Around the world in 11 months: Labrador doctor joins Clipper yacht race

She might not have much sailing know-how, but Samantha Harper is very experienced when it comes to adventure, and she'll get that in spades on her next trip — a yacht race around the globe.

The family doctor has climbed the highest peak in Africa and run ultra-marathons through the Sahara Desert, but the 40,000-nautical mile Clipper Round The World Race will be her most extreme vacation yet. 

"Sitting around on a beach has never really been my style," Harper said from her office in the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The 36-year-old plans to compete in every leg of the competition, which involves six ocean crossings and will take about 11 months to complete. 

Goal-oriented getaways 

"I like to have a task to do and a goal to complete and a little bit of a challenge is always good, and you meet some very interesting people along the way doing these sorts of things."

A regular work day for Harper could involve anything from helping deliver a baby to an unexpected trip on an air ambulance in a medical emergency. 

Soon she'll hang up her stethoscope to hoist sails on a 70-foot yacht, competing on one of 12 boats crewed by "average Joes and amateur sailors" like her.

"I looked up 'learning to sail' and it evolved from there," said Harper.

"I'm a little bit adventurous. I work up here as a full-scope GP in Labrador and I think that's kind of a more adventurous way to do family medicine ... I like travelling, I like exploring, it's just a very goal-oriented way to get away from work."

Turf to surf 

Harper is no stranger to hair-raising holidays. In 2013, she took a six-day mountaineering course and scaled a glaciated volcano in Washington, on another vacation she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Harper has also completed the gruelling 250-kilometre Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert — not once, not twice, but five times — and they don't call it the toughest foot race on earth for nothing.

"Last time, I almost didn't make it because my feet were so badly blistered. It's hot and sandy, you're walking-slash-jogging anywhere from 40 to 90 kilometres per day for seven days straight, it takes a toll pretty quickly," said Harper.

"I'm pretty patient, I'm pretty stubborn, I got the job done."

'Dangerous environment'

Harper may need to draw on that drive and determination over the course of the 11-month yacht race. Like many others who compete, Harper had no sailing experience when she signed up.

She has completed three of four weeks of mandatory training for participants — two of them in the U.K. and one in Sydney, Australia. Along with teaching the basics of sailing, it also prepares the competitors for the perils of life at sea.

"You could be in the middle of the Pacific, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, and there's really no help around, so you need to know your stuff and be prepared because anything could go wrong."

Fear of missing out

Harper had initially signed up for only three parts of the eight-leg race, but quickly realized she would have trouble getting off the boat while the rest of her team carried on.

"It's the fear of missing out, and that's a very 21st century thing. The race would be going on without you and I think, knowing myself, that would really drive me crazy."

The exact course of this year's race hasn't been released yet, but Harper said confirmed ports so far include Cape Town, South Africa, Hobart, Australia and Qingdao in China.

The 45-day Pacific crossing is the leg Harper is most concerned about.

"You're in close quarters with people you have to get along with, and that dynamic and lack of personal space certainly gets to a lot of people," she said.

"It sounds very romantic in my head, but the realities of it are probably a lot more intense."

Wave woes

Harper said she has the stamina from putting in long hours on duty at the hospital — and that will also help her endure the sleep deprivation that comes from being on watch — but she still hasn't found a solution for a challenge even greater than the mighty Pacific.

"I get seasick very easily, and after three weeks of training I still have yet to find the magic recipe," she laughed.

"But I've gotten a few more tips, and I still have one more week of training, so I'm sure by the end I'll be ready to go."

There's no start date yet, but the race usually begins from the U.K. at the end of August.

The next big milestone comes in May, when the participants will be assigned a boat and find out who will be sharing in their trip of a lifetime.