Tilbury yacht racer's memories

First published in Sport

SAILING: A SOUTH Essex sailor who took part in two legs of the most gruelling amateur yacht races in the world has spoken about his experience.

Bob Baker, a 53-year old Tesco lorry driver from Tilbury, took part in the final two legs of the race aboard the Great Britain boat.

The boat was one of twelve 70ft yachts competing in the Clipper Round-the-World Yacht Race, which took a total of 670 crew on an 11-month stage race around the globe.

But settling back into normal life has been tricky for the driver – who is already planning his next marathon yacht race.

He said: “The race gave me some unforgettable memories. What you remember the most is the remotenesss of the oceans.

“On one of the legs, we went 10 whole days without seeing another vessel or ship.

“You and the crew are really on your own.

“I just loved the isolation and the incredible things that you see while racing.”

Baker did legs seven and eight of the pay-to-sail race, taking in the leg from San Francisco to New York (via stop-overs in Panama and Jamaica), as well as the last leg which took boats from New York to Ireland then on to Den Helder, Southend pierhead (for the finish) and then London. Highlights for Baker included watching a school of dolpins round up tuna before gobbling up the fish – something that few people have ever seen.

“We had some scary moments too, including when one of our crew was washed overboard. But thank goodness she was wearing her harness and we managed to haul her back aboard.

“And you’re always aware of the dangers that, as a watchman, you’re looking out for.

“Off Ireland we nearly hit a pod of sleeping whales and, with the boats capable of speeds of up to 26 knots, that can do a lot of damage.

“One of the other boats hit something at speed and had to have its whole bow section rebuilt,” he added.

But it was ice rather than whales which was the threat elsewhere.

Baker said: “We were in the middle of the Atlantic, quite near to where the Titanic had sunk. We’d been warned to keep a look out for growlers (small but potentially deadly icebergs) and it made you nervous because of where we were.

“In the end, the race organisers insisted that we change position because the threat of a collision was so great.” Baker said that he had enjoyed the experience and it had taught him a lot about sailing and living in a confined area with up to 19 other crewmen.

“As a working crew you soon settle into the watch system which means that you are hot bunking – essentially sharing a swinging bed with another crewman – and living and working to keep the boat travelling at top speed all the time for weeks on end.

“Sometimes you don’t see other crewmen for days on end because of the watch system. It’s been an experience which has changed me.”

“I’ve met plenty of other sailors and want to do other races,” he added.

Baker has already looked around at future event options and may be able to do part off the Tall Ships race in just over a year’s time racing a boat from the Canary Islands to Portsmouth.

But, for the meantime at least he’s back to the traffic jams and delivery trips in south Essex and London – with just his memories of giant waves, gruelling sail changes at 3am and parties ashore to keep him company in his lorry cab.

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