Please select your home edition
Edition
Clipper Ventures
JOIN THE RACE JOIN THE 2017-18 RACE MAGAZINE DOWNLOAD THE OFFICIAL SOUVENIR RACE MAGAZINE Check out the latest photo galleries from the Clipper 2015-16 Race
UNICEF ABOUT UNICEF

Interview with Peter Thornton, skipper of GREAT Britain in the last Clipper Race

by Paul González-Morgan, @ShippingGib on 18 Dec 2016 18 December 2016
Peter Thornton on Great Britain during the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race © Clipper Ventures

Peter Thornton has always had a passion for sailing and the sea. His career extends from the Gorran and Mevagissey Sea Scouts in Cornwall, to being awarded an MBE at the age of only twenty-five for a period of service as the Flag Lieutenant to the First Sea Lord and Admiralty Board at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

After fifteen years of service, Peter moved into sailing chartered yachts, having recently completed a circumnavigation as First Mate on a 225 footer.

Peter also enjoys competitive racing, where he participated in the latest Clipper 2015-16 Race (Rolex Sydney-Hobart, Leg 4), helping take the GREAT Britain Team to the podium in this challenging endurance event. More recently, he has just started a new role as Relief Captain on the super yacht "Sea Eagle", which will involve sailing around Europe and the Caribbean.

Q: What made you take up the Clipper Race Challenge?

Peter: The desire to be employed to race across oceans and build a team to do so.

Q: How did you prepare for this event?

Peter: Prior to believing I was capable enough to achieve the task, I took every opportunity around my RFA and large yacht career to continue sailing and racing yachts. I enjoyed learning from some very experienced sailors around the world (I still do!) as well as developing those skills as Skipper and Instructor by teaching when I had the chance. Once I had been selected and joined Clipper Ventures which was five months prior to the race start, the organisational bullet train gets going and you happily get swept up and stuck into the lead up. Initially, and one of the most important aspects was, preparing a document which details the structure of your team with values by which you wish to live and race by. The importance of which is due to the fact that you never have all of your crew in one place at any one time - I had 55 people of various nationalities and ranging in age from 18-75. All of course with different levels of ability and reasons for putting themselves forward for the challenge - some I did not even meet before they joined for their race leg because they had signed up after Race Start.

Around this core crew document and ashore briefings / preparation, it is a series of training periods whereby you take every opportunity to get to know the boats and teach as many crew how to sail as possible!

Q: Being out at sea alone for so long must be difficult. What was you most challenging moment?

Peter: It's difficult to name one most challenging moment. There are many situations that were tough due to extreme weather - be it dead calms in stifling heat where you may get stuck and painstakingly watch your competitors sail away or worrying about the balance between racing the boat too hard versus safety in all conditions, day and night with crew on deck 24/7.

Then there were the freezing relentless storm force mid ocean battles with non-professional crew looking cold, tired and frightened. It's the whole package that's the challenge, but that is the reason we do it... There is a huge sense of satisfaction and relief at the end!

Q: What has been the media impact of such an achievement?

Peter: For me personally, large - in the sense of being part of a documentary aired on Sky Sports, and being interviewed in each port and on the boat by various newspapers, magazines and TV/radio stations, who are all very interested in the challenge we are taking on. It was a great, fun part of the job and an element I enjoy doing as I truly believe there is nothing else in the world quite like this race for people from all walks of life to achieve something they thought unlikely.

In terms of official media figures, these are still being calculated but early indications are that media coverage for the 2015-16 race more than doubled that of the 2013-14 race edition, and appeared in over 16,000 press, online and broadcast articles with a unique global audience base which exceeded 1.5 billion people around the world. It's a unique event and that is reflected in its ever growing media appeal.

Q: What would you recommend others if trying to undergo the Clipper Race?

Peter: As a Skipper, provided you're confident in your decisions as a sailor, it's really all about crew management. You have got to enjoy looking after and connecting with all sorts of people. I am far from perfect and I know I could have opened up a bit more when I had the chance. It's odd to say it but I probably concentrated too much time on assessing performance, maintenance and safety. Taking more time for the crew when all of the other three elements were satisfactory might have enhanced the experience for the crew more.

Q: What's your next challenge?

Peter: Good question. I've taken a bit of time to relax and I'm now open to my options.

Q: What has been your most memorable shipping experience?

Peter: Before the race it was seeing my first iceberg! With binoculars on a cold, open door bridge at around 11:00 PM under a partially moonlit sky just north of South Georgia and I as a first trip OOW on RFA Diligence was delighted to see the first one of the voyage.

Now, (although this is not strictly shipping as such) it is probably getting picked up by a huge set of waves in the dead of night in the North Pacific. We had been blasting downwind for nearly two weeks in averages of F8-9 and taking front after squally front of cold gusty F10-12 winds with corresponding seas. The winds had eased but the seas were big - a dangerous situation when racing. We were with two reefs and one small headsail, I'd come up and taken the wheel as you could feel things were changing. Before long, in the dark, one particular wave picked us up, not unlike many others but then it kept going.

You know it's big when you're on a 70' yacht displacing 36 tonnes and you feel like a kid on a skateboard at the top of a half pipe. Boom! We were off like a rocket and surfing in between what has got to be the biggest set of waves I have ever experienced. Spray shooting out both sides and whiting out the deck as we tried to keep the right angle to the waves - no idea what speeds we were pulling as we were concentrating on the helm and holding on for any big lurches. So, that sticks in my mind.

Well, that was just one night of four weeks of harsh North Pacific racing from Qingdao to Seattle and there's a lot more to the story. But we came out of it unscathed, as well as the rest of the voyage, and I was a very happy Skipper to say the least.

Q: What's your favourite ship?

Peter: Now there's a question. One that I'm not too close to if I'm on a yacht. Or one with a swimming pool if I'm onboard. Or one that is operating at its optimum. One on which you feel proud to be part of, performing day and night in a professional and skilled manner.

Related Articles

ORACLE TEAM USA unplugged
Defenders win their first 35th America's Cup match race The American team have clearly been busy during the five days off between races in the 35th America's Cup... very busy. The Kiwi's much-heralded upwind VMG speed advantage would seem to be gone completely as ORACLE TEAM USA have made significant gains. Posted on 24 Jun
From Thai boxer to Moth sailor
We speak to Kyle Stoneham Kyle Stoneham is one of the real characters on the International Moth circuit. Having recently sold his business, Kyle is able to spend more time on his foiling sailing, so we caught up with him to find out more... Posted on 21 Jun
Clipper CEO set for Prudential RideLondon 100
William Ward's challenge to support official race charity Unicef UK The Clipper Race's official charity is UNICEF, and this year the teams are aiming to raise £400,000. Clipper's CEO, William Ward, has worked closely with Unicef UK and its global offices, experiencing first-hand the vital work it does. Posted on 19 Jun
What can ORACLE TEAM USA do?
About Kiwi domination in the 35th America's Cup Match Emirates Team New Zealand have won the first four races in the 35th America's Cup Match. There has been the odd close moment, but the Kiwis have undoubtedly been faster on every point of sail, simply sailing away from ORACLE TEAM USA. Posted on 19 Jun
America's Cup Endeavour Junior Regattas
We speak to RS Sailing's Jon Partridge in Bermuda We talk about what the regattas are hoping to achieve, how education plays a major part in the Endeavour Programme, and what can be learned from the event to help encourage increased participation in sailing. Posted on 15 Jun
Interview with Team Allen's George Hand
A perfect start to his Musto Skiff season George Hand of Team Allen is having a superb season so far in the Musto Skiff: undefeated since the Inland Championship at Grafham Water last November. We speak to him about his plans for the season and being a part of Team Allen. Posted on 13 Jun
Is the top end of the sport aspirational?
America's cup capturing the interest of young sailors With the America's Cup going on, I - amongst many other sailors - have been in two minds as to whether the event is working to get more people into sailing, in particular young would-be sailors. Posted on 12 Jun
One Slip costs Artemis Racing
Nathan Outteridge goes for a swim One slip was all it took for Artemis Racing to end up 2-1 down to Emirates Team New Zealand on the first day of the Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs. Posted on 10 Jun
BodyHoliday Saint Lucia's Sailing Club
We speak to Base Manager James Ward We spoke to James Ward, the Base Manager at BodyHoliday Saint Lucia's Sailing Club about the X-Treme 26s they use, their 'Spring Sail' with Olympic Gold Medallist and World Sailor of the Year Saskia Clark, and their ambitious plans for the future. Posted on 8 Jun
Henri Lloyd's partnership with Land Rover BAR
We speak to company Chairman Paul Strzelecki Paul Strzelecki has always taken a very personal approach to sailing sponsorships, and this has led to the 21 year partnership Henri Lloyd have had with Sir Ben Ainslie, most recently with the Land Rover BAR America's Cup campaign. Posted on 6 Jun