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Christmas at sea for crew competing in Australian Coast-to-Coast stage of Global Sailing Race

by Grace Kitching 22 Dec 2019 03:23 PST 22 December 2019
Qingdao and Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam first across the start line - Clipper Race Australian Coast-to-Coast stage © Clipper Race

The Australian Coast-to-Coast stage of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race got under way from Fremantle today (22 December). The tough 3,400 nautical mile race will see teams of non professional crew tackle challenging conditions as they race to the finish port of the Whitsundays.

The fifth race of the global sailing event, has been named 'The Whitsundays, Heart of the Great Barrier Reef' race and saw eight teams slip lines from Fremantle Sailing Club at 1200 local time, with friends, family and locals lining the breakwater to wave them off.

The race, expected to take around 20 days, will see the teams sail down Western Australia, towards the infamous conditions of the Roaring Forties and also dip into the Southern Ocean. The international crew will be celebrating Christmas far from home and ringing in the new year on board.

This Australian leg of the epic race will challenge the Race Crew both mentally and physically and is expected to be one of the most varied stages of the 2019-20 edition so far. The Bass Strait will be offering up choppy sea states and as the fleet travels up the East Coast, the teams will need to keep an eye out for Southerly Busters, a weather phenomenon which sees an abrupt and violent change in the weather.

The starting cannon, signalling Race Start, sounded at 1500. As the teams competed for prime position to cross the start line, it was reigning champions Qingdao which crossed first, shortly followed by Ha Long Bay Viet, Nam and Dare To Lead.

After rounding Rottnest Island, the bows of the yachts will point south, as the fleet tracks along the coast of Western Australia, out of the Indian Ocean and back to the challenge of the Southern Ocean. Cape Leeuwin marks the south western tip of Australia and is one of the three Great Capes, the second of the Clipper 2019-20 Race route, and something only an adventurous few can say they have rounded.

On the conditions ahead Clipper Race Director, Mark Light, said: "The first stage down the west coast of Australia is going to be a tough beat upwind, then as the teams round Cape Leuwin, one of the world's great capes, there is a bit of a light patch on the forecast. Once they are clear of that and head south, on the great circle route, they can expect to pick up the normal westerly winds of the Southern Ocean they can expect some pretty hefty weather systems and some good downwind surfing.

"As the teams then turn the corner, underneath Tasmania, it will be very varied; upwind, sometimes choppy across the Bass Strait. Teams should not forget the East Australian current and always keep an eye out for the Southerly Busters, shifts in conditions which can sneak up and be pretty violent."

Some 180 everyday people, from around the world, including a paediatric surgeon, professor, journalist, engineer and a student are taking on the race route which takes the teams below the 40th Parallel for another sleigh ride east.

Queensland-born crew member, Jane Lever, sailing on board Seattle, said: "I signed up to Leg 4 (and Leg 5) as they have the widest variety of weather conditions and I wanted to learn how to deal with the extremes of being at sea.

"It's good to be sailing from one side of Australia to another. I think once we get south, it's going to get chilly and possibly lumpy, down the bottom of Tasmania where it could be very cold with some big swells too. We'll go up past Sydney into big summer storms and then the East Australian 'Nemo' current and beyond.

Following a later arrival into Fremantle, a further three Clipper Race teams will depart on 24 December, exactly 48 hours later than the first eight. They will race on elapsed time against the rest of the fleet.

The eleven teams are expected to arrive at the Whitsundays between 09 and 12 January where the Whitsundays Clipper Race Carnival awaits.

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