A veteran of both the dinghy and offshore racing circuits, Richard Clarke is a well-known name in sailing communities around the world. A 5-time Olympian and PanAm games Gold medalist, Richard was able to transition his Olympic class success into opportunities to compete offshore. His offshore success includes the 2001-02 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, where Richard was part of the crew on board illbruck, which won 4 of the 9 legs and took home the overall title.
More recently, Richard has been racing aboard the Volvo Ocean 70 Wizard, who’s crew this year set about making history. Some of the 2019 highlights for Richard and the team aboard Wizard include finishing 2nd at the Pineapple Cup, 1st in the Caribbean 600, 1st in the RORC Transatlantic Race and 1st in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Wizard in the first boat to have ever won both the Caribbean 600 and Fastnet in the same year, with the Fastnet widely considered to be one of the hardest offshore races to win with over 400 boats competing. As a result of their strong sailing, the Wizard crew was also recognized as the World Sailing Team of the Year and Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) boat of the year.
How does it feel to have been selected as the recipient of the Gerry Roufs Trophy?
I am very pleased to win the Gerry Roufs Trophy and to be recognized for my international offshore racing achievements! Being that I don’t sail offshore alone, my family expressly forbids that, I owe much of my success to the owners and sailors who I compete with. Without the extreme commitment of Peter and Dave Askew to provide a perfectly prepared VOR 70 and its highly skilled crew, I would not be winning this award!
In your opinion, what is the secret to having a successful team?
A successful offshore team has to be balanced, obviously with great drivers and trimmers but also skilled fearless bow people, a 3 armed pit person, some muscle to turn the winches and lug heavy sails around, someone smart to navigate the boat in the correct direction, and a boat captain who knows every inch and system of the boat. Every one of these crews will also bring a solid secondary skill like sailmaking, rigging, splicing, hydraulics, engine mechanics, winch servicing, boat building or provisioning. This crew is also completely selfless, checks their egos at the door, supports one and other, keeps their area organized and tidy, will make sure the bilge is completely dry before they exhaustedly crawl into their bunk, and never complain!
What is the biggest thing you focus on before and during a race?
Preparation is key to winning any kind of sailing race, however, offshore it’s even more critical! Preparing for the weather is something we spend days analyzing, not only to optimize the boat but also to pick a strategy or a course to steer off the start line, with legs from 100-1000 miles long there usually are a few options and the consequence of getting it wrong is measured in hours, not boat lengths! We also target critical areas of the race where we need to bring our ‘A’ game, so we can manage crew fatigue leading up to those areas as the team that manages transitions, fronts, squalls and islands the best, frequently jump out to insurmountable leads.
You have successfully made your passion your career, what would you say to sailors that aspire to do the same?
Professional sailing is a tough nut to crack, especially for Canadians where there are very few domestic opportunities. So, unfortunately, step 1 is to make yourself known internationally, the Olympic route is the way I did it, and that pathway has proven viable to others. Another is to ‘relocate’ to a sailing hotbed for a season or two, I know of a few young Canadian sailors who’ve relocated to Newport or Sydney and launched their careers that way. Choosing a pathway is only part of the battle, the next is to impress anyone and everyone who gives you a free ride because getting paid only happens after you impress. First, to arrive, last to leave and a 100% effort in-between is a good motto. A good personable attitude and eagerness to do the jobs no-one wants to do will go a long way, you’ll be more remembered as the person who cleaned the head, sponged the bilges dry, made coffee, or even better made dinner and cleaned the freeze-dried containers than the person who did a decent job trimming the sails or driving the boat. Opportunities are extremely hard to come by, so when they do, make them count!
Join us in recognizing the 2019 Sail Canada Awards recipients at the Sail Canada Rolex Sailor of the Year Awards on Friday, March 6th, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario at The Carlu.
Click here for more information about the Sail Canada Rolex Sailor of the Year Awards night.
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