway, even if you are by now completely confused you’ll get the general idea in a minute or two.

So on 12 Oct LAST year, while crossing the River Plate from Argentina to Uruguay, I published a piece I had already written looking back to Clipper Race Start which happened (give or take 72 hours or so) “This Time LAST Year. The full text can be viewed again at Blog 87: Another Time Travel Blog, published 12 Oct 2019 and the pictures and videos are repeated again here:

It covered Race Start on 1 Sep 2019 and some of the events, including the boat naming ceremony, earlier that same week.

And I dare say there will be some more “this time last year” blogs in the coming weeks:

OK. And this time NEXT year?????

Well this time next year the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2019-2020 will (perhaps/maybe/probably/possibly) have finished and this site maybe up around the 200 blog mark. Hopefully I will have raised more money for my chosen charities (see below) and I may even have restarted the “lecture circuit round” to retell my deeds of daring-do programmed for this autumn/winter but torpedoed by COVID and the race postponement in the Philippines. There IS a plan in place – in very rough outline only – to resume racing. In its simplest form this involves crews rejoining for Leg 6 in Subic Bay and, after a training/refresher programme in and around the Philippines, conducting 3 races – Subic to Sanya, China (Sanya cancelled last year from Leg 5), Sanya to Zhuhai, China (where I was originally due to rejoin UNICEF for the start of the first version – pre-Subic diversion – of Leg 6), Zhuhai to Qingdao , China and then Qingdao to Seattle across the Mighty North Pacific. I would then return home while the boats complete Leg 7 – Seattle – Panama – Bermuda. This plan removes New York from the Leg 7/8 programme and means I would rejoin in Bermuda to complete the final leg, Leg 8 – Bermuda – Londonderry – London. Exact dates and timings for all this are yet to be confirmed and I have yet to grapple with post-vitrectomy medicals, flights, insurances, visas etc.

So what do I think of this plan, or rather more significantly, what do I currently think of its chances of success? I have been reflecting on this, and my own personal feelings about continuing. My thoughts on the latter have undoubtedly been shaped by the fact that I cannot recall any major project in my life (so far) that I have only half finished and few, if any, personal challenges that I have not overcome. A great afternoon recalling highs (and lows) with John and Lindsay yesterday has helped and the rapid return of the sight in my left eye was perhaps the final factor. There is no doubt in my mind that I want to continue and finish my own 4-big-west-to-east-ocean-crossing circumnavigation. No doubt at all. But is this a realistic ambition? Clipper staff are mostly, if not all, currently furloughed. The end of UK furlough draws near. Skippers and AQPs have, understandably, been “released” pending the race restart. The boats, under the watchful eye of Jeronimo remain in Subic Bay (See Blog 116: Race finish after 40000 miles in London yesterday …… or maybe NOT! published 9 Aug 2020) but under normal circumstances would now be undergoing an extensive programme of post-race refits, including being lifted out of the water. Not all the UNICEF team are available to race next year – for understandable personal reasons. Some have deferred to the edition now expected to race 2022-2023. I am sure this is reflected amongst the international crews across the fleet. It is not straight forward to “parachute” in “standby crew” as everyone must have completed all four levels of Clipper training and, as regular readers will know, the one week long Level 4 training must be completed with your team members …. and onboard a Clipper 70 ……. which have all been alongside in Subic since March. (See Blog 81 referenced earlier in this post which talks about my own Level 4 training).

And what about COVID? What about COVID in Subic, in Sanya, in Zhuhai, in Qingdao, in Seattle, in Panama, in Bermuda and in Northern Ireland? What about entry and quarantine regulations in each port even after, as in the Qingdao to Seattle crossing, we have spent a considerable time in the “self-isolation” of a “Clipper Team bubble” at sea. It wasn’t that straightforward for Bert ter Hart as he completed his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in July (see Blog: 119: Safest Man On The Planet, published 26 Aug 2020). For the moment the short answer to these, and many more associated questions is, “I don’t know.” And not for the first time since I started this website I close by saying, “Watch this space.”

Lindsay, Keith and John. Team UNICEF gang of 3 lunch, Eccleshall 2 Sep 2020

For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see

https://justgiving.com/teams/keithsclipperadventure

For UNICEF UK see

https://justgiving.com/KeithWinstanley-TeamUNICEF

Please take a look. Thank You