The day for the GREAT Britain crew was one of excitement, nervousness, sadness and relief. For many of the crew signing up for the race, today has always marked a significant milestone in their campaign as the day they will set off to circumnavigate the globe.
There were many tired faces in the morning from the long days and late nights that it has taken to prepare our yacht for sailing, however the atmosphere in the race village soon turned this around.
People from all over filled the public areas, waving and cheering for the various teams and the crew on board. GREAT Britain was in a prime location to see all the other boats with their crews lined up on the bows, and with the morning light it was a special moment that I'm sure we will all remember for long time to come.
With a well planned schedule for the day and a stern warning from the Race Director that any people late would not participate the race, everyone was on time and on board for the fleet blessing. Silence filled the once chaotic race village for the ceremony which hit home to many of the crew the adventure and challenge they are about to undertake in the race to Rio.
After the blessing and some celebrity words of encouragement from Dame Ellen McArther, the mood on GREAT Britain was one of excitement and determination for the race. GREAT Britain where first to take to the stage to be announced to the crowd. Skipper Simon Talbot, and crew member Geoff Bunney were interviewed by the Race Director before a couple of three cheers and a short walk to our sleek 70 foot racing yacht moored on the show pontoon.
Following a tight squeeze in the locks, we led the fleet around the parade and we perfected our posing for the media to a tee. It was fantastic to see all the supporters on the bank, in the spectator boats and in ones privately hired by crew members for their friends and family. Going through Tower Bridge was something Simon Talbot would have loved to do once in his sailing career, today he got to do it twice.
The emotion was a real thing for the crew today. Many people said goodbye to loved ones that they will not see for months, if not the whole race. In one case, the risk of not seeing them ever again. There were many trips to quiet places for some members of the team and it was nice to see the crew support each other with hugs, pats on the back and open ears to listen. Often moments of such happiness to see loved ones on the docks or on a boat, soon followed with tears as they knew what was about to happen.
Crew member, Mark Heywood, when asked about today said "...It was brilliant to get away and quite emotional to wave off everyone on the pier. I just can't wait to get out to sea to race..."
So now we are off. Tonight we will plan out the race tactics, rest up and get ready for race start. We would all like to say thank you for everyone who turned up today to wave us goodbye and the support they have given us in this preparation phase. We have come here to race, so it's time to put the fun and games of today behind us and start tomorrow as we mean to go on.
Ben Pate, RTW, GREAT Britain