The Clipper Race crew, or ‘courageous ocean warriors’ as they are known here in China, have departed the Sailing City of Qingdao to begin their longest, most remote leg of circumnavigation, Race 9: The Seattle Pacific Challenge.

At a final impressive ceremony, broadcast live on Qingdao TV, the traditional army of drummers and crowds gathered, with fireworks and ceremonial starter pistols signalling the team departures.

In Sir Robin’s parting speech, he declared: “We have had another very successful stay in Qingdao and today the fleet will set sail on its next race – over 6000 miles to Seattle, USA.

“We have really enjoyed returning to the Clipper Race’s other home, here in Qingdao, to meet our old and valued friends. This is always much more than just a stopover. After six races over twelve years we have developed a strong relationship. You could say that we have not only taken Qingdao to the world, but also brought the world to Qingdao.

“Thank you very much Qingdao for the hospitality you have expressed to our crew and for yet again being such an important part of our journey.

A buzz of emotion filled the air as this race start day in particular is one that many have been counting down to as a major feature in their round the world experience. There are also many nervous and excited new crew on board for this Pacific Ocean crossing who have been looking forward to finally joining their teams after following the race progress and waiting for their moment from afar.

As the teams proceeded to their boats and prepared to leave land behind them for approximately a month, round the world crew member Kate Whyatt on board Unicef said: “I have quite mixed emotions. I’m really excited because the Pacific is such an iconic ocean to cross, and we have the International Date Line and all of that to look forward to as well. I do have a slight bit of anxiety too though, about these enormous, great, big waves and the cold conditions we could face. I think overall it is going to be totally awesome though, really good.”

On Skipper Martin Clough returning to lead the team back to London, she notes that despite her team’s current twelfth place position, there is a very positive mental attitude on board, saying: “We have Martin back who gave us a really good leg around Australia and some great results. He has come back firing on all cylinders and is really keen. He’s a really good racing Skipper. Seven people have joined the boat here too, six of them new and one who did some legs earlier. We’ve got a really good team and we’re feeling very positive. So, watch this space. I think Unicef should do really well.”

Asked if he thinks Derry~Londonderry~Doire could make it three wins in a row, round the world crew member Michael Gaskin responded: “It would be nice to think we could go for the hat-trick. It is a long way to go though and we’ll have to see how it shapes up. There is a little bit of apprehension, we have quite a lot of new crew and they are always a little pensive at the start but we had a crew brief yesterday and everyone is keen as mustard.”

Not everyone was nervous however. Ross Ham on board Garmin completed the full circumnavigation in the last race and says: “I didn’t come on this round the world race to stay on dry land. Being in the ports for the time we are is more than sufficient for me so I am raring to get back out there today.

“I think this race will be a little different as we are going to Seattle and not San Francisco this time, the colder water is going to be there for longer. There should be no surprises in the Pacific. It has been dressed up a lot with the big waves but they are following seas. My advice to the helms would be just don’t look back, just look forward and it doesn’t look so serious.”
Yuko Kikuchi is a Seattle resident on board Mission Performance and already completed Leg 3 from Cape Town to Albany, Western Australia. She says: “Originally I first signed up for Leg 3 and 8 but when I heard we were going into Seattle on Leg 6, I changed it. Couldn’t miss the opportunity to sail home. It was a great surprise. I think it will be emotional when I finally see the Seattle skyline from the boat. I hope all the crew enjoy getting to know my city too.

“I think some of my friends still think I am on a luxury cruise ship, I’m not sure they fully understand what I’m doing but hopefully they can make it down to see the boats and see for themselves. My mum did freak out a bit about it but she can track the boats on the website so that helps.”

On the conditions that teams could face in this leg, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston says: “With El Nino changing weather patterns around the world, anything could happen on this leg. The conditions the crew have faced so far on the race have not turned out as predictable as previous editions.

“It is traditionally the toughest race in the series of 14, with the relentless conditions of the North Pacific in winter meaning the crew will be physically exhausted as they contend with big storms and massive waves.”

Race 9 will test the twelve novice teams to their physical and mental limits. For a month, the international Clipper Race crew will battle storms, waves up to 90ft high, and temperatures cold enough to deliver ice and snow.

Approximately 3000 miles and 15 days into the race , another milestone will occur when the teams cross the International Date Line, crossing from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere, resulting in living the same day in the calendar twice and earning the right to have a golden dragon tattoo.

Highlighting the remote and dangerous nature of the challenge, at times the closest humans to the teams will be the astronauts on the International Space Station, occasionally passing overhead some 300 miles above.

The first man to sail solo, nonstop around the world in 1968-9, Sir Robin has experienced the Pacific Ocean many times and added that the crew must remain vigilant at all times: “We have trained our crew to a very competent standard. They must put this into practice now to sail safe as well as fast.”

The Clipper Race teams are now more than halfway around the world on their eleven month-long challenge. So far, they have faced extreme heat and cold, the ‘Roaring Forties’ in the Southern Ocean above Antarctica, and survived a battering during the classic Australian Sydney-Hobart race, which all Clipper Race teams completed despite a third of the rest of the competitors being forced to retire in a ‘southerly buster’ storm.

The fleet has performed a parade of sail out of Qingdao Olympic Harbour and is now motoring out to the start line to keep clear of congested fishing vessel area. The race will officially get underway at 0800 local time tomorrow (0000 UTC) with a Le Mans start, led by Derry~Londonderry~Doire Skipper Daniel Smith.

The fleet is due to arrive into Seattle between 15-20 April.

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