Harken exclusive interview with Clipper skipper of OneDLL, Olly Cotterell


Skipper: Olly Cotterell

Age: 28
Nationality: British

OneDLL, Race 8 (leg 5), Singapore

Congratulations on coming third on race 8 you must be happy with your team?

Exceedingly happy yes, it was a very tough race. It’s a bit strange when you’re expecting it to be mainly down wind, you’re prepared a little bit for the heat and then you end up going up wind, locking up the boat with no wind down the hatches. It becomes mentally and physically quite draining.

I’m really proud of the crew they worked very hard. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve come on and the hard work paid off in that we got a podium and some gate points which meant that we equalled overall on points for that leg.

What does being a skipper for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race mean to you? Why Clipper?

I wanted to do Clipper because it’s always been an ambition of mine to sail around the world and to be able to do so on a match fleet of racing yachts. To be able to competitively go around the world was an amazing opportunity.

For a long time now I have also been involved with teaching people how to sail, everything from Yachtmaster, Competent Crew through to race training. So I was able to marry two dreams, I love sailing instruction and I love the idea of being able to sail around the world so Clipper was the perfect synergy between those two. For me the Clipper race was an opportunity to get as much experience as I could in a short space of time. Every day I go to sea I learn something new, whether it’s about people management or sailing. It’s been a phenomenal opportunity that’s been everything I’ve expected it to be and more.  

You have just completed Race 8 (leg 5) to Singapore, having started in London, what has been your greatest learning curve so far?

I’ve learnt a phenomenal amount about leadership. We’ve got between fifteen and twenty two crew from all sorts of backgrounds. I think one of the strengths we have on OneDLL is that we’re an exceedingly close knit team with much aligned goals. That’s come through in that we’ve managed to maintain consistency in our results which has led to a good overall position.

Developing the team has been a challenge but it’s also been very rewarding. Sailing wise, I’ve never sailed in the southern ocean before, when we went through ninety knot winds, hundred foot waves, surfing down waves at thirty two knots, which was phenomenal weather that no one on the boat had seen before, including myself. The boats and crew were amazing, we came through unscathed and performed well on the racecourse. The seascapes are something you’ll never see anywhere else in the world except maybe the north pacific.

There are still bits and bobs I pick up from the crew here and there, they say why not try things this way it might be a bit more efficient. So every day is new at sea and it’s amazing because of that.

The leg from Brisbane to Singapore is 4,500 nautical miles, roughly 28 days which presents you with a number of meteorological challenges such as tropical storms, the Pacific Ocean equivalent of the doldrums and geographical challenges from the narrow passage through the Indonesian island chain. What was it like to sail in these conditions and how did you tackle some of these challenges?

The first thing is about frontloading the crew with the information so that they know what to expect. Preparations starts well before the race and that’s part of our ethos on-board which is that the pyramid is based on preparation. We went through everything we would expect to happen. We talked about everything from the small risk of piracy through to tropical storms we might encounter and doldrums type weather, old charts lead lined in the 1800’s, the risk of pumice blocking your engine intake, floating islands, you name it we talked about it.

Then we talked about how we can mitigate these risks or how we could maximise our performance within them so for example, keeping a very effective watch for debris because the rivers in Papua New Guinea had lots of logs coming out into the water, you can’t really prepare for a shark bite on your rudder though, but there we go! 

When under way we’ve put in place a lot of structures on-board, we have clearly defined roles. Even though those roles rotate everyone understands their responsibility and there’s an expectation that you’ll have a professional level of accountability on-board.

Basically take pride in what you do and do everything to the best of your ability and that’s all we can really ask. The crew surprise me every day with how competent they’re becoming.

The Clipper race has many participants with limited sailing experience, what in your opinion makes a good boat and a good sailor?

A good boat is well designed, it’s strong and it looks after you. That’s certainly what the Clipper 70’s are.

A good crew member is someone who is enthusiastic, willing to learn, energetic, asks lots of questions, is tolerant, respectful of other crew members and has a good sense of humour.

What was your funniest moment on board?

On-board we’ve got a very international crew. There’s quite a few Dutch and British so there’s very much a stoic sense of humour on-board. For example we celebrate our successes but we also celebrate our mistakes where we can improve on them as well. I’m sure people who have been following our blogs understand that we’ve had one or two kite mares and with hindsight there have been some funny reasons for these. On-board many of the funniest moments are once we’ve sorted a problem and we look back at it and have a little laugh at ourselves, have a dance in front of the cameras, because if you’re not going to laugh about something like that then you’ll end up crying!

One in particular comes to mind, it’s called the tack line trio. Some of the crew members managed to wrap the tack line, which is at the very front of the boat, around the rudder which is at the very back of the boat, while we didn’t even have a kite up, so that was quite funny!

Who taught you to sail?

I was taught to sail by my Dad. I actually grew up on a 65 ft. yacht, something very similar to the size of a Clipper 70. She was called a Herbulot; she was a French design which actually had the same engines as these boats have on them. Dad taught me how to sail and eventually managed to get me a little Topper.

A lot of credit must also go to my god father Crispin who taught me how to race in Yorkshire One Designs (YOD’s) in Yorkshire. Eventually I went to UKSA to do my commercial endorsements and they did a good job at getting me through my Yachtmaster and giving me a broad range of experience in the south coast of the UK.

What was the first boat you ever sailed?

The first boat I ever sailed was called Windchild the 65 ft. Herbulot at the ripe old age of 18 months!

The Clipper 70’s are kitted out with Harken hardware, have you used Harken products in the past?

I have used Harken products in the past; they’re certainly a market leader and one of the most common sets of winch and sailing equipment / deck gear that I’ve come across.

I’ve always been very impressed with Harken products.

Are there any Harken products you recommend for keeping your boat in top condition and race ready?

The Harken guys have done a fantastic job with the Clipper 70’s. The two pedestals and the set-up means a lot of the evolutions we do are a lot quicker and easier than they were on the Clipper 68’s so we’re able to put more power down.

We’ve been given a lot of advice from Harken about how to keep everything in top condition, including using stuff like One Drop and using the right products in the right areas. They came up with some very good laminated guides so the crew know exactly how to maintain and keep the kit in top condition and so far it’s been working well.

Due to unseasonable weather the race to Singapore was shortened, how did this affect your crew and tactic?

When we were fighting to the first race finish we were nineteen minutes behind Henri Lloyd, had the race not been shortened it may have given us an opportunity to catch up those nineteen minutes. However as it was we were in a podium position so it was a mixed amount of joy and tribulation when it was shortened. We would have relished the chance to fight for those nineteen minutes but you’ve got to be very happy with a podium place.

We’ve been following your skipper blogs and you always finish with a quotation which we love, what’s your quote for today?

“Luck is a product of sweat!”



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