Preparation is key before crews set sail

If the thought of packing a bag for your summer holidays fills you with dread, spare a thought for Lesley Roberts.

"I need a year's worth of contact lenses. You go away for one week, you take one pair of sunglasses. You go for a year, you take three, in case one goes overboard. I've got an epilator, an iPod, netbook, Kindle, memory sticks for the camera. Euros, US dollars, Canadian dollars, New Zealand dollars," she says.

Lesley is a crew member of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the city's entry in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

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On Sunday she and 17 others will set sail from Southampton on the first leg of a year-long voyage: and she's trying to squeeze everything she needs into a 20 kilo bag.

• Follow the Clipper team on its journey to Madeira via Sue's blog at

"In Singapore it's going to be plus 30 so I need flip flops, a hat, a bikini, shorts. In China, it's going to be minus 30, so I need several layers of clothes, three sets of gloves," she says.

"We also need shore kit - we'll have between five and 14 days in each port and you don't want to be wearing the same dirty clothes. You have to think about your mobile phone - what network do you use? How do you pay for phone calls abroad?"

Lesley is one of nine crew members to go right round the world on the yacht - the other 41 will join for one or more legs of the race. The first is from Southampton to Rio via Madeira, and takes more than a month.

I will join them as far as Madeira, and I had thought my own packing efforts were meticulous, but they pale in comparison to the round-the-worlders, or "RTWs", as they are known.

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My spare room is already full of piles of quick-dry clothes; strangers on internet forums have advised me on finding sunscreen that also protects from windburn and sea salt; round the world cyclist Mark Beaumont even suggested when I interviewed him recently that make-up removing wipes are better than wet wipes for getting clean in the absence of showers. They have been duly purchased, along with so many travel-sickness tablets that the assistant in Boots had to check with the pharmacist that she was allowed to sell them to me.

But my packing efforts, and even those of the RTWs, are nothing compared to the task of provisioning the boat for several weeks - also known as "victualling".

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Once huge quantities of food are bought, all excess packaging has to be removed to minimise the amount of waste the boat has to carry, and food is divided into daily rations bags.

"It's a massive process," says Lesley.

"Our budget is 3.50 per head per day and we have to buy meals for 20 people a day for the first leg.

"We all pitched in and helped sort it out, take off all the labels, all the cellophane, and write on every tin what the contents are. Where things have come in bulk you have to split that into daily freezer bags.

"Then you've got 38 day bags, enough for each day and five emergency ones, you've then got to put all of those on to the boat tucked away in different spaces, draw up a map of the boat and label where each one is."

Sponsors have helped supplement the rations - it helps that Lesley, 35, works for Mars in Glasgow, where she lives, so there will be no shortage of chocolate.

It is not only victualling to be done this week. Several crew members are in Gosport all week helping prepare the boat for its voyage. The list of fixes to make sure it is, well, shipshape, is around 200 items long.

And then there's the matter of the home comforts.

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"There are the little added extras which don't necessarily make the boat go faster, but will make us more comfortable - LED bunk lights, and fans for each bunk, and putting a fridge in," says Lesley.

Away from the dockside, there is also the vital matter of kilt fittings. Edinburgh City Council sponsors the boat so that its crew can represent the city in ports around the world. Leith-based Kinloch Anderson is providing each member with a kilt in the official City of Edinburgh tartan, to be worn at promotional events so that crews are as eye-catching as possible.

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The black, red and grey tartan, originally designed by Kinloch Anderson for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1997, turns out to co-ordinate nicely with the official Clipper crew jackets.

At the firm's headquarters on Commercial Street, I tried on my own kilt this week with fellow crew members Robin Oliver, and the mother-and-son team from Corstorphine, Mary and Callum Todd.

They're thrilled to know the race will soon be under way, but their own part in it won't begin for months.

Mary, 54, is to set off from California in April, sailing through the Panama Canal and into New York, where Callum, 22, will take over, completing the final leg.

Mary, a business administrator, has been doing her bit to help make the boat as comfortable as possible, and can't wait for her own leg to start. "I've been stitching cushion covers for the saloon and sending them down," she says.

"It's just great to be part of something like this and I never thought I would be. It's something anybody can do and seeing everybody come together and make new friendships has been fantastic. It's like Big Brother - you're shut away for that time and you're imagining how you're going to deal with it - but we've had such fun on the training."

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Also among the crew are the Transplant Ambassadors, a team of transplant patients and doctors who are taking part to highlight the way that transplants can change lives, and encourage people to sign up as donors.

Among them is round-the-worlder Nick Barclay, 30, who underwent a kidney transplant six years ago after a condition called Goodpasture syndrome resulted in renal failure.

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"I just want to get on this boat and forget all my problems and have a great adventure," he says.

The marketing strategist was delighted when he came across an online appeal from team leader, Edinburgh-based Professor Stephen Wigmore.

For the transplantees, there's an extra level of preparations to think of, but the transplant ambassadors team has helped that run smoothly.

"Prof Wigmore has been fantastic," says Nick, who lives in Portsmouth. "He's arranged doctors around the world for me to see and have my bloods done so we can continue to check and see how I'm doing.

"I've had to pack six months' supply of medication at a time, so in Cape Town I'll pick up the next six months' supply, and somewhere in the Americas I'll pick up another six months' supply.

"With kidney failure I was having dialysis four times a week and you're stuck, you can't go too far away because you need to come back for treatment so the opportunity to set sail on the open seas and have an adventure of such magnitude - it's so real. Six years ago I couldn't have imagined this."