When Reston resident Philip Wilkinson started looking to shake up his life, a boat race around the world was likely not what he had in mind.
The University of Virginia graduate has worked as a sales manager at the motorcycle parts supplier Moto Machines LLC since finishing college in 2013, but when he began contemplating a career change, his first instinct was to research master’s degree programs.
“I didn’t really have a clear direction of where I wanted to go,” Wilkinson, 27, said a year later as he prepares to compete in the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
As with many things in his life, Wilkinson discovered the Clipper Yacht Race through his father, Brian, who was looking into the sailing competition as a possible activity to pursue during retirement.
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race first launched in 1996 and was developed by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who became the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world when he participated in the Times Golden Globe Race between June 14, 1968 and Apr. 22, 1969.
Encompassing a distance of 40,000 nautical miles divided into eight different legs, the 2017-2018 race will feature 12 teams and more than 450 crew members competing to circumnavigate the world on 70-foot ocean racing yachts.
The race starts in Liverpool, England, on Aug. 20 and features stops in Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, China, and the U.S. The entire journey will take 11 months to complete, according to Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was drawn to the Clipper Yacht Race in part because it is one of the few such competitions open to amateurs, rather than professionals, though each boat has a qualified skipper on board to lead the crew and show them the ropes.
While he had no sailing experience prior to last year, Wilkinson is no stranger to the outdoors.
Born in the United Kingdom before moving to the U.S. with his family around 1999, the longtime Reston resident developed a love of traveling when, at 17, he went with his father and brother on a six-week backpacking trip around Europe, according to his blog Throwing Caution to the Wind, which he started to record his Clipper race experiences.
That trip took Wilkinson through 10 different countries before he returned to the U.S., and since then, he has undergone five more backpacking trips in eight countries.
“I love the outdoors and nature,” Wilkinson said. “Seeing the night sky with zero light pollution is kind of cool, and I think just all the different scenes and experiences out on the water will be fantastic.”
Fortunately, Clipper Ventures, the company that runs the race, provides extensive training for its participants.
Wilkinson spent four weeks between May and June in England training with his assigned crew, which consists of 54 people from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. Not all crew members will complete the entire trip, as some will rotate on or off the 24-person boat.
In addition to learning survival skills and basic sailing techniques, such as tacking and hoisting the sails, Wilkinson says the training was useful for giving him and the other crew members time to get to know each other, which is particularly valuable when they will soon be spending months together in a small space.
“Teamwork is a key thing,” Wilkinson said. “Everyone’s got to do their part, and it’s not necessarily about being the strongest person. It’s about technique. Sometimes the smallest people…were getting the sails up faster than the strongest ones, because they just had perfect technique.”
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is more than just a competition, however.
Along with bringing amateur sailors together for a challenging yet exciting adventure, the race supports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an official partner of Clipper Venture.
Clipper’s fundraising goal for the 2017-2018 race is £400,000 to buy vaccines, mosquito nets, blankets, emergency water kits, water pumps, temporary schools and health centers for natural disaster survivors, and other crucial resources for the people served by UNICEF.
Both crew members and sponsors have been tasked with helping Clipper achieve its goal, so Wilkinson set up a donation page on the crowdfunding website JustGiving.com. He has so far raised more than $200 out of his $340 target but hopes to bring in more donations.
As he prepares to set sail for England on Aug. 9, Wilkinson is also looking to raise interest and potentially find sponsors in the Fairfax County area who could either support his donation page or provide equipment for the competition.
“It’s really good to take part in a competition that is working so hard to promote a good cause,” Wilkinson said. “I’m trying to raise what I can. It’s just good to see that [Clipper] values its partners.”