The ten-strong Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet has left one mountain-dominated skyline for another. The yachts and their non-professional crews have set sail from Rio de Janeiro at the start of Race 3 of the 40,000-mile circumnavigation, the world’s longest ocean race. As Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado fade into the distance on the west coast of the South Atlantic, three weeks and 3,300 miles later, Table Mountain will appear over the horizon on the east coast as the teams race towards Cape Town, South Africa.
In a lively south easterly breeze, the race started in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, at 1400 local time (1700 UTC). It was a case of last in first out as Derry-Londonderry, who finished Race 2 in tenth place, were fastest out of the starting blocks, closely followed by New York, Qingdao, Gold Coast Australia, De Lage Landen and Singapore, all of whom had timed their run to the start line impeccably and, after a bit of jostling, turned across it within seconds of each other. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital approached the line from the far end moments later, followed at the other by Geraldton Western Australia and Visit Finland.
Welcome to Yorkshire was slightly delayed as they dropped their sails half an hour before the start and returned to the marina to drop off one of their crew members, Keith Pickering, who had fallen ill and needed medical treatment ashore.
The Race Committee held the start line open and the 15-and-a-half minute delay has not damaged the English boat’s chances in the 3,300-mile race as the rest of the fleet had to change their course to avoid a tanker coming into the harbour.
At the first mark Gold Coast Australia was in the lead with New York, Singapore and Visit Finland on their heels. An hour after race start the fleet was still visible on the horizon from Copacabana beach.
Gold Coast Australia is the overall leader of Clipper 11-12 despite blowing two of their work-horse spinnaker sails on the last leg. Skipper, Richard Hewson, said, 'We’re very pumped about this race. It’s going to be fantastic, we’re expecting big things from the team and the boat has never been going better. The sail loft here in Santa Cruz has done a great job repairing our spinnakers. They’re back here in perfect condition so that won’t slow us down at all.
'I’ve just been looking at the weather and I’m not looking forward to the first few days of the race – the winds are going to be light and fickle but we’ll be making our way south and once we get into the highway of wind, there’s some nice wind belts in there and I think in a week’s time we’re going to have a fair bit on when the big low hits us. But hopefully we’ll just put up our heavyweight spinnaker and scoot straight across to Cape Town.'
The route will take the non-professional crews racing on board the 68-foot stripped down yachts south into the fringes of the Southern Ocean and the edge of the Roaring Forties before approaching the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the course.
Nick Barclay, a round the world crew member on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, is one of the transplant ambassadors team who are taking around the world the message that organ donation can make a huge difference to a person’s life. The kidney transplant recipient is from Cape Town and can’t wait to see the familiar skyline of his home city appear on the horizon.
'I didn’t realise how exciting it would be to sail back home to my home port,' he said. 'On the Clipper Race there are all these amazing stopovers but I’ve been away for so long, I’m looking forward to seeing Table Mountain and my friends and family so it’s going to be a fantastic feeling to sail home.'
The race promises to be an exhilarating one, with plenty of fast, downwind sailing to thrill the teams. There will be another Scoring Gate, at which the first three boats to cross can win three, two and one bonus points, and an Ocean Sprint between the latitudes of five degrees west and two degrees east – approximately 420 miles as the albatross flies – and another bonus point available to the fastest crew to cover the distance. Albatross will become familiar sights, as will the huge South Atlantic swells.
The weather systems are dominated by the ever-shifting South Atlantic high pressure system, an area of light winds. Skippers, their tacticians and weather routers will be kept busy, making a call on the age-old decision: whether to take the shortest route through the middle of the high, or sail further, while maintaining higher speeds. Those who judge it correctly will catch the breeze on the bottom edge of the high pressure system and use it to slingshot them around and out on the easterly limit.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo and non-stop around the world and the founder and chairman of the Clipper Race, says, 'The secret is to avoid the centre all together and get sufficiently far south to the stronger, westerly winds and use them to push you around. The temptation is always to cut the corner and that’s when you lose the wind. It means you cannot take the direct route to Cape Town – you have to go around the South Atlantic high.'
After deep cleaning their boats, shopping for food for the next leg of the race and carrying out all the routine maintenance required to keep the racing yachts at the top of their performance, the crews have been enjoying the sights and sounds of Rio de Janeiro. Many have taken tours to Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado where the statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms outstretched, towers over the city. Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the vibrant nightlife of the city have all been on the itinerary.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Cape Town between 26 and 29 September and the yachts will be berthed in the famous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront until 5 October.
Clipper Round the World.com website