A year in a sail boat has taught few lessons about the whole kit and caboodle. Some gear was indispensable and some just utter nonsense. I’ve jotted down some notes on my experiences from the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 11-12 (onboard Clipper 68 CV11), hopefully it will help future crew to avoid piling up useless stuff.
It’s worth also realising that all items brought onboard may get lost or broken, so one cannot be too precious about anything at all.
Please note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies, brands or products mentioned here.
Clipper Race is an amateur race, this year competing for the last time on Clipper 68’s. The crew brought onboard their own gear in addition to branded foul weather gear, lightweight jackets and a shirt provided by the race organization. The sponsors arranged most of the teams a uniform of some sort – a t-shirt, vest, cap or jacket that was used for ceremonial purposes only (e.g. the race start, race finish, prize giving, public events.). This way the condition and appearances of the team gear could be preserved during the year-long race series.
The weight limits for the crew kit varied from a team to another, generally hovering around 20-25 kg. It was entirely up to the skipper whether this weight limit was enforced in any way. On Visit Finland we had a weight limit of 20 kg excluding foul weather gear, boots and a sleeping bag. Our gear weight was not monitored at any point of the race.
One of the most important learning during the journey was to buy only minimum amounts that I needed for the leg in question and to eliminate stuff that was brought onboard “just in case”. For example I did not need a hot water bottle at all during the race, despite of lugging it all the way from Australia. As a matter of fact, nobody used hot water bottles in our team, even though this was an item highly praised and recommended by Clipper Race 09-10 crew. Neither hand or toe warmers were used widely, quite the opposite: in New York the fleet friends offered them to each other before finally chucking them to the bin.
It just goes to show that all recommendations (like these) are given based on experience of one particular year and race, as the conditions may be colder, hotter, milder or stormier each year.
Bunk & storage
We drew bunk lots in the beginning of each leg for equal opportunity’s sake, therefore the needs varied depending on the location of the bunk and weather conditions during the leg. For example crew inhabiting mid-lower bunks on wet legs rigged shower curtains to protect the bunk from water splashes entering through the forward hatch during sail transfers, or put a plastic sheet between the bunk and the mattress to prevent bilge water soaking the mattress. Any other bunk did not suffer from these problems. Shower curtains etc. was easily found from the shops after drawing lots – carrying a shower curtain around the world just in case would have been complete waste of space, and once one crew member had rigged it, generally it remained in place until the end of the whole race.
We did not do hot-bunking in Visit Finland. The bunk was my home, my refuge, my private area in the crowded boat. Few simple things kept it clean and tidy.
- Stretch terry fitted sheet. A must-have item for better hygiene and easier mattress cleaning after each leg. This item makes so much sense from health point of view, that I find it incomprehensible how so many people leave to seas without a sheet of any kind. Especially in warm climates all kinds of skin issues like rash, fungal infections etc. spread easily, so I’d rather not risk it sleeping straight on a mattress shared by many! It weights next to nothing, so there really is no drawback at all in the Clipper Race environment.
- Waterproof sleeping bag. Mine is an Ocean Sleepwear sleeping bag. The benefits and drawbacks of different brands have been discussed in the Mid-race kit review comments. I like OS for its easy rolling and packing properties. Round the world crew and cold leg participants need a waterproof sleeping bag, otherwise it is not essential. I stowed it away for the warm legs / races (legs 5 except couple of last days, leg 7).
- Rectangular sleeping bag silk liner. This kept the sleeping bag clean: it is much easier to wash than the whole sleeping bag or layers of it. I washed the silk liner during each stopover while the actual sleeping bag got two washes around the world. Rectangular cut gives more leg space, so I also used it as a lightweight blanket in warm climates. Silk is warm and quick to dry, therefore it can be washed also onboard.
- Travel pillow. Small, lightweight, easy to wash and pack.
- Waterproof pillow cover. Kept the pillow dry.
- Synthetic lightweight fleece throw blanket. It costs next to nothing, weights nothing, and has multiple uses. I used this as a second sheet during warm & sweaty legs, as a blanket on cooler summer nights, inside my sleeping bag during really cold times, stuffing under my knees etc.
- Travel bungee washing line. Travel line with two intertwined threads does not require clothes pegs at all. I rigged the bungee cord above the bunk either from deck fittings protruding from the ceiling or lashings of the above bunk. Essential for keeping small accessories within reach at all times in bunk, e.g. woolly hat, cap, sunglasses, buff, jay-cloth, socks, gloves etc.
- S-biners or carabiners. Nite Ize stainless steel s-biners are The Best. They can be used to hang anything and everything from the bunk edges, including deck shoes, sailing boots, water bottle, dry bags for instant access. Lightweight. The spectrum coloured ones did not rust, while the silvery s-biners did get some corrosion spots.
- Small & medium sized dry bags. I was very happy with Overboard dry bags: they did not get mouldy (unlike some thinner and porous materials) and were sturdy enough to survive around through thick and thin. There was no room for large dry bags, I’d say 30 l was probably the largest useful size. On the hindsight I’d get now mainly 5 l, 12 l and 20 l bags in addition to the odd 30 l for larger stuff like a dry suit. I also had all electronics in Crewsaver Aran dry bag (each device individually packed into thinner stuff bags with plenty of silica gel), which was great for it’s transparency, however I’d now get a PVC free transparent dry bag, e.g. SealLine EcoSee brand. Guiding principle for packing: small things go into small bags, large items go into large bags. Bags with windows are the best for easy identification, and same sized bags can be bought in different colours for colour-coded categorising. The Overboard bags come with shoulder straps and carabiners: I’d leave the straps home, there’s no use for them on the boat. Stuffsacs by Mountain Equipment are my all time favourites, although made of thinner material. They are superb for trekking and camping.
- Laundry bag. A thin, large stuff bag for the dirty clothes.
- Sturdy coathanger (x 1) if the wet locker design requires use of coat hangers, like onboard Visit Finland.
- White and black marker pen. For labelling everything from socks to hats to cheese.
- Simple race wrist watch. Absolutely necessary item for all legs. It doesn’t have to cost arm and leg, mine cost around £35. Essential for tracking time onboard, log keeping, watch changes, helm changes, spinnaker trimmer changes, cooking, personalised wake-up times, race starts etc. My Optimum OS sailing watch was brilliant. It doesn’t have any fancy firework functionalities – only everything you really need onboard. Countdown syncing feature was especially great, which helped to synchronise countdown if a gun was missed.
- Silica gel for removing moisture from bags & electronics.
- iPod + Waterproof casing & headphones. Music brings privacy and peace in otherwise busy boat.
- Amazon Kindle e-reader + Waterproof casing. Books transport mind to other worlds when one needs mental space & escape routes. Alternatively people brought iPads onboard if they already had one. It all depends what entertainment one enjoys during off-duty.
- Waterproof pocket camera. I cannot recommend brands, as I broke two Olympus Toughs during the journey – both times a metallic frame came off around the viewfinder. The older model had good image quality (and withstood several years of bashing and banging), the new one left a lot of space for improvement. For example the newer model could not focus using the contrast between white clouds and blue sky! What use is such camera for a cloud-spotter? Nonsense. A crewmate swears in name of Canon pocket cameras for their image quality, but they are not waterproof.
Clothes & stuff for hot legs (for women & experimental men)
White colour is extremely difficult to keep clean onboard, I would seriously opt for any other colour just for aesthetic reasons. White shirts started looking diseased with all sun cream, bilge water and food stains on them. (And no, washing does not remove stains from whites.)
- Bikini. (x 1) For salt water showers on deck & swimming for cruise phases.
- Quick-drying shorts with built-in brief liner. (x 1) UnderArmour has some absolutely great products that fit the bill, e.g. running shorts. They can be found easily from Australia. The built-in mesh pants are very comfortable for quicker drying when being soaked by waves – cotton or merino wool undies take forever to dry.
- T-shirts or tops. (x 2) Loose enough to let the air flow in-between the skin and the shirt.
- Polo / golf / tennis shirt. (x 1) Collar offers some relief from the chafing life jacket. Icebreaker does merino wool polo shirts, BAM does same from bamboo. They’re both really good, although I’m partial to merino wool clothing. There are other companies in the markets too.
- Sports bra tops. (x 2) Sweaty Betty became my favourite sports bra brand very quickly, their Agile All Sports Bra is splendid.
- Undies (x 3). Merino wool for its antibacterial qualities.
- Light coloured long sleeve shirt. (x 1) Protection against sunburn.
- Long trousers (x 1) for dirty work.
- Deck shoes. I prefer sneaker-style deck shoes made of mesh and with removable inner soles, my good old Harkens have been serving well, and still going strong.
- Flip flops for life down below (& showers on shore)
- Cap or a wide brimmed hat. Essential against heat stroke.
- Sunglasses. Must block all UV bands, polarised are the best for water sports. I went through 4 pairs of sunglasses during the race, so I avoided buying anything too expensive. (Mine either broke because of corrosion or scratched lenses. I don’t think low price had anything to do with the damage – the most expensive pair went overboard!)
- Water bottle with bite valve or other mouthpiece. Water bottle allows monitoring water consumption – important both in hot and cold weather. 0.6-0.75 l size was the best. Even though CamelBak bottles were a popular option, more or less everybody broke them during the race (myself included). The bite valve of CamelBak bottles is attached with horizontal pins that easily snap off in frequent use, then the valve starts wobbling and eventually comes off altogether. Also bite valves are difficult to clean: mould starts growing inside the tubes especially in warm weather. (Clean with baby bottle sterilising tablets.) Cheaper water bottles can be far superior. Updated 12/07/2013: I have found recently Aladdin Aveo water bottles, which are perfect for boat life. They have a two-level screw cap giving options to use wide-mouth opening or a drinking spout. There are no moving pieces prone to breakages. I have used and liked this very much on a transatlantic boat delivery.
- Suncream. I started with 50 SPF and later settled to 30 SPF. The team might buy suncream for general use instead of everybody bringing their own.
- Facial suncream. For vanity’s sake I had a non-comedogenic suncream for the face.
- Head torch. Red light feature is mandatory. Black Diamond Storm head torch was really good and truly waterproof – thumbs up. Two regular water-resistant Petzl head torches just corroded and gave up, they were complete waste of money.
- Light coastal sailing jacket. Hood is mandatory for squalls. My Musto Sardinia jacket made it to the end despite of some hiccups with a drawstring around the hood. Mine got mouldy, but another crew members jacket didn’t.
- Light salopettes. My Gills are great. Women’s OS2 salopettes have a drop seat – a bonus. I also wore these during coastal races in Atlantic, sometimes combined with mid-layer salopettes underneath if it was coldish.
Clothes for cold legs
Cold and wet legs require much more complicated logistics of getting dressed than warm legs, just because it is so important to try and keep clothes dry all the way from the bunk to the deck. The guiding principle is: they can only get wetter, so I kept my precious mid-layers and other dry gear always zipped up and in a dry bag when not in use. Even when they got slightly damp, because they can only get wetter, never drier!
I’d warmly recommend learning the basics of layering before going to cold climates, because I’ve heard and seen so many outrageous cases of people wearing far too many layers when it gets cold. (Come on, 9 tops?) This is complete nonsense, says this girl grown up in -30°C winters. The layering works only if there is space for air in between the layers – it’s the air that keeps us warm, fabric just traps it in. Ensure that you understand how different thermal layer materials wick moisture from skin towards outer layers. It is essential to choose thermal layer materials that wick moisture well. Even during coldest of the cold nights, I wore only the following: Panties, sports bra, long sleeve thermal top, thermal leggings, running shorts, long sleeve fleece top, gilet (body warmer), mid-layer salopette, mid-layer jacket, liner socks, waterproof socks, dry suit, neck tube, beanie, gloves, boots. Full stop.
It is also worth noticing that all cold weather gear and thermal layers MUST be bought before embarking to the race. You cannot buy cold weather gear from countries in tropical climates! For example merino wool thermals can be bought with 100% certainty from the UK, New Zealand, US and Canada, maybe from Cape Town and Australia (except during summer season), impossible from Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore or China.
- Dry suit. I would not sail around the world without this item, no matter what anyone else says. I was told it’s waste of money by many crew from 09-10 race, but no, it certainly wasn’t. I am convinced that my Henri Lloyd one piece dry suit was indispensable for my well being across the North Pacific. In fact I did not wear any other foul weather gear up on deck for the whole crossing – it was dry suit weather every one of those 29 days. We had two Henri Lloyd and two Musto dry suits on Visit Finland. Musto has a tube feature for blowing air inside the suit. Henri Lloyd has better hood design with transparent panels – great visibility even when the hood covers eyes. There was also pocket envy: Henri Lloyd suit has superbly warm fleece lined pockets. Wearers of both brands reported leaking socks / wet feet after some use, but mine were mostly fine thanks to meticulous sock-folding inside the suit and sealing them in with the velcro strips, whenever it was not in use.If anyone needs any reasons why dry suits are so good, here are a few:
1) Small people have small body volume but large skin surface area, and therefore feel cold and hypothermic quicker than large people. Dry suit keeps the warmth inside with appropriate insulation. You can even blow air inside it to increase insulating buffer against cold air.
2) I did not have to change my thermal layers because of wetness, but because I was ashamed to wear the same thermal shirt and leggings for solid one month! Less gear, less bulk.
3) Crew wearing foulies & smock jackets reported regularly feeling cold and being soaked to the core across N Pacific crossing. I was dry and warm for most of the journey, then damp but warm.
4) Helps to preserve life in the off chance of going overboard in cold waters.Dry suit requires some maintenance gear such as zip wax, oil for the silicon cuffs and tiny bottle of talcum powder. These can be shared with other dry suit wearers!
- Waterproof mid-layer jacket & salopettes. (x 1) Fleece-lined Henri Lloyd mid-layer jacket and salopettes were absolutely brilliant. Fantastic even. This is a must-have thermal layer under a dry suit. This also is an important barrier between inevitable wetness down below, encountered before getting dressed up in foulies / dry suit or when stripping them off.
- Long sleeve thermal merino wool tops (x 2). Essential. T-shirts are useless during cold legs, shirts must have long sleeves. I am a great fan of Icebreakers. Most useful thickness is 200 g/m² in my opinion.
- Thermal merino wool leggings (x 2). See above.
- Merino wool panties (x 3 – 4). As a rule of thumb I’d bring now one pair per week. During wet legs it is impossible to do any laundry, so freshness can be extended with the help of pantyliners & frequent wet wipe washes.
- Fleece top (x 2). One fleece would be perfectly enough, but the second is for the odd case of getting wet or dirty. In normal use a fleece top worn over a long sleeve merino top can remain decent for 3 weeks or so.
- Waterproof knee-high socks (x 2). Essential. I lost my second pair on the way to China, they disappeared from top of the generator, which was used for drying small items. (Still shaking my fist in rage! Label everything with marker pens! Everything!) Thank goodness I had a second pair. My Sealskinz socks were great: I wore the mid-weight knee length socks and Country socks. After losing the mid weight socks, the country socks were on duty in every single watch across the North Pacific from China to US – my boots were wet from day one of that leg. It is worth realising that waterproof socks will keep feet dry only if the membrane is intact. Punch a hole in them, wash in too hot temperatures, too much stretch etc, and the socks will become just as wet as any normal socks. These were best worn over liner socks and mid-layer salopettes for protection against wet boots and wet dry suit socks. I’d pick a size too large with hindsight. It required nightmarishly complicated logistics to keep the OUTSIDES of the socks dry in attempt to preserve dryness of the dry suit interiors. No wonder it took 30 minutes to just dress up!
- Liner socks (x 3 – 4). One pair per week. These keep the waterproof socks somewhat decent and clean inside.
- Merino wool neck tube / snoot (x 1). This can be worn under a cap, balaclava style, around the neck etc. Merino wool is much warmer and useful than similar products made of cotton. I used the snoot also in my bunk to keep the head warm – generally it remained dry under a beanie and the dry suit hood on deck.
- Sailing boots. (x 1) It is impossible to find united opinions on sailing boot brands. All of them are ultimately rubbish, some just less than the others. I was happy with my Dubarry Ultima boots, until they truly gave up the ghost in China. It needs to be said that by then the loyal Dubarries had been on frequent duty for 2 years. It was impossible to find decent replacement in small sizes, until back in the UK! I got Crewsaver long rubber sailing boots from Ireland to ease my plight, they were ok. Leather boots suffer a lot during RTW because they can be cleaned and re-proofed so seldom. Rubber boots seemed to be generally fine apart from being cold, smelly and prone to punctures. The boot styles with integrated gaiters e.g. Dubarry Crosshaven Boot seemed to work fine for their wearers, but unfortunately they do not come in small sizes.
- Gloves (x 2). Another impossible item. All branded, expensive offshore sailing gloves and winter mitts are useless waste of money. The best ones that worked well were neoprene sea kayaking gloves, e.g. Humboldt SQ 3mm gloves with silicone pattern for better grip. Neoprene watersports gloves are good, because the water forms a layer in between skin and the glove, just like wet suits. All gloves will get soaking wet in the first rain, and they are really needed only to block the wind chill when helming. At other times I’d keep hands in my dry suit pockets. Other fallback option is a combination of very fine merino wool glove liners and plumbers rubber gloves. They are difficult to dress up, but very effective. I could not find fishermen’s fleece-lined rubber gloves, which were praised by previous race’s skipper Jan.
Mitten style does not work onboard at all, and I found most offshore gloves too thick for helming – they completely blocked the feel and sensitivity for rudder vibrations. I tried Musto offshore gloves, Sealskinz gloves and winter mitts, but none of them were good at all for offshore sailing. I would not bother even trying to find waterproof gloves now with hindsight, but accept that hands will get inevitably wet.
- Beanie (x 2). One of the most important items fending off hypothermia. My Sealskinz hi-vis waterproof beanie was fantastic. It fits under a hood and sits close to head so that it does not rotate with the hood when turning this and that way. When it got cold I wore the beanie with a merino wool neck tube underneath. Sealskinz winter hat was not quite as good, somehow it felt colder and bulkier under a hood. I carried also a spare thinner beanie just in case the main one got lost or overboard – fortunately this didn’t happen.
- Lightweight rain trousers & jacket for the North Pacific leg. Boat interiors got so thoroughly wet across the N Pacific, that it was impossible to sit or lean onto anything without getting clothes wet. I thought our cameraman Stu was a genious for bringing very lightweight rain gear onboard. I bought trousers from Canada, and wore them regularly across the Atlantic back to the UK. It’s worth buying a size too large for easier wearing over other clothes.
- Head torch (x 1). Red light feature is mandatory. Black Diamond Storm head torch was really good and truly waterproof – thumbs up. Two regular water-resistant Petzl head torches just corroded and gave up, they were complete waste of money.
- Energy bars & chocolate. Personal stash of extra nutrition was essential especially across North Pacific. Our energy consumption was huge and intake too small, so without chocolate slabs I would have lost more weight than I already did. I’m a great fan of Clif bars: they’ve got also added vitamins and minerals to keep bodies going. The best range of flavours can be found from the US.
- Water bottle. See warm leg equipment list.
Hygiene & medicine
We did not use the sweet water shower onboard Visit Finland for water preservation. Instead we washed using wet wipes in cold legs and sea water & rain water during warm legs. This was perfectly fine, although it was important to also use deodorant / antiperspirant frequently throughout the day. I did armpit wet-wipe wash every time getting up for a shift (every 4-6 hours), probably this is also a reason I could wear the same shirt up to three weeks!
- Personal medicine.
- Toothbrush + case & toothpaste. A toothbrush case is quite essential, if the boat has personal pockets for small items somewhere near saloon or companionway.
- Suncream. (Mentioned also in the warm leg gear list)
- Travel soap. Small bottle of 100ml was perfectly fine for onboard consumption during hot legs. (Across N Pacific shower soap was unnecessary altogether.) I took sometimes refills from marina/public toilet soap dispensers.
- Deodorant / antiperspirant. For obvious reasons. Stick deodorant is kinder for the fellow crewmembers who do not have to inhale other people’s deo-aerosols. Stick is also better than roll-on variety, because it is dry straight away and therefore does not stick to the clothes.
- Travel towel. Also doubles up as a screen on lower bunks to give more privacy.
- Small brush / sponge / wash flannel.
- Facial exfoliating sponge
- Travel shampoo. Compact shampoo bar by Lush was fantastic and lasts forever. I’ve still got half of it left after the race. I’d say one shampoo bar & tin is perfectly enough for a RTW race. It is so much better weight-wise than liquid shampoos – they’re just the same but with added water. Thanks Meg for the gift!
- Leave-in conditioner for long hair. Small quantity e.g. 50 ml is fine and lasts forever.
- Compact hair brush. The smaller the better. I brushed my hair maybe every 3 days (see next).
- Hair bands (x 3). I kept my long hair on bun, ponytail or braided all the time. Good quality non-slip ponybands and those without metallic bits are the best. I went half way around the world using only one, so it’s unnecessary to lug too many of them.
- Ear plugs. Silicone ear plugs blocked the noises away especially during mothers’ long sleep. The best ones are like putty for sealing the ear channel instead of stuffing anything in.
- Travel laundry soap. Biodegradable non-bio liquid for handwashing onboard. More efficient laundry soap is useful on land, when washing the boat grime off the clothes. The team may buy a box for the boat so that everyone does not have to carry their own.
- Vitamin supplements with minerals. I forgot to take them in tablet format, however guzzled water-soluble bubbly tablets.
- Cotton buds
- Nail scissors + nail file
- Toiletry bag. Travel toiletry bag should have a hook for easy hanging. Sea to Summit makes great lightweight, water resistant toiletry bags. I washed mine in a washing machine every now and then.
- Sanitary towels and tampons (if required). Tampons with cardboard applicators are ecologically better than their plastic counterparts. More compact, non-applicator tampons are not necessarily a great idea onboard a boat, because the cleanliness of hands and fingernails may be compromised due to difficult sea state etc.
- A top-up travel cash card, because at least UK banks tend to freeze debit cards for security reasons very easily, when detecting frequent use from various continents. (First you’re in Brazil, then SA, then Australia etc.) The international transfer fees are also much smaller. Try FairFX Currency Card – this referral link waives the initial card setup fee.
- Contact cards. Keep your contact details handy – you’ll meet a lot of great people, also those who are not on Facebook or social networks. Mini Moo Cards are perfect small option. Get 10% off MOO Cards following this referral link.
I didn’t need driving goggles (sunglasses work fine during the daytime, during night time one cannot see anything anyway), offshore sailing gloves or winter mittens, hot water bottle, hand or toe warmers, multiple summer tops or shorts. I didn’t like Keen water sport sandals onboard, they are slippery. Also there was too much fussing about padded and waterproof shorts before embarking to the race. Complete nonsense! Women have enough cushioning on their bottoms already without any need for padded shorts, and if the water sloshes up the leg, it will enter the shorts were they waterproof or not!
It is worth packing some shore clothes too.
It is remarkable how little one needs after all, but this is A LOT of gear compared to normal delivery ocean crossings, which usually last only about 3 weeks in way more comfortable (and drier) boats with autopilots and spray hoods.
That’s it. Have I forgotten something? Do let me know.