As the teams make the final preparations for the toughest race of the circumnavigation, we caught up with the Skippers and First Mates ahead of Race 10: The Ultimate Test of Perseverance.

This is the longest race of the circuit, with crew expected to spend between 26 and 31 days at sea. The race is famed for its huge conditions, and it is a part of the world were few vessels, let alone sailing yachts, venture. The teams can expect waves the size of tower blocks, winds of over 80 knots and sub-zero temperatures on board as the fleet hurtles through large weather systems in one of the biggest expanses of ocean on the planet.

The race will feature an Ocean Sprint and Scoring Gate with bonus points up for grabs, and this race is unique in that it gives teams the option to go into Stealth Mode twice, each for 24 hours, or for a single 48-hour period. Stealth Mode means that the team’s position will be hidden from the Race Viewer and the fleet. Two teams have played their Joker on this race, which doubles the race points. Both UNICEF and Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, currently sat in 4th and 5th place on the overall Race Standings, decided to play the lucrative Joker on this race across the North Pacific to double their points.

From Qingdao, the teams will motor to the rendez-vous point to begin Race 10 with a Le Mans start. From here, the first section of the race will feature variable winds as well as the added challenge of navigating the fishing fleets. The Kuroshio Current will make another appearance on the race circuit as the fleet heads past Japan. This warm water current, which can run up to 4 knots, will affect the sea sate, notably if the wind is going against the current, making for some challenging conditions. Once the fleet is into the North Pacific proper, this is when the huge conditions develop, making for some big surfs and cold temperatures all the way to the West Coast of the USA.

Image: Race 10 route from Qingdao to Seattle which is anticipated to take 26-30 days to complete

After weeks at sea, battling everything Mother Nature can serve up, the fleet will cross the Finish Line, 12nm from the Juan de Fuca strait, then motor into Bell Harbour Marina in Seattle.

Hear from the Clipper Race Skippers and First Mates ahead of the crossing:

Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam Skipper, Bob Beggs: “It’s a race, so we need to remember we are racing. If we keep it fast and safe, we will get into port in good time. I’m looking forward to Seattle, it’s a great stopover. I’m looking forward to the big surfs and looking forward to the smiles on the crew’s faces when they hit the 30 knot boat speeds.”

Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam AQP, Cameron McCracken: “I think Race 9 was a big show of character of the crew. They are a tight knit unit and perform well, so we’ve also played the Joker, which was a lot of the crew’s decision too. I think they are all really motivated to pull together and attack it. The boat seems to perform well in heavier weather, and we’ve got some good helms and a strong team to match.”

Zhuhai Skipper, James Finney: “I’m quite excited about it. Everyone calls it the big one, but it is! I’m also a little bit apprehensive. On the last race we didn’t quite see the huge conditions we were expecting but it did take us a really long time which was a challenge on its own. Those conditions are amazing to be in for a day, maybe a week, but for 37 days, like last time, that’s a real test of endurance. I know it’s going to be difficult but I’m excited to just get cracking with it.”

“We’ve got a fantastic team for this leg, so I’m really hoping we can pull out a good result for this race.”

Zhuhai AQP, Mike Davies: “It’s a really, really wild place. It’s at times over 1000 miles from the nearest land, and where huge storms grow. It think it will be a good race, similar to conditions on Leg 3 with strong winds and big seas. I’m excited to get out there and just do a big, long crossing again.”

Perseverance Skipper, Ineke Van Der Weijden: “There’s always a little bit of apprehension when you start this race, it’s a long one. It’s very offshore, and very remote, with potentially a lot of wind, and it will be very cold. The first couple of days aren’t too extreme until we get to Japan, it’s more dealing with localised weather patterns which can be quite variable, with incredibly busy traffic and fishing pots.

“The two times I have crossed the North Pacific have been very different. One was crazy winds and big waves, and the other was more mellow but more relentless as it was very long. They were difficult for different reasons. But whatever this brings, everyone will walk a little taller when we get to the other side in Seattle.”

Perseverance AQP, Joss Creswell: “I’ve not crossed the North Pacific before, so there’s some apprehension, but I am really confident with the work that the crew have put in so far, and the training we have done as a team. Our round the worlders are so solid and the leggers bring so much energy so I am confident in the team’s ability to weather this storm.”

Image: Perseverance Skipper, Ineke, who has crossed the North Pacific twice before

Washington, DC Skipper Hannah Brewis: “I’m excited, apprehensive, and I can’t wait to get into the ocean. I’ve already done this race before, so I feel like I know what’s coming. It’sa very long race, it’s extremely tough, so you have to take it in stages. There’s a lot of parts that you have to take one at a time. You can’t go for it all of the time.”

Washington, DC AQP Ella Hebron: “I’m excited to get out and focus on sailing and racing and honing the skills of the new crew. It’s important to celebrate every small achievement as a team and just focusing on our team and being together.”

Our Isles and Oceans Skipper Max Rivers: “There’s a good energy on the dock and the crew is feeling really good. They’ve been training and practicing since Race Start in Portsmouth to be ready for this so there’s a good apprehensive energy.

“It’s an incredibly remote part of the world. We are closer to people in the international space station to anyone else, and the Clipper Race yachts will be the only boats out there. On the last race across the North Pacific, we had a tanker go past us. They were the only other vessel we spoke to in an entire month. It’s an amazing experience to be so remote out in the middle of nowhere. We will have sub-zero temperatures, some large waves of 10+meters and strong winds as the low pressures roll through.”

Our Isles and Oceans AQP Tom Newsom: “We have really good morale on board the boat. It’s a mix of ages and we have lots of energy. We have a three-watch system which allows for good rest. We want to follow the low-pressure systems, there’s not going to be much sunshine and it’s going to be cold.”

Dare To Lead Skipper Ryan Gibson: “I’m really looking forward to sailing in this part of the world. It’s quite a unique challenge. There’s always some nerves but I’m excited to get out there. The crew have a lot of motivation at this stage. Using where we are in the position report on the race, and the fact that we are coming second overall and using this drive will keep the crew going.”

Dare To Lead AQP Charlie Warhurst: “It’s going to be some of the best seas that you can sail on in the world. There’s nothing like it with big waves, big speeds. It’s going to be one to remember.”

Image: Challenging conditions on board Dare To Lead during Leg 2

Bekezela Skipper, David Hartshorn: “The North Pacific is possibly the most beautiful place on the planet, and also the most terrifying at times. Its nature at its rawest, and you get a real feel of isolation that you don’t get with the other ocean. For those people who get into Seattle, they can walk away and have a memory with them that will last forever. They won’t talk about it a lot. It's one of those ones that you tend to keep to yourself, and unless you’ve done it, you won't understand it.”

“In the 2017-18 race we had an amazing storm that came though, 65 knots, we had waves that were 14 meters high, so that’s in the phenomenal bracket, and to put that into perspective for people, if you look at the Clipper 70, waves are at the top of the top spreader of the mast. It was the most amazing day, it was beautiful, beautiful sunlight, it was so cold, everything was like being in hyper definition, it was like being on a different planet, and to actually witness it as a human being made you feel really, really humble and after the birth of my son, the most amazing day ever!”

Bekezela AQP, Maisie Bristow: “We will definitely be going over the whole safety culture on the boat, talking about looking after yourself and the people around you. Hopefully, that should start settling the nerves and the fact that we are getting back into it. We've had similar things before, yes this is maybe longer than the other races we’ve done, but they all know what to do and how to keep each other safe, so they should be fine.”

Qingdao Skipper, Philip Quinn: “I would imagine as Race Start gets closer and closer, the apprehension and the tension, and everything that the leg is going to bring will build until the race starts. We can keep the moral up by telling them all the good things they are doing, and it always helps when you are doing well. The type of crew they are, they are a happy bunch.”

Qingdao AQP, Henry Hallatt: “there are going to be many challenges, it is mainly making sure the crew are up to it, training the crew in the conditions, and making sure they know what to do in different scenarios in those conditions and making sure the right crew are in the right place to deal with it.”

“This stopover has been awesome, everything I imagined it to be. It was quite busy, but we’ve been very well welcomed, and everyone has been so friendly and helpful, and it’s a really cool city.”

Image: Race Crew's first tase of the conditions to come on board Qingdao during Race 9

UNICEF Skipper, Dan Bodey: “Why the Joker on this Leg? It’s a big leg. I think it's going to encourage the crew when it gets hard, when we are feeling a bit unenthusiastic because its cold on deck. It's something to keep in the back of our heads and help keep us pushing. Also, this is the culmination of all the training the round the worlders have done, they are getting to the peak of what they are doing. We’ve got a whole group of new joiners that are really enthusiastic as well, so everything is going well, and we are coming off the back of two really good races, so I am hoping we can continue that success into the next one.

In the last edition of the race, I can remember a day where we went through some really big weather, some of the biggest stuff I've ever been through. We had storm sails, probably the only time we’ve ever flown for a long time with storm sails, and we were racing through a Scoring Gate, and went through the centre of one of the systems which was incredible, with lots of big wind, 60-70 knots of wind, and we hit the eye of the storm, and it just went dead with a really messy sea state, it was something I will remember for a long time.”

UNICEF AQP, Laura Hampton: “Crossing the North Pacific has a lot of big challenges that are at the forefront of my mind. We are looking at 90ft waves, sub-zero temperatures, really crazy and intense atmosphere of just a constant push, and for me professionally that’s really exciting to take on that challenge, and sometimes it’s a little daunting but I think once we get going and knocking those miles out, it's going to really feel like a great achievement and for me it's probably the greatest hurdle in the circumnavigation.”

Yacht Club Punta del Este Skipper, Nano Anita Bernardez: “Super excited to be encountering the North Pacific again, it is my favourite leg. It's my favourite because what you see out there, you won't see anywhere else in the world, it’s a privilege to be there.

Being in this part of the world makes you feel humble, it makes you feel a very small part of this ocean and world. It’s a very unique feel because you are in mother nature's hands.”

Yacht Club Punta del Este AQP, Angus Whitehead: “There is going to be awesome helming conditions, great surfing and just great sailing overall. It's going to be fast. It is a lot less intimidating doing this with the rest of the fleet, knowing you are not doing this on your own, and there are other boats out there to help you if you need it. But when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, you grit your teeth and live the dream, and if we lead by that example everyone will swiftly follow.”