At 0100 UTC today, the Clipper Race fleet began the ninth of 14 races as it heads across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle, USA from Qingdao, China.
The Seattle Pacific Challenge will push the twelve teams to their limits in the longest single ocean crossing of the entire circumnavigation. Clipper Race Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has sailed the Pacific Ocean many times, including when he became the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world in 1968-69.
“The Pacific is a huge ocean and this leg is a long one,” says Sir Robin. “The feeling of isolation is probably the biggest challenge our crew is about to face because they’ve already seen the sort of weather they’ll get. In that respect it’s rather like the Southern Ocean with big seas and strong winds. So I think it’s going to be the length of time they’re isolated from the rest of the world that is going to be the hardest thing for them to cope with.”
The crossing is estimated to take one month with the arrival window in Seattle from 15-20 April and Sir Robin’s remarks about feeling isolated are compounded by the fact that at times, the teams’ nearest neighbours could be those on the International Space Station some 300 miles above them.
After the Parade of Sail in China’s Sailing City on Sunday, the fleet motor-sailed approximately 130 nautical miles offshore to a virtual mark in order to avoid the high volume of fish traps and nets. With Daniel Smith of Derry~Londonderry~Doire, nominated to be Lead Skipper, he coordinated the Le Mans start at 0100 UTC (0900 local time) and reported back: “We postponed the planned start by one hour due to large numbers of fishing boats and tankers covering our AIS screen which is why we started racing at 0900 rather than 0800.
“As the Clipper Race fleet picked its way between fishing boats, nets and tankers a space opened up in front of us allowing us to line up all twelve yachts and motor south-east for 10 minutes without being disturbed. This is what we needed in order to set up our Le Mans start line.
“At 0900 the race began and after 0910 teams were free to change their sail plan and course. LMAX Exchange and Unicef ducked away to the south under spinnakers while others held their course with white sails.
“The wind has now gone aft and the fleet is heading south-east in light breeze under spinnakers, dodging fishing nets and waving away curious fishermen as we go.”
This is the first time in the race’s 20 year history that the fleet will visit Seattle.
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