SAILING a dinghy in a North Devon estuary is one thing; but an amateur North Devon sailor will be attempting to conquer the world s roughest and toughest oceans when he joins a crew taking part in a round the world yacht race next week. Graham Balfour adm

SAILING a dinghy in a North Devon estuary is one thing; but an amateur North Devon sailor will be attempting to conquer the world's roughest and toughest oceans when he joins a crew taking part in a round the world yacht race next week.

Graham Balfour admits to being a complete novice when it comes to stepping foot on, yet alone racing, 68-ft racing yachts. But the 57-year-old will be well and truly in at the deep end as one of 450 lucky applicants selected to take part in the Clipper Venture 09/10 Round the World event.

The race, organised by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - the first person to sail single-handed, non-stop around the world - gives ordinary people the chance to experience the extraordinary thrill of sailing in some of the planet's most inhospitable waters.

The 40,000 mile circumnavigation is split into eight legs with a total of 15 individual races. Each of the 10 yachts competing is skippered by a professional captain and is crewed by 17 amateurs.

Competitors are currently racing 3,400 nautical miles across the Atlantic from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, where Graham hopes to join them on Sunday (November 15).

"I'm taking part in the third and fourth legs of the race and will be away for about four months," said Graham, from Swimbridge.

"I used to sail dinghies and small cruisers but gave up some 30 years ago. Being part of the crew of a racing yacht is going to be a totally new experience for me.

"To qualify I had to undergo intensive training at Clipper Headquarters in Gosport - I never realised that these yachts were so complicated."

Graham's involvement on the Chinese-sponsored boat Qingdao will take him from South Africa to Australia, and then from Australia to Singapore and to Qingdao, China, where he will leave the yacht and head home in February.

"These two legs should provide the most diverse and exciting racing," said Graham. "With strong following winds and waves the size of buildings, boat speed should exceed 23 knots."

But life aboard the yacht will be far from a holiday. The "basic" crew accommodation comprises a few small bunks, galley, and two toilet cubicles, or heads, one of which will have a shower fitting.

While taking part in the race, Graham hopes to raise £5,000 for the Children's Hospice South West. Readers can sponsor him and learn more about his challenge at his Just Giving website, www.justgiving/grahambalfour

"I'm paying for the trip myself so all the money I raise will go direct to the hospice," added Graham.

To keep track of Graham's progress, visit www.clipperroundtheworld.com