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Ketchikan man to sail from China to Seattle: Tim Walker set for one leg of the Clipper Race
This picture was taken on Tim Walker's first training day at sea, which occured in 40 knot winds on the Solent, which is the strait between England and the Isle of Wight. Photo courtesy of Tim Walker

Daily News Staff Writer

The in-flight magazine that many people use to keep boredom away while 30,000 feet above the ground recently led a Ketchikan man to embark on one of the greatest adventures of his lifetime.

Tim Walker’s wife, Janice, was reading the magazine on an Alaska Airlines flight when she came across an ad for the Clipper Round the World Race — a 40,000 nautical mile race around the globe on a 70-foot, ocean-racing yacht.

The race, now in its 11th season, is the “brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo, nonstop, around the world,” according to Clipper Race information. This season, more than 700 people are participating.

Janice Walker knew that her husband — who has a boat, a skiff, a few kayaks and a couple inflatables, and has spent many days on the water — would be interested in participating.

“She asked if I wanted to do it,” Walker recalled, “I really didn’t think she was serious. I said, ‘Of course,’ you know, I didn’t even have to think about it.”

The next thing he knew, she had arranged a trip to Seattle to watch part of the 2016 Clipper Race. She kept encouraging him to apply for the exploit, so he filled out the online application and they called him for an interview.

“They look for how well you’re going to fit in with a large crowd,” he added. “You have to have a disposition that will allow you to live really close with a lot of other people. There was a focus on that, and tolerance — because you’re sailing with people from all around the world.”  

To be accepted, Walker explained, one must meet certain health standards and do well in the interview, among other requirements. All-in-all, he’s been going through the application process for about two years.

A prerequisite that wasn’t needed was sailing experience. They take amateur sailors and people who have never sailed a day in their lives. Walker had experience sailing a small boat in the Tongass Narrows, but nothing like a 70-foot racing yacht.

Walker was accepted to be in the race — and soon after, he was on his way to Gosport, England, on the south coast of England, to attend a four-week training session. While there, Walker, the supply chain manager at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, learned how to operate the large vessel that he would soon be sailing thousands of miles from China to Seattle.

The first week, he and his training crew spent their nights at the dock learning the basics. After that, they began doing small excursions — some overnight — in the yacht. A few days later, they were racing each other in the English Channel, and by the end of week two, they were almost sailing to France.

The training prepared Walker for life at sea in more ways than just running the gear and lifting a sail up a mast that towers 90-feet above sea level, which takes a few crew members to accomplish. He learned how to live on a boat for a month — and sleep within inches of someone.

“You get into your berth and then they have these little pulleys and ropes; you winch yourself in and then they have this other thing that’s called a lee cloth — you winch yourself in on that, so if the boat rolls, you’ll roll into the lee cloth,” Walker explained. “You kind of sleep in a little wedge.”

Sleeping in shifts is just one of many shift activities Walker and around 17 other people on his yacht will be doing come March. Every crew member has to take turns doing each job — a bowman, a grinder, a helmsman, an engineer and the “mother watch” — cooking and cleaning.

Walker said he won’t mind being the mother watch; but how many ways can one cook oatmeal?

He will soon find out.

Just recently, Walker obtained his business Visa, because his leg of the voyage will depart from Qingdao, China, and the country requires Americans to have a Visa even to visit. He had to get a business Visa because he will be a crewmember on a sailboat.

Walker heads to China on March 12, and his 6,000 mile leg of the race begins on March 23. His portion of the race, the Mighty Pacific Leg, is one of the longest, sailing from Qingdao, across the North Pacific Ocean to Seattle, Washington.

Not all legs of the race cross oceans. The first does — crossing the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from the United Kingdom to South America. The second does as well, sailing from South America to South Africa, crossing the South Atlantic Ocean.

The third leg crosses the southern ocean, from South Africa to Australia, and the fourth all-Australian leg sails from one side of the continent to the other. The fifth leg doesn’t cross an ocean, sailing north from Eastern Australia to China.

Then comes Walker’s leg, the sixth leg, from China to Seattle. Only two legs follow. The seventh, sailing around the United States from Seattle through the Panama Canal to New York, with no ocean crossing; and lastly, the eighth and final leg, crossing the North Atlantic from New York to England.

The 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World Race started in the summer of 2017, and will end in Liverpool, England, at the end of July. The race is divided into eight legs, but has 13 to 16 races — such as the fifth leg, which contains two races from Eastern Australia to Sanya, China, and then Sanya to Qingdao. The fifth leg is also the next upcoming leg, beginning on Jan. 29.

There’s a two to five day arrival window for the yachts to arrive at a leg-completion port, and then the next leg begins about a week after that.

It is a race, as twelve boats per leg are heading toward the finish line through chopping waves — but does the first yacht to arrive in Liverpool win anything? Walker hesitated to answer that.

“I never have asked that question,” he said. “Most of the time, you’ve got to be in the race. First of all, to win, you’ve got to be in the race. Sometimes being in the race is an accomplishment in itself.”

Walker reminisced on the time he learned to swim in his late 40s. In his mid 50s, he signed up to participate in a statewide swim meet. He took fourth place — three other people were better. But he was in the race, and he had placed, after learning to swim just a few years before.

“It’s more important to be in the race,” he said, “ than the prize at the end.”

Walker will definitely be in this race, as it will be nearly impossible to turn back — but he can turn to his crewmates in hard times. Even though he knows none of them, because he attended training with a different group of people, he and his upcoming crewmates will likely become very close in their 33-day trip.

After all, during his month-long training session, he became very fond of his fellow sailors. He bragged more about the adventures and lives of the people he met than himself.

“This guy right here is really interesting,” Walker said, pointing to a picture of a man on the Clipper Race website he trained with. “He was a great guy. He was a matuse, I guess is what you call him. He does massages; he’s his own businessman. His big thing was going around to corporations and teaching them how to relax.”

Another is a surgeon, and “a pretty good guy.”

“I really liked him,” Walker said. “This guy here I found really, really interesting. His name is Lucas, he’s from somewhere in South America. He grew up poor and his only option he felt at the time was to go into the military.

“He went in at an extremely young age, he wasn’t even 16. He did really well,” Walker continued. “They educated him. He became an officer and then he became an M.D. He decided that’s not what he wanted to do and when I met him, he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation for business, and his big thing was team building — so he’s taken all these notes.”

Another was Phillip from South Africa, but he works in Canada. One man was from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England.

“This guy, he’s just crazy,” Walker said, pointing and laughing at a headshot on his computer screen. “I think he’s Swiss. His name is Charles, but he liked to be called Fred.”

Their occupations and ages vary. They are teachers, retirees, dentists, nurses, scientists, wealth managers, ecologists, lawyers, architects, students, accountants, radio broadcasters and others. Some are 18 years old, others are 70.

“There was a guy, he’s a podiatrist out of England, and he was like 74. But he was remarkably fit,” Walker said.

It seems Walker is not only looking forward to the adventure that lies ahead, but the people he will be able to meet and the stories that he will have from his upcoming escapade that begins in China.

Although the country is just serving as a port for this trip, it will add to an already lengthy list of countries Walker has visited. He’s been to Japan, Germany, Scotland, England, Norway, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Denmark and St. Kitts, an island in the West Indies.

“When you sail with these kinds of people, they’re all interested in adventure. Most of them speak multiple languages. They’ve been to many different countries,” Walker said. “They don’t buy a $50,000 gun collection, they go on a trip. They don’t buy a big car, they go on a trip.

“When you talk to the guys that have been around the world and have sailed across an ocean,” Walker added, “they kind of have a look in their eyes. It’s kind of a 1,000-mile look. I kind of want to go there.”

And he will go there — but it’ll be more like a 6,000 mile look after his team, sailing the UNICEF yacht, arrives in Seattle in mid-April.

Some of his crew members are sailing one leg like Walker, several are sailing multiple legs, and a few are circumnavigating and doing the full 40,000 miles — but all of them will come out of it with a sense of accomplishment with a group of like-minded, adventurous spirits.

Walker said a lot of people have asked him why he wants to do it. Is it dangerous? Won’t you be bored on a yacht for a month? Won’t you miss your family?

“I couldn’t comprehend not accepting it,” Walker said. “Would you not do that? You’d totally do it, right? Would you conceive of turning it down?”