After a brief stint at the helm of a sailing dinghy whilst at school, Bex Sims is finally fulfilling one of her bucket list adventures. She’s a firefighter at Highfields Fire Station in Nottinghamshire which has specialist technical rescue capability and has been selected to compete on leg 6 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – crossing the mighty Northern Pacific. You may have seen an introduction to Bex in a previous blog.
Her place came about due to a charity watch project we’re running nationally with firefighters that’s endorsed by the FBU. Our good friends at the Clipper Race HQ kindly donated a place on the race in a competition we ran within the FBU’s Firefighter Magazine. 8 firefighters were invited to complete a full week’s training aboard the 70’ race yachts and after an arduous week Bex was selected to take part. Since then she’s completed 2 more weeks training and has one last week to do before she’s ready to set sail from Qingdao in China on 23rd March. She’ll be part of the crew aboard Visit Seattle which will compete against the other 10 yachts over 6000 miles to Seattle in the USA and the welcome will be a big for the local team as the yacht enters it's home port. This leg is expected to take about three and a half weeks of non-stop racing and is renowned as one of the most brutal with huge seas, freezing temperatures and inclement weather being the default conditions.
It’s so good of the Clipper Race to give this place to Bex and after her first weeks training, we caught up with her to find out how the training was going. It soon became evident in the conversation that Bex was prepared in more ways than at first she thought. We asked her to say a few words...
“I undertook Level 1 Clipper Race training from Gosport as the first step in my 2018 challenge of sailing across the North Pacific Ocean.
Throughout the training we were taught the basics of sailing, what all the different ropes were for, how to put the sails up or change them for bigger/smaller ones (called an ‘evolution’), and the strange sailing language we had to understand.
As the week progressed I was really surprised by all the similarities the things I was learning had to my job. I’ve been a firefighter for 4 years and so much of what we were doing felt strangely familiar. The team work and problem solving were pretty obvious, but little things kept reminding me of work. The watch system – being on duty for 6 hours in the day, and 4 at night (my work shifts are 12 hours long), relying on each other, cooking together, eating together, having a common goal. We had to work under pressure – when something went ‘bang’ when we were reefing the main sail, there were concerned faces from the new crew but luckily it was just a pulley that had reached the end of its lifespan. We had to quickly assess what had gone wrong, and re-hoisted the sail, re-threaded the line through a different pulley, and carried on. It took about 30 minutes to sort out and all the time the instructors were telling us to ease and haul on various lines, which in all honesty we didn’t really know what it was controlling, but in the end the problem was solved!
The practical aspects of sailing too were similar – tying knots being the main one. Some common sailing knots are ones we regularly use at work, but a new one to me was the admiralty knot. However, even tying that reminded me that only a week earlier during a rope rescue drill I had been taught the ‘barrel’ knot – which turned out to be one and the same! We got to be hoisted up the mast in a harness and helmet to see the view from the top – I am used to working at height so feel more comfortable 90ft up the mast than some of those brand new to this kind of thing.
I work at a technical rescue station which means that I’m also trained in water rescue skills – so practicing the man over board drill too was comparable – donning a dry suit to be lowered over the side of the boat in a harness and life jacket to pick up accident prone ‘Bob’ (a dummy who is frequently thrown over the side – again the same brand of manikins we drag out of smoke filled rooms in drills on station). Another shared aspect was using a tether so that in higher winds or rougher seas we are always connected to the boat. We practiced moving around the yacht, having to disconnect and reconnect to different strong points along the boat so we could move from stern to bow to carry out evolutions. This reminded me of using a guideline in Breathing Apparatus training. That’s when we are connected to a line that runs through a building so we can follow it to the scene of operations in a complex layout, navigating past knots and changes of direction, whilst being safely attached to colleagues or the guideline – just like a tether on the boat!
Maybe all of this familiarity was in essence because the fire service was based on the Navy way back when it was created? Either way, it seemed like I was in the right place, using the skills I had been trained for, for just a slightly different reason. I think I’m going to like my new water-borne home onboard a Clipper Race yacht!”
If you’re not familiar with the Clipper Race, we can tell you first hand that people who’ve done a leg or the whole race around the world come back different - in a good way! They’ve put themselves out of their comfort zone and become part of a special family of like-minded people, many of whom remain close friends for years.
The Clipper Race has a great race viewer to follow each team as they jostle for the honours and valuable race points on each Leg of the race. It’s quite addictive and signing up for the race updates gives a fascinating insight from the skippers as they deploy their best tactical decision making to get one over on the other teams.
As we write this, the teams have covered nearly 20,000 miles, about half way and are preparing to set sail again from Airlie Beach in Australia to Sanya and then on to Qingdao in China.
We wish Bex a fantastic race and with Nikki Henderson at the helm of Visit Seattle, she’s in highly capable hands. The Pic below is of Visit Seattle winning Race 6: The Wondrous Whitsundays Race arriving at Airlie Beach, Australia.
Photo thanks to Brooke Miles / www.brookemiles.com.au