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!
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.
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