It’s prep day at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, and the mood across the Clipper Race crew has definitely turned to less about the beach and more about the race ahead.

This morning our Skippers and AQPs headed for the final briefing from the Race Office, and with Course Instructions handed out, weather conditions discussed, and Joker Cards put on the table, it was time to head down to the boats and catch up with the sailors during their final preparations ahead of the next race to Airlie Beach.

Although one of the shorter passages on the circuit, Race 6 is another tough one for crew, with similar conditions faced in Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test still at play.

Here’s how the Skippers and AQPs are feeling as the 24hr countdown to Race Start begins…

Ineke Van Der Weijden, Perseverance: “The first 24 hours are going to be interesting because there is slightly different wind at the start to what we will get from then on, after that it’s a bit of a drag race, so there will definitely be some differential in the beginning. With a shorter race, any minute matters because you don’t have the time to dip in and out of the race, so we need to focus.”

AQP Joss Creswell added: “Over the first period of the race from Portsmouth to South Africa we were a fairly dominant team, and we topped the leader board, and we have now had two mid-pack races where the crew found it very tough. We’ve got a strong crew who have taken to learning incredibly well, and I think we could push a bit harder on this race. I’m really confident in their ability, as is Ineke, so we’re going to push on this race.”

James Finney, Zhuhai Skipper: "A short race is a bit more challenging in some ways, the haven't got the same amount of time you would normally have to correct mistakes, you have to start fast and stay fast. I'm looking forward to the challenge. The challenge of navigating through the barrier reef is another challenge on its own, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out."

Mike Davies, Zhuhai AQP: “The tactic for this race is to try and sail the shortest race possible. If you can cover the least number of miles in a short race, that’s the best way to tackle it. We are hoping to stay in the podium top three, that’s our aim at the moment. But with Josh[Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam]sneaking up behind us and pulling out 30 points over the past two races we’ve got to keep our eye on the goal as well as those behind us.”

Dan Bodey, UNICEF Skipper: “Newcastle has been a fantastic stopover, with really nice beaches, lovely people and amazing facilities. It’s been really nice to get out and explore the town and local area.

“This upcoming race is a short one, around six or seven days and just short of 1,000nm. It’s going to be intense with lots of tactical decisions. It’s going to punish anyone that makes mistakes as there isn’t the space to catch back up but that’s what is also going to make it really interesting. The rest of the fleet are really competitive so we will be hot on each other’s heels. It’s going to be a big challenge to come out on top, but I think we can do, we have the skills and the knowledge and the tactics to. Fingers crossed we can make it pay off this time, but it’s definitely going to be a big ask for the crew, every sail change will need to be perfect and there is no room for error. Whichever boat can do things the cleanest will come out on top.”

Mike Miller, PSP Logistics Skipper: “Tactically we need to make sure we have a fast start, get through the upwind part early so we get into the downwind section and fly from there.”

Nano Antia Bernardez, Yacht Club Punta del Este Skipper: “On short races, I always say if you don’t make mistakes, you win. It’s all about being on top of the details, briefing everyone well and everyone taking responsibility for doing their job and doing it well.

“This race we will be gybing between coral, we are sailing in a dangerous environment. So, not only are we racing to win, but we are also racing safely. We need to concentrate and have high standards on every detail. My tactic is to switch on the mind and be less attached to the watches, help each watch, and it will be a snowball of good energy and that is a winning combination.

“I discovered today that we were actually fifth, not fourth. I did not see Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam coming. But we are right there, in the fight for third place. There is still a lot of time to catch up, we’ve had ups and downs and breakages, and it’s slowed us down. All the skippers are very talented, lots of tactics going around, and it’s time to up our game again.”

Jeronimo Santos Gonzales, Qingdao Skipper: “This is my last race with Qingdao, so I want to get the team to the podium for sure. I’m going to tell the crew I’m not even on fire, I’m nuclear this time! They are going to be put through their paces and we are going to go for it full.”

AQP Henry Hallett added: “This is my first race with Qingdao and I’m very excited. I’ve met all the team already and there is a great mood on board. Can’t wait to get out there with Skipper Jeronimo, it’s going to be a really fun race.”

Hannah Brewis, Washington, DC Skipper: “A short race is very different to a long one, on a long race you’ve got time to make ground – and lose ground, so it puts a bit more pressure on making fewer mistakes. It’s exciting though, a fast race, so we just need to go for it!

“We have been towards the back of the fleet over the past few races, but with that comes an ease of the pressure around some of the sailing and allows us to keep the energy up. It’s really important to keep the energy, and the fun, up. We know we’ve got potential so now we just need to use it.

“We’re against some great teams, so it’s not something you can just do, but the energy is there, we are a tight knit team, and we all rely on everyone for everything so hopefully we can push that in the right direction.”

AQP Cameron McCracken added: “The crew are very good at motivating themselves. The round the worlders almost run the boat on their own now, they have developed so much from the start. I spoke to a few of them in Fremantle and said at the beginning they were a very rough diamond and look at them now, one of the more polished crews I have ever seen in my years with the Clipper Race.”

Josh Stickland, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam Skipper: “I have very much enjoyed myself in Newcastle, it’s been lovely from sunrise to sunset.

“I always dread the short races, historically it takes us a long time to get going, and we won’t have that luxury in this race. If we can just stay with the pack I will be happy. We’re going to aim for top half and see how that goes for us.”

Max Rivers, Our Isles and Oceans Skipper: “After chatting with the crew it was decided that we were good at starts and good at finishes, so this race has a start and a finish, but no middle which is the bit we’re bad at. So we’ve squished that out and we’re going to try and just sprint the whole way. We feel like we can push hard for five, six, seven days and get the crew pushing.

“It’s downwind so we feel like we have an advantage going downwind, we feel like we are strong in that position. We’ve done a lot of training with the crew, and we feel like they good at helming and trimming downwind. The crew is excited to push the boat and see what we can achieve.

“We have the Australi-Ceilidh in Airlie Beach, which is a Scottish and Irish country dancing Ceilidh that we are putting on for UNICEF fundraising. There will be a pipe band, there will highland dancing troop, and the crew has been practicing. Our Ambassador Diorbhail will be calling the dancer in Gaelic and English and so we’re really looking forward to it.”

Ryan Gibson, Dare To Lead Skipper: “Even though this is a short race, our tactics will be similar. We plan to just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, but in a short race that’s where mistakes start counting.”

AQP Charlie Warhurst added: “It’s straight-line tactics for this one, if you drop off, that’s it you aren’t going to be winning anything.”

David Hartshorn, Bekezela Skipper: “This is a short, fast, race and because that you need to take into consideration that you can’t get anything wrong. There’s no time to make it up. It’s about leaving the start line strong, and I think the race could be won in the first 24hrs. You don’t have three days to get through seasickness, the team are just going to have to go for it.

AQP Maisie Bristow added: “We know we are better at longer races, so this is going to be an interesting one for us. No mistakes, no damage and keep going!”

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