Clipper 1996 Race
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The very first Clipper Race started on Wednesday 16 October 1996, with the eight-strong fleet of 60-foot yachts departing Plymouth, UK for the American port of Fort Lauderdale via Madeira. The inaugural race’s route took in ports including the Galapagos, Hawaii, Yokohoama, Salvador and the Azores before returning to Plymouth on 14 September 1997.
“We were in a vast, open expanse of utter wonder,” explains Elizabeth Bluck, a crew member on board Arial.
“Phosphorescence that looked like fireworks, stars of breath taking brilliance, shades of turquoise and aquamarine in the wash of the waves. There were moments of terror - particularly coming up on night watch, cold and wet and lonely, the boat at 45 degrees, waves washing over the cockpit. “The tiredness was overwhelming. We rarely slept properly: we would all get up for sail changes, or to pack spinnakers. We slept to weather, so every tack meant moving the sails to the opposite side and sleeping on the opposite bunk.
“The days passed. We saw a light at night - another boat in the distance - and eventually, after thousands of miles, we sailed in to Yokohama, having won the sector from Honolulu.
“Port meant showers, warmth, dry clothes and getting drunk on the first sip of beer. Then some of the crew went skiing, others went exploring. There was the joy of seeing flowers again, of walking in parks. And of the telephone. “Almost too soon, it was over and we were off again from Yokohama to Shanghai - a race that proved to be one of the hardest since the boats had left England. Ras was in his element - it was all hands on deck almost the entire time. “It was very cold, very wet and very exciting. We ripped a spinnaker and spent 24 hours non-stop sewing it together again in sweatshop conditions on the floor of the cabin. Sleeping bags were wet; my hair felt like bird's- nest soup. We hit 40-knot winds and extremely high seas. I was thrown across the cabin and bashed my head and fainted into a spinnaker we were packing. It was all part and parcel of a high-energy race.”