Leg 5 of the Clipper 2023-24 Race got underway at midnight UTC on 28 January by way of a Le Mans Start to kick off Race 7. A Le Mans Start differs from a traditional Line Start and allows the Race Office to start races remotely. In this case, the fleet had to transit the dangerous Great Barrier Reef under engine before starting the race in safe water.

The Le Mans Start is a visually striking spectacle where all eleven yachts are lined up under engines with mainsails raised, and headsails poised. As the official Race Start is declared, the fleet progressively advances with each team raising headsails in a rolling start, creating an impressive demonstration of coordinated sailing expertise as well as an action-packed beginning to the race.

The essence of the Le Mans Start lies in fairness. Measures are in place to address any attempts to gain an unfair advantage promptly, and all Race Skippers play a crucial role in ensuring a smooth procedure, addressing any breaches that may occur.

What’s more, Clipper Race crew undergo intensive training in the lead up to the race, including practicing the Le Mans Start, during their Level 4 training.

On Race 7, it was Ryan Gibson, Skipper of Dare To Lead who led this Race Start. He said: “We just started our first Le Mans Start of the circumnavigation, outside the Great Barrier Reef in a nice steady 15 knots of NNW breeze. Being the Lead Skipper, it was a little stressful making sure everything goes well, but it seemed to go very well so well done everyone and see you all in Vietnam!”

Image: Le Mans Start for Race 7

The Le Mans Start Sequence:

The Le Mans Start adheres to a meticulous sequence to guarantee a fair and captivating start to the race:

Countdown: The standard Clipper Race start countdown of ten minutes, four minutes, one minute, and the start gun initiates the process.

Preparation: Prior to the ten-minute signal, all yachts hoist their mainsails, with the size of mainsail previously agreed, hank on headsails, and attach halyards and sheets without hoisting.

Engine-powered Line up: Yachts motor slowly, maintaining two to three boat lengths apart in a line abreast on a pre-arranged course heading towards the first waypoint. The speed is set by the Lead Skipper.

Signal and Silence: At the four-minute signal, all Race Crew relocate aft of the forward grinder. At the one-minute signal, engines are turned off, and mainsails are trimmed to maintain fleet alignment.

Race Start: At the start signal teams can move swiftly forward to hoist and trim headsails.

Maintaining Course: All yachts must adhere to the agreed course and separation and sail plan for the initial ten minutes after the start gun.

Communication: The Lead Skipper vocally communicates the start sequence on a predetermined VHF channel and contacts the Clipper Race Office within 30 minutes to confirm a successful Le Mans start.

Video: Race 7: Endless Discovery in ha Long Bay Departure and Race Start

In the heat of Race Start, the tactical brilliance of the teams came to the forefront, with strategic manoeuvres and clever plays defining the early stages of the competition. Perseverance, in a move that showcased precision and cunning, strategically concealed a hanked on Yankee 1 beneath its just-raised Yankee 2. The execution was seamless, reflecting the team's meticulous planning by completing the Yankee 1 change immediately after the stipulated ten minutes. The team also chose to follow the Rhumb Line as they surged ahead of the fleet.

The line-up in which the boats are staggered for the Le Mans Start is selected by randomly pulling the positions from a hat. This excludes the Lead Skipper, in this case, Ryan Gibson and Dare To Lead who sit in the middle of the line up. Ineke Van der Weijden, Skipper of Perseverance said, “We were lucky enough to draw most windward boat in the boat order, so a great place to be for an upwind start in the direction of PNG. The start went well. Everybody was super excited and did great, giving us a good start. After 10 minutes you are allowed to change headsails and we were the first boat to do so, from Yankee 2 to Yankee 1.”

Tom Newsom, AQP on Our Isles and Oceans: “For this start tactically the windward end was favoured, as boats positioned more centrally could be wind shadowed by those above them. We were third to windward which is a good spot, despite having the well-oiled machine of Perseverance and the fast yet variable Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam above us. The ten-minute, four minutes (crew being the coffee grinders), one minute (engine off) start sequence went off without a hitch. We hoisted the staysail and Yankee in good time but had not trimmed on before Perseverance.

Zhuhai skipper James Finney added “It’s great just to get going now and feel like we are beginning to make some progress in the right direction towards Vietnam! The first Le Mans Start of the race was a lot of fun and the crew did fantastically at it with a rapid sail hoist and set, working us out of a tricky spot down at the leeward (less windy) end of the starting order.”

Image: AQP on Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, Cameron McCracken

Meanwhile, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, Zhuhai, and Yacht Club Punta del Este sailed high to free off later, requiring them to navigate through close quarters with Our Isles and Oceans.

With that steady 15 knot breeze on their port beams, the teams will continue making their way northeast towards Papua New Guinea and the Doldrums Corridor, just approximately 150 miles away now.

The narrow Doldrums Corridor is unique to the Clipper Race and is put in place to assist the fleet in navigating the frustratingly light air band that sits south of the equator here. The teams have the option to use their motor for 4 degrees of latitude within a set time period, to help them should the breeze shut off, and the timing of when and whether to motor is the first big tactical decision of this race to Ha Long Bay.

With around three weeks and 4000 nautical miles of racing to go, there’s still plenty of exciting and tactical sailing to come, as well as the much-anticipated visit from King Neptune, when any Pollywogs onboard earn their Shellbacks when crossing the Equator for the first time.

Follow the fleet on the Race Viewer as it makes way to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Join The Race