The twelve teams made up of international amateur sailors competing in the Clipper 2015-16 Race have passed under Tower Bridge, London, at the start of the 40,000 nautical mile global race in front of thousands of spectators.

Home team GREAT Britain led the fleet under Tower Bridge which lifted twice to salute the crews following the race's Official Opening Ceremony at the international Race Village in St Katharine Docks.

The yachts are now making their way down the River Thames in a Parade of Sail, followed by a fleet of spectator boats and RNLI support ribs with tens of thousands of supporters lined along the riverbanks.

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Drummers up the masts started the Opening Ceremony before Brazilian dancers took to the stage to mark the opening race destination, Rio de Janeiro. Each team then went on the stage, supported by thousands of cheering friends, family and spectators.

There was even a marriage proposal on stage, with Mission Performance crew member Ali Hudson's boyfriend John Dyer proposing to her when she took the stage with her team. A Reverend from the Sailors' Society then blessed the fleet and wished the teams good winds.

GREAT Britain Skipper Peter Thornton, 38, said: “Representing Great Britain is an incredible feeling and a great honour. It was a pleasure to visit Number 10 Downing Street with the crew ahead of the Race Start, and everyone is feeling very proud.

“We really can’t wait to get out there into the Atlantic Ocean and get this thing started.”

“Our crew are everyday people who are taking on one of the world’s toughest endurance challenges,” said Clipper Race founder and legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (76), who became the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-9.

Sir Robin added: “Irrespective of their amateur status, Mother Nature pulls no punches. They’re going to go through the roughest waters in the world. I wish them a safe and an extraordinary journey – the experiences ahead will stay with them for life.”

On board Garmin is Ross Ham, a 58-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, who is the race’s first double circumnavigator ever having completed the full circumnavigation in the Clipper 2013-14 Race. He said ahead of the start: “I must be a little bit mad to be doing it all again, but I enjoyed the last race so much and the regimented life on board fits me like a glove.

“There are so many joys to be found in the day to day life on board. Every day at sea is beautiful. This really is as good as it gets. I would not rule out a third time around,” he added.

The opening leg of the race takes the teams over 5,000 nautical miles from the British capital, across the Atlantic Ocean, including the challenging Doldrums, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Race 1, the Atlantic Trade Winds leg, starts tomorrow (Monday 31 August) at 12.30 BST (11:30 UTC).

Following the first stopover in Brazil, the fleet will continue on via Cape Town, Albany - Western Australia, Sydney (including the world famous Sydney-Hobart Race), the Whitsundays, Da Nang - Vietnam, Qingdao - China, Seattle, Panama, New York, Derry-Londonderry and Den Helder – the Netherlands, before returning to London’s St Katharine Docks for Race Finish on 30 July 2016.

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