Photo Credit: Sail Newport

By Kim Cooper, Sail Newport

“If you think it, you can do it,” says 11th Hour Racing Team sailor Francesca Clapcich to a group of fourth-graders at the Pell Elementary School.  

The virtual classroom visit by Clapcich was part of the Learning Program of The Ocean Race. It was organized for the students who had just completed their fall semester of the Sail Newport Science and Sailing Program. The fourth graders all participate in the two-semester experiential learning program, which integrates STEM topics with learning to sail at Sail Newport.

Pell School Teacher Donna Kelly, who is an Ocean Race Learning Program contributor,  set up the call with the 11th Hour Racing Team, The Ocean Race organization and Sail Newport.   A total of 38 students attended the special event in Kristen Kowlacz and Tricia Donnellyʻs classrooms.  

The story Clapcich’s life onboard an ocean-racing vessel going around the world was riveting to the students.   Most of the young eyes widened as she described being at sea for weeks elbow-to-elbow with other crew in extraordinarily cramped quarters.  

“We sail, sleep, eat, rest, and do it all over again, every four hours,” she says to describe the watch system rotation for the around-the-world race. 

Students looked closely at onboard images showing “the bedroom” – an exhausted sailor sleeping on a pile of sails and “the kitchen” with sailors crouched around a small pot of boiling water for freeze-dried meals. The young crowd giggled the most when Clapcich showed “the bathroom” – an unglamorous bucket below the deck on the 60-foot IMOCA boat.

Conditions outside of the boat are equally challenging for sailors. Clapcich described an extreme variety of changing weather, including fierce storms, searing heat while crossing the equator twice, gigantic waves, howling wind, icy temperatures, and monstrous seas.

On the other hand, Clapcich says, “sailing around the world is amazing,” as she describes the awe-inspiring stars, moon, marine life, and water. 

The children were delighted that Clapcich and her teammates would see whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, albatross, and more from the boat. 

“That can be scary, too,” she says. “Sometimes the whales are bigger than the boats.”

Of equal importance to Clapcich, and at the core of the 11th Hour Race Team program is sailing for a purpose. Besides pursuing the prestigious Ocean Race Trophy, the team is dedicated to caring for the ocean. The 11th Hour Racing Team, backed by Newport-based title sponsor, 11th Hour Racing, uses the opportunity during the global trek to collect scientific data about water temperatures, salinity, and microplastics found even in the remotest place on earth, in the Southern Ocean.  

Unfortunately, the students also learned about the devastating effect of pollution on marine life. The sailors often report sea life struggling with plastic debris in all corners of the ocean.

Hoping to inspire the students to engage as an active part of the solution, Clapcich encouraged the students to help personally by collecting trash on the beach, shoreline, and the land. 

“Take a bag with friends on your next walk and pick up things that shouldn’t be there,” she suggested.

Even further, she says, “Skip the straw, bring your reusable water bottle and learn about composting.” 

The teachers nodded affirmingly as these principles and calls to action are routinely amplified in their classrooms.  

The Ocean Race stops in Newport May 13-21, 2023, when the Ocean Live Park nine-day festival will be open to the public for free every day. The race boats dock adjacent to the family festival at Sail Newport in Fort Adams State Park. In addition, the Ocean Live Park will have sustainability exhibits, entertainment, team bases, a Sail Newport exhibit, a 3D immersive ocean hologram experience, and many other activities for all ages. 

Clapcich invited the students to the Newport stopover to see the race boat Mālama first-hand. “Mālama” means “to care for and protect” in Hawaiian, she adds.  

One of the questions from a student was if they would get to meet her in person. Clapcich agreed to come to the Pell School while she is in Newport next May. 

The students resume sailing in April of 2023 for the spring semester of the experiential learning program. 

Clapcich is a former Olympic sailor, a world champion sailor, and a former crew member on “Turn the Tide on Plastic,” which completed the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Italian-born Clapcich currently lives in Park City, Utah. She will sail with four other crew members, including two Americans. Charlie Enright of Bristol, RI, skipper of Mālama, and Newport’s Amory Ross will serve as the onboard reporter.

The racing fleet is expected to arrive in Newport on May 10, 2023. Before reaching the shores of the U.S., the sailors will have completed 28,650 nautical miles (approximately 89% of the global race).  

The race starts on January 15, 2023, in Alicante, Spain, and sails south to Cabo Verde. Then, the fleet will continue to race south to Cape Town, South Africa, and eastward in a forty-day stretch through the legendary icy depths of the Southern Ocean to a stop in Itajai, Brazil.

The race leg to Newport starts on April 23, 2023. The northeast stretch to the east coast of the United States will take approximately 17 days. The Narragansett Bay finish line is located at the tip of Fort Adams State Park.

On May 21, 2023, The Ocean Race fleet will depart Newport for the transatlantic leg to Aarhus, Denmark.  The race makes several more stops in Europe before the final finish in Genova Italy in late June.

“The entire race is amazing” Clapcich says. “See you in Newport.”

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