Taking on a clipper
AIRLIE Beach local Nigel Pemberton is preparing - as much as possible - for a "bucket list" kind of feat in one of the world's most epic ocean adventures.
Mr Pemberton, who now also answers to his sailing name 'Jack', has been in Gosport, UK, getting ready to spend six weeks on a 70-ft ocean racing yacht as part of the biennial 40,000 nautical mile Clipper Round the World Yacht Race later this year.
He said the Level 4 training which took him for the first time to southern England had focussed on safety and was completed with his skipper and about 20 other members of the team who would be on board Sanya Serenity Coast for the fourth leg of the eight-leg race.
It is planned that the 68-year-old manager of the Shingley Beach Resort will leave Fremantle in early December, sail to Sydney, Tasmania, and then from Hobart to Airlie Beach, arriving in the Whitsundays around January 12 next year. His boat, which has been sponsored by southern China and named after the township of Sanya, would also have two Chinese ambassadors on board.
"All my sailing so far has been inshore sailing. Being in the Whitsundays, I've done quite a few Airlie Race Weeks, but nothing like this. I wanted to be able to experience offshore sailing," Mr Pemberton said.
"And this leg incorporates the Sydney to Hobart part of the race which is the icing on the cake for me."
Mr Pemberton, who has been at the resort for nearly 10 years and lived in Airlie Beach "on and off" for 30 years, said more than 50% of race participants had never sailed before and came from diverse parts of the world, with diverse backgrounds and lifestyles.
It was, he said, one of his favourite parts of the journey-of-a-lifetime so far.
"The race attracts a unique group of people, and it's also a bonding thing. You've got to look after each other," he said.
"I think sailing is unique because you're out there competing with the elements. There's no power involved ... it's purely nature and, I suppose, sailing across an ocean will be completely different.
"I think it's going to be very rough! These boats sail at a 30-degree angle so they're always on a tilt in any reasonable wind.
"Obviously things can go wrong, but I like to think to myself, 'Just do it. I've come this far'."
Mr Pemberton said there were about eight people on board his ship who would be sailing the full eight legs of the trip, which is expected to be an 11-month round-the-world voyage.
His boat will be skippered by Wendy Tuck, the first Australian and the first women to undertake two circumnavigations with the Clipper Race, after skippering Da Nang Vietnam in the 2015-16 excursion.
Mr Pemberton said he had race officials staying at his resort when they stopped by Airlie Beach for the first time in 2016, and that was how he had met Ms Tuck.
The Sanya team will incorporate people from 15 different nationalities, and there will be a total of 42 nationalities represented in the race crew. Overall, there's 712 crew racing on 12 identical ocean racing yachts and each team is led by a professional skipper, with the crew made up of non-professional sailors.
The excitement throughout the Whitsunday community is gaining momentum for the arrival of the fleet next year, with plans for a fireworks gala, regional rodeo, and two weeks of festivities well under way.
Abell Point Mariner general manager Luke McCaul said organisers - spearheaded by the marina - had secured sponsorship for the event which meant boats would stay in the area for two weeks before leaving on the next leg of their journey to China.
Mr McCaul said having a local sailor and ambassador for Airlie Beach participating in the Clipper extravaganza added another element of exposure for the Whitsundays.
"Having someone from Airlie Beach doing the Australian leg of the race is all relevant in promoting the host port and the Whitsundays region," he said.
"Nigel got a taste for it last time, and I think like others, he was inspired by these ordinary people from all around the world who make a life change and get out on the high seas."
Mr McCaul said Airlie Beach was "the ultimate place to sail" and this was a great opportunity to promote the region to the rest of the world.
"We wish Nigel all the best and hope he has a great journey and arrives back safely."
He said the major event was expected to attract more than 4000 tourists to the area and give the economy a major boost. The economic boon in 2016 was $770,000, and the hope is that next year the contribution will be double this.
Legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world in 1968-69, founded the Clipper Race in 1995 as a way to allow anyone, regardless of their sailing experience, the chance to become an ocean racer. More than 5000 non-professional sailors so far have taken part in the Clipper Race.
Starting in Liverpool on Sunday, 20 August, 2017, the Clipper 2017-18 Race will first race to Punta del Este, Uruguay, before visiting Cape Town, Fremantle, Sydney, Hobart, the Whitsundays, Sanya, Qingdao, Seattle, Panama, New York and Derry-Londonderry. The race will end in Liverpool on July 28, 2018.