In the heart of the sea: Challenges and triumphs for Cayman sailor

James Macfee braves the elements on board Liverpool 2018.

Lashed by hurricane-force winds, racing yacht Liverpool 2018 plummeted down the face of a 45-foot wave. Rain and salt spray lashed the boat’s crew as they struggled to hold their footing on the slippery deck.

There have been times during the Round the World Clipper Race when James Macfee has wished he had stayed in Cayman.

The accountant is among hundreds of amateur sailors matched up with experienced skippers for the unique 11-month race around the world.

When the going gets tough, as it did during the latest leg from Qingdao in China to Seattle, Mr. Macfee reflects on the high points of the trip so far.

“There are moments like sailing into Cape Town at night with Table Mountain lit up by the glow of the city, or sailing below the Sydney Harbour Bridge with hundreds of other boats, that are simply unforgettable.

“Then there are those joyful moments on the water where is just the right level of wind, the spinnaker is up, the boat is well balanced and you are absolutely flying.”

The fleet of 70-foot ocean racing boats left Liverpool, England, last August and has stopped in Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, the Whitsunday Islands, China and now Seattle, USA.

The next stop is Panama, where they will pass through the Panama Canal en route to New York, before returning to Liverpool, via Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the Cayman Compass during a brief land break in Seattle, Mr. Macfee said the race had been an incredible experience so far.

The 31-year-old, whose primary sailing experience has been racing Laser Pico dinghies in the North Sound, had expected to be one of the least experienced sailors on board.

“Other than the first mate and the skipper, I am the most experienced sailor, which completely surprised me. More than half the crew are complete novices, but they all have a good attitude and a willingness to learn, which is crucial.”

Over the course of the race, he has taken on the role of watch leader, in charge of one shift.

He said there had been some hair-raising moments, including when a wave nearly washed him and a crewmate off the bow.

But the greatest challenges have been mental.

“When you are freezing cold and wet and you have to get out of your sleeping bag in the dark, put on your wet clothes and get back on deck, it can be quite challenging,” he said. “Even more so when you have to try and encourage others to do the same.

“You have no respite from that. There’s no weekend, there’s no calling in sick for the day and staying in bed.”

He said the stress of keeping everyone safe in a crew of mixed abilities also took its toll at times.

But those moments when everything clicks have made the hardship worthwhile.

“It has been absolutely incredible,” he said.

“At times it has been tough and draining, but I have just loved being out on the water.”