The last ocean crossing and Race 13 is on! The Le Mans Start took place approximately 50 nautical miles out to sea from Chesapeake Bay at 10:00 East Coast Time (15:00 GMT). All the boats started on an easterly heading of about 80 degrees. Ten minutes later and it was every team for themselves with the difference in headings varying by almost 180 degrees.

This is the first time on this edition there has been such a massive variation in tactics at the start and followers cannot wait to see how the strategies play out.

Orchestrating the Le Mans Start was Qingdao Skipper Philip Quinn, whose team has won the past two races. He reported back from the starting line: “Welcome to the start of Race 13, from Washington, DC to Oban in Scotland. With another Le Mans underway, the fleet got off on time at 1000 local (1400 UTC). As the lead boat we were placed in the centre of the line, where we got the fleet lined up in order. With help from all the other Skippers we were able to start on time. Just as we started, the wind changed direction, but we were able to hold our positions and course for the regulated ten minutes before we saw the fleet hoist spinnakers. Some choosing the biggest Code 1 and others the smallest windseeker. Some boats also immediately gybed and changed course, shortly followed by everyone else. So now the race is on. Thanks to all the other Skippers for their help in making the start work.”

The battle for the overall win of the Clipper 2023-24 Race was as hot as it gets before the start, and now it's cranked up another notch as things turn red hot out there. Overall race leader Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam has blasted off on an easterly heading, but surprisingly Perseverance and Zhuhai, both of which finally played their Jokers this race, didn't decide to cover or chase Bob Beggs and his crew, and have instead opted for a course 90 degrees to the north of Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam's.

In a short report from Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, its First Mate Cameron McCracken said: “It was a particularly light final Le Mans Start of the 2023-24 edition, but it was excellently organised by lead skipper and Mr Qingdao, Philip Quinn. It took a few gybes and sail plans before the boats finally found the breeze to set us on our way to Oban, but we're moving now and raring for the race ahead."

Getting straight into tactics, Perseverance Skipper, Ineke Van der Weijden reported: “We are on our way for Race 13: Oban Atlantic Homecoming. However, to get us going was one of the strangest Le Mans Starts I ever had. Under the expert leadership of Phil, we were all lined up perfectly and on a fine reach. So far, all normal. Then, right as we start, the wind changes, and we have a deep down wind start with just 4 knots of wind. So very slow going.

“Everybody started getting Code 1 and wind seekers on deck, and just as Phil indicates the 10 minutes are over, the wind changes again. Now we are all of a sudden on the other gybe. Half the fleet hoisting kites on the one gybe, the other on the other gybe. If there had been any more wind it might have gotten spicy, but as it was, we just all floated in various directions.

“As we were originally the leeward boat, the wind shift technically meant we ended up starting as windward boat. Nice! I think we managed quite well out of the strange situation, but the wind is still very, very light, so it will be interesting to see who comes out of this ahead when it fills in.”

Joining the chasing duo on northerly headings are forth placed Dare To Lead, fifth placed UNICEF, as well as PSP Logistics, Bekezela and homeward bound team Our Isles and Oceans.

Ready to start racing, Skipper Ryan Gibson on board Dare To Lead said: “We have just started Race 13 from Washington, DC to Oban, Scotland in interesting conditions since the wind changed direction completely at the start. However, lead Skipper Philip on Qingdao managed to get it started and the fleet is currently getting taken along by current and no wind in different directions. We are all excited, motivated and ready to give 140% for the second to last race of this circumnavigation. Let’s go!”

Dan Bodey, Skipper on board UNICEF reported: “Our last Le Mans Start is proving to be a challenging one, with light winds making tactical choices hard to figure out. It is interesting to see the different sail plans amongst the fleet. We feel on UNICEF we did well and are very excited for the rest of the race."

Skipper of Bekezela, David Hartshorn said: “Well done Philip on Qingdao, on being the lead skipper of a difficult one weather wise, light variable wind. I wouldn’t have wished to call that one, but we are off on the home coming ocean crossing, so thank you. Light winds saw the team conduct a faultless Le Mans headsail hoist and then reacted swiftly to demands from #1 (First Mate Maisie)and myself to hoist the Code 1 at the end of the 10 minutes. Just at the point of hoisting, the wind flipped, and we had to switch from a starboard to a port hoist. But they did and now we are crawling slowly at 1.8kts, and not quite the right way, but then so is the rest of the fleet. Oban, standby we are on our way.”

Hoping for another podium spot, Skipper Mike Miller reported from PSP Logistics: “Well, that was an entertaining start. The wind was just strong enough to get the race underway - well done Phil and Henry, but just as the start horn sounded there was a huge wind shift, to the extent that we, at the leeward end of the line, suddenly found ourselves at the windward end. Some quick thinking and some good crew work got our spinnaker up on the other side of the boat, and we find ourselves surprisingly well placed as we push towards the breeze and the current.”

Reporting back from Our Isles and Oceans, Skipper Max Rivers said: “For the Le Mans Start we found ourselves at the windward end of the pack, normally a favourable position. However, a large unexplained and un-forecast change of wind direction caused chaos in the fleet, with people heading in all sorts of directions and a high variety of sail plans. The wind doesn't look like it is going to settle or fill in for a number of hours, so for the moment we play the waiting and teasing game and hope to catch whatever wind we can find as soon as we can. The crew performed well, communicating effectively and managing the required sail plans when they were asked, helping us perform smoothly and effectively.”

Yacht Club Punta del Este is currently the most southerly pointing team and is in what we'll call the easterly pointing pack for now, with Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam leading Qingdao, Washington, DC and Yacht Club Punta del Este on the most southerly heading.

Nano Antia, Skipper on board Yacht Club Punta del Este said: “A very well executed Le Mans Start by Phil from Qingdao. It was very hard as the wind was light and shifty. We all thought we were upwind but as soon as we started the wind was directly behind us. We were the most windward boat, so a downwind start was not great but we managed to hoist fast and moving forward. We are now under spinnaker going east trying to escape as tonight is forecasted to ease off again. Let's see what happens! Vamos Punta!!

Joker-playing Zhuhai is determined for a strong result on this race. Skipper of Zhuhai, James Finney reports: ”Finally Leg 8 is under way. It was a little anti climactic at first as after an initial puff, the wind deserted us for a good hour or so, with boats going in every direction that wasn’t to Oban. Thankfully, the wind has filled in for us now and we are very much underway with Perseverance in hot pursuit. We'll see you all in Oban!

And after a superb stopover in its home port, Washington, DC has set sail for Oban. Skipper Hannah Brewis said: “At the pace of snails, Race 13 is off! As always, a very well executed Le Mans Start was organised by Qingdao Skipper Phil. What wasn't anticipated was as Phil counted down to 1000LT the wind completely shifted and died, This left us all quite stuck as yankees and staysails slapped around, and we patiently waited for the 10 minutes of "holding course" to elapse. Once this was over there was a flurry of activity as the boats switched to Code 1 or windseeker. After a few hours of wallowing about, the wind has filled, and the fleet is moving in the right direction. Long may it last.

With three teams vying to hold on to the leaderboard podium and others chasing at their sterns and even more with a realistic chance of bagging an overall podium finish, this is without doubt the most important strategic moment of this race so far.

All fans can do now is sit back comfortably on the sofa and enjoy watching what promises to be an exciting couple of weeks of racing. Aren't we lucky?

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