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Neil Stafford Round the World Yacht Race

Matthew Corrigan

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Neil StaffordRound the World Yacht RaceWhaley BridgeUNICEF

A Whaley Bridge man is about to embark on a gruelling challenge as he joins the crew of a racing yacht for a 40,000 mile race around the world.

Born and raised in the landlocked Derbyshire town of Whaley Bridge, 34 year old Neil Stafford had precisely no experience of sailing an ocean-going vessel when he clicked a link to the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race in late 2016.

Working as a finance manager for a motor dealership in Warrington, Neil was, to those who know him, a rather unlikely candidate to join a venture which will undoubtedly pit him against the very worst conditions Mother Nature can contrive to hurl at him. Having mentioned in passing to his sister, Debs, that he would like to take a change of direction, his curiosity was piqued when she emailed him details of the race website just before Christmas last year. For a moment, his finger hovered over the mouse, and then, with a decisive click, he was on his way.

The race was born out of an idea by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe. The record-breaking sailor wanted to create the opportunity for amateur crews to take part in what would be a life-changing experience, ‘one of the biggest challenges of the natural world’. The first race was held in 1996 and usually runs every two years. The 2017 event will be the eleventh and will hopefully raise a considerable amount for charity.

Teams compete aboard identical yachts. The monohull 70ft Clippers, in use since 2013, were designed by the internationally renowned Tony Castro Naval Architects and built at Qingdao, China. At the starting gun, twelve boats will set out from the port of Liverpool. Spectators will be able to watch the race begin from the banks of the Mersey this Sunday August 20th

Following an intensive period of training held over four weeks, Neil was accepted onto the crew of Liverpool 2018, sponsored by the city. Painted a lurid pink, the boat will not be hard to spot as she makes her way out of the Albert Dock and turns for the Irish Sea. Participants choose either to sail the whole distance or join the crew for one or more ‘legs’ of the journey. Neil has opted to make the full circumnavigation – around forty thousand nautical miles.

Life aboard will bring many challenges. Anyone thinking of luxury yachts would be in for quite a surprise; every square foot of a racing yacht must earn its keep. The permanent crew of twenty-two must quickly learn to share the confined space. A shift system will be in operation with eleven members per watch sailing the boat while the others take their turns in the cramped living/sleeping area. The crews will experience every type of weather and sea conditions during the eleven month expedition. Sunday’s first leg sees the fleet set sail for Uruguay’s Punta del Este, which is expected to take thirty-three days. 

Having quit his job and sold his house to fund the voyage, Neil is relaxed, confident and looking forward to getting underway. He hopes to raise £5,000 for UNICEF on the journey. Leaving people behind will be the only negative aspect but he plans to meet his mother and sister in December when the race arrives in Sydney. The fleet can be tracked via GPS and he hopes to blog about the experience while afloat. High Peak Review wishes him the very best of luck and will be updating you on his progress as he makes his way across the globe.