A PONTELAND man is preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the high seas.
Brian Barry, a builder by day, has been yearning to set sail for many years and he will be heading across the Atlantic Ocean later this year after signing up to the opening leg of the Clipper Race.
The round-the-world event was established by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to give everyone, regardless of sailing experience, the opportunity to discover the exhilaration of ocean racing.
Organisers supply the fleet of 12 identical 70-foot, stripped-down racing yachts – each sponsored by a place or a brand and manned with a fully-qualified skipper, although everyone else on board will be members of the public who will be ocean sailing for the first time.
The port details for the first leg of the 10-month race have yet to be finalised, but Mr Barry has been told that he will be travelling from the UK to either Portugal or Spain and then onto a port in Brazil. It will start some time in August and should last about a month.
Among the challenges facing the crews will be the Doldrums near the equator. Conditions there can produce little or no wind for a number of consecutive days or severe weather in the form of squalls and thunderstorms.
Mr Barry said: “I’ve always wanted to give sailing a proper go, but I never thought I would be taking on a challenge like this as I was looking to sail in places like the Mediterranean rather than a big ocean.
“My wife, Deborah, found a brochure for the Clipper Race that we had picked up some time ago and while I was reluctant, she told me that if I wanted to do it I should not worry about the money side of things and just concentrate on being prepared for the journey.
“There are some scary aspects to it, but the more I thought about the challenge the more it excited me and in the end I couldn’t turn it down. It’s a test of myself to see if I can put myself through a tough experience and come out the other side.
“Also, I have worked all my adult life and we’ve brought up three children and seen them through university so I felt it was time to do something for myself.
“The boat is purely built for racing and we should reach speeds of between 30 and 35 knots. It only contains bunk beds, two toilets and a galley – there are no luxuries whatsoever.
“I chose the first leg because it’s a level playing field. In later legs, some of the people on each crew will have already done one or more during the race and the position of the boat in the competition could influence how they approach that section.”
The 61-year-old has currently done a week’s training on the south coast and there will be another two weeks of preparation before he sets off.
Each crew will have more than 20 people on it and at the first session the countries represented included Thailand, Brazil, the USA, South Africa, Austria and Canada. They were told that they will be working to a schedule of three hours on (duty) then three hours off.
“You will be relying on others in ways that you would never expect, so you need to be a team player for this challenge,” he said.
“I really enjoyed the first training week and the camaraderie among all the different nationalities was amazing.
“I also got to meet Sir Robin and even though it was only for a brief time, he was very inspiring. He said to us that when you finish the leg, you will say to yourself ‘what’s next’?
“I spoke to the others about the region I’m from and it would be great if Tyneside was one of the ports for the race. It would generate a lot of interest like the tall ships event.”
Mr Barry has been involved in a number of amateur theatre group productions over the years and played a range of comedic roles, including Captain Hook in Ponteland Repertory Society’s musical version of Peter Pan earlier this winter.
He added that he will bring out his performing side on the boat during times when the crew needs cheering up.