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Clipper Race fleet departs Portsmouth as world's toughest and largest ocean race gets underway

by Clipper Round the World Race 4 Sep 2023 10:10 PDT
Clipper Race fleet departs Portsmouth Harbour - Our Isles and Oceans team led by Hampshire skipper Max Rivers © Clipper Race

One of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet, the 40,000nm Clipper Round the World Yacht Race has begun, setting sail from Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, yesterday, and will take almost a year to return.

Light conditions and the Solent's strong tidal flow made for a particularly tactical start of the circumnavigation. First over the start line, which was just outside the entrance to the south coast's historic harbour, was Yacht Club Punta del Este, followed by Bekezela Community Foundation and Qingdao.

Clipper Race Director Mark Light said: "There was glorious weather and it was a beautiful day for spectators. Light south easterlies provided a challenging but clean start for the teams, with many different sail plans on display. The skill in keeping the boats moving in such light winds shone through across the fleet. After a short course in the Solent, the fleet headed east around the Isle of Wight and into the English Channel where they will find stronger south easterly breezes to carry them through towards the North West tip of France and down across Biscay."

Deputy Race Director Dale Smyth explains the conditions crew can expect over this first stage, saying: "Race 1 sailors will potentially face a huge range of conditions and temperatures as they sail South towards Puerto Sherry. The first 500 miles at sea sees the fleet sailing down the English Channel, around Ushant and across the notorious Bay of Biscay to Cape Finisterre. This area is characterised by regular Low pressure systems bringing strong Westerly winds but during the month of September these are generally not as fierce as during the winter and the fleet could just as easily enjoy running downwind in East- Northeasterlies between systems.

"The Bay of Biscay has always been feared by sailors as Strong Westerly winds can trap a vessel in its wide embrace and with a shallow continental shelf the sea state is creates famous for being treacherous. However, in modern times vessels can remain safely upwind and summer time means a much lower risk of a severe blow from the West.

"Once around Cape Finisterre, the temperature generally sees a slight increase and if the fleet is fortunate it will have some fast running conditions in the famous "Nortada", a strong Northerly wind created by a thermal low over the Iberian peninsula and the Azores High. If the fleet are not so fortunate they could also meet up with a tropical storm travelling towards them from the South giving a tough upwind ride and often leaving a big windless vacuum in its wake. Once around Cabo de Sao Vincente, the fleet will take a turn to Port and be on the final stretch. This last stretch is very tactical and could still easily see a complete mix up in the leaderboard. Race 1 is an intense, tactical and exhilarating start to each crew member's adventure and gives each team a great opportunity to refine their evolutions, settle in and flex their muscles against each other."

Hannah Brewis, 27, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, is the race's youngest Skipper. She learnt to sail on Rutland Water whilst at school, and set herself an ambition to become a professional skipper from a young age. Hannah, who leads the Washington DC team, shared her excitement about the journey ahead: "As a skipper, leading this incredible team around the world is a dream come true. The Clipper Race is a unique opportunity for our crew to test their mettle against the forces of nature, build lasting friendships, and gain a profound appreciation for the world's oceans. We are ready to go now and can't wait for the challenge ahead."

For Skipper Mike Miller, who is leading the PSP Worldwide Logistics team, departing from his hometown of Portsmouth was particularly special: "I live in Portsmouth so this is my local town and I will be sailing past my house as we leave Portsmouth harbour. It will be slightly strange seeing it for the last time in nearly a year, but I am very excited to be on this journey. It's great to be representing Portsmouth, too, of course.

This is my third time doing the Clipper Race. I did the 2017-18 edition as a crew member. It totally changed my life- I went away and became a professional sailor and have come back as a professional Skipper ever since. Sailing is part of this city's blood - and part of mine, too."

Over the next eleven months, teams will tackle some of the most testing and varied conditions that Mother Nature can serve up, from freezing temperatures and 40-foot waves to the blistering heat and flat calms of the tropics.?They will take in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet including the North and South Atlantic, Roaring Forties, and North Pacific Ocean.

The first of eight stages of this edition calls into Punta del Este, Uruguay, via Puerto Sherry in Spain. It will be a particularly special homecoming at the end of the leg for Skipper Nano Antia Bernardez, 33, who is from the Uruguayan seaside resort and leading the Yacht Club Punta del Este team entry. Before heading off he said: "I am feeling fired up! The crew is feeling excited to set sail and we have had a great time preparing the yacht. The weather is changing all the time so our tactics are changing constantly. Sailing into Punta del Este as the home team yacht is going to be special for us as we'll have our friends and family waiting for us - and I'm looking forward to showing the Clipper Race teams my hometown."

Following the Uruguayan stopover, the Clipper 2023-24 Race will call into Cape Town - South Africa, Fremantle, Newcastle and Airlie Beach - Australia, Halong Bay, Vietnam, Qingdao and Zhuhai - China, Seattle and Washington, DC - USA, before returning to Portsmouth at the end of July, 2024, via Oban, Scotland.

The Clipper Race is the brainchild of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world, back in 1968-69. As the thirteenth edition begins, Sir Robin expressed his pride, saying: "Since its inception, the Clipper Race has empowered ordinary people to achieve the extraordinary, transcending boundaries and instilling a deep sense of respect for our planet's oceans. We are thrilled to see the Clipper 2023-24 Race begin in Portsmouth, where maritime history comes alive and is also the home of our event as we are based just across the harbour."

The fleet is currently racing 1,200 nautical miles to Puerto Sherry, Spain - a brand new destination on the Clipper Race circuit - ahead of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Punta del Este, Uruguay.

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