Sailor claims she was harassed during yacht race

Lawyer on adventure of a lifetime sues Clipper charity race organiser Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

She gave up her life as an employment lawyer with the aim of spending 11 months – and £40,000 – sailing around the world, only to find that the once-in-a-lifetime adventure would end up back in front of an employment tribunal.

In a case brought against one of Britain's best known seafarers, lawyer-turned-sailor Ruth Harvey is suing the organisers of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race after claiming she suffered victimisation and harassment while on board.

Although she paid for the pleasure of crossing the globe as part of the race, Ms Harvey, 50, claims she can still be classed as an employee, having been among the crews who pitched in to run the 75ft yachts, and is therefore able to bring an employment case.

The 40,000-mile race came to an end in London in mid-July as crowds lined up to cheer the amateur sailors home after nearly a year at sea. Ms Harvey, like many others who have attempted the gruelling challenge before, had pulled out of the race by then.

She is now bringing legal proceedings against Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop, who set up the race in 1995. He founded the event with the idea of giving amateurs the chance to experience the exhausting but exhilarating life of long months racing across the oceans.

Ms Harvey had worked for 30 years as an employment lawyer and is now looking for a legal ruling that will delineate between paid participants and employees. A preliminary hearing at Southampton Employment Tribunal agreed to set aside two days in November when a tribunal will decide whether she can be considered a worker.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston Sir Robin Knox-Johnston Ms Harvey, a former partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams, refused to elaborate on the nature of the alleged harassment or victimisation, but told the law website RollOnFriday: "I was a worker for the provisions of the Employment Rights Act, as regards safety, and I was covered by Equality Act provisions 'in any capacity' on board, as regards harassment. Complex legal argument here involves both domestic and EU law, and similar recent cases have gone as far as the Supreme Court."

As the 12 yachts set sail from St Katharine Docks in London in September last year, she said: "I am pretty scared, to be honest. I think somebody made the joke earlier that, if you're not scared, you're either a liar or a fool. Saying goodbye to family and friends is really hard. It's going to be a year before we see them." She had been raising money for the Cornwall Air Ambulance.

Contacted by The Independent on Sunday yesterday, Sir Robin confirmed he was in the middle of the tribunal process, but said: "I really feel it would be inappropriate to say anything else before the hearing in November."

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