It’s onwards to Newcastle, NSW as the Clipper Race fleet today (December 19) embarked on the first race of Leg 4: the Australian Coast-to-Coast Leg.

As family, friends and loved ones lined the pontoon at Fremantle Sailing Club, it was an extra special send-off for Race Crew as they set about the 2,500nm race to Newcastle, where they will be spending Christmas and New Year at sea.

Following a super chilled and sausage sizzle filled stopover, where Race Crew got to explore Fremantle and soak up the sunshine, the goodbyes have been said, the Secret Santa presents hidden, and the Parade of Sail beautifully done.

Image: Race Crew Supporters cheer on their loved ones who will be spending the festive holidays at sea

Image: The Qingdao team depart for Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test

Taking on this challenge are thirteen Australian nationals who alongside their fellow crew, will spend Christmas Day sailing around their home nation and through some of the toughest stretches of the ocean. 

Speaking on prep day before setting sail, Australian Leg 4 Race Crew, Tim Thomas on PSP Logistics, said: “I chose Leg 4 of the Clipper Race because I grew up in Sydney watching the Sydney-Hobart Race. This was an opportunity for me to do the same length of water up and down the East Coast of Australia, so that was a big one for me.

“Sailing around the bottom of Tasmania will be a big tick on the bucket list. And I’ve been to Newcastle a number of times, fun place, really nice beaches, it’s great!” 

Australian circumnavigator Justin Howard, also racing on board PSP Logistics, said: “It was excellent to already sail into my home territory. Now we’re heading round to Newcastle, which is very close to home, and then to Airlie Beach where I’m super excited to get to as I’ve spent a lot of time up there and in the Whitsundays. And I get to see my four children! I haven’t seen them for five months, so it’s going to be really cool.” 

Image: Crew from/living in Australia who will be sailing around the country

In total, 72 multinational new crew are joining the Clipper Race for this leg, and they will get to sail into two iconic Aussie ports: Newcastle, NSW and Airlie Beach, Queensland. The 200+ Race Crew have now set sail to spend Christmas and the holiday season at sea, with each of the teams planning to celebrate in its own unique way. 

Ineke Van der Weijden, Skipper of Perseverance, said “Some crew members are really into it, I think we have around 50m of tinsel on board! We also have Christmas dinner and Secret Santa planned, so we will definitely celebrate.”

 Mike Miller, Skipper of PSP Logistics added: “Making life cheerful and uplifting for everyone on board is a super important part of maintaining crew morale and enjoying life together. So, the fact that we are able to spend some big celebrations together at sea is great. We’ve got some big plans for food and parties to try and make it as special as we can for each other. It’s really uplifting and a great way to show our appreciation.” 

And it was good luck and goodbye from the sidelines, as Katie Bagley who has stepped off Qingdao after completing Legs 2 and 3 said “I have FOMO right now but it’s okay. Great to see them off as they go, hope they have a great Leg 4, and Vamos Qingdao!”

Angela Whitehead, mum of Yacht Club Punta del Este AQP Angus Whitehead added: “I’m emotional…They’ve got this! They’re back. Love you Angus.”

It was UNICEF's turn to lead the Parade of Sail along the Inner Harbour, the city’s entrance to the Swan River. The team’s lined up along their yachts starboard rail and waved to those lining the breakwater.

Image: Parade of Sail in Fremantle

Now it’s time to race.

Leg 4 is known to be tough. With relentless conditions keeping sailors on their toes, this is a mental and physical challenge that sees the fleet dip further south than at any other point of the circumnavigation. The teams will round Tasmania, giving crew another taste of the Roaring Forties before racing up to Newcastle, NSW, the second of a trio of Australian stopovers on the Clipper 2023-24 Race, and a brand new Host Port on the race route. 

Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test is the first of two races in this fourth stage of the Clipper Race. The race is scheduled to take the fleet around 14 days to complete and sees the teams sail past Cape Leeuwin – one of three great capes that few have the privilege to sail around, as well as rounding Tasmania, another bucket-list tick for sailors.

Speaking on departure day, Deputy Race Director Dale Smyth said: “The Fremantle start for Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test had ideal conditions, with a 15kt easterly giving the fleet an easy getaway.

“The wind angle in the start was slightly too close on the wind for spinnakers to be flown, but light enough to make it possible. With the potential of the wind veering southeast, there was a real split in the fleet with sail selection. Some opted for white sails, and some for kites, but it soon became apparent that those that had taken the chance with kites had the upper hand and pulled away early. Eventually the whole fleet decided kites were the only way and the fleet looked amazing as it pulled off into the distance.

“Once around Rottnest Island they face dropping kites and days of upwind to get south and around Cape Leeuwin.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Newcastle between 1-4January 2024. From there, the crews will have time to recharge before Race 6 begins where the teams will race to third Australian stop on the circumnavigation in Airlie Beach, Whitsundays.

Find out what’s happening during the Newcastle stopover here, and keep up with all the action from where you are in the world on the Race Viewer.

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