Visit Seattle Clipper 2017-18 Race Highlights

06 September 2018

There’s no doubt about it, the second placed Visit Seattle certainly ‘sailed with style’ throughout the Clipper 2017-18 Race. Led by Nikki Henderson, the youngest Skipper in the race’s history, this team made its mark, achieving a fleet high of three wins and five podiums overall.

However, the team achieved more than just podiums, with Visit Seattle ending the race the way they started – as a close-knit team. Ahead of arriving into Liverpool for Race Finish, Nikki wrote in a Skipper Blog: “This year has been defined by the community that I have had the privilege to be part of. The people that sign up to this race, and do this race - are incredible. I have so much respect for you all. You are brave people, inspiring people - risking everything for an adventure, for a dream. Your spirit and passion for life is intoxicating. I feel so lucky to have spent a year surrounded by you.”

There was always time for fun on board Visit Seattle. Whilst the team was led by the youngest Skipper in Clipper Race history, they could argue that they also had the fastest aging crew member. Round the worlder Jerome Greenhalgh was only 26 when he started the race but aged by at least a year in every stopover thanks to the much-loved Visit Seattle tradition of singing him happy birthday in each port.

The overall race may have ended with a thrilling battle between Visit Seattle and Sanya Serenity Coast (helped by the fact that the former team decided not to play its Joker Card until the final race!), but their friendly rivalry wasn’t confined to the thirteenth and final race. The teams were each other’s biggest competition for much of the eleven months and were side-by-side on the podium in both Sydney and Qingdao. The Race 5 Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint also went down to the wire, with just 13 seconds separating the two teams!

After achieving a maiden podium in Sydney (crossing the line just 30 minutes behind Sanya Serenity Coast), Visit Seattle could do no wrong and achieved a podium in every second race from Race 4 on.

The first win came in the Whitsundays, and the helicopter shots of the colourful Visit Seattle yacht racing on the bright azure waters of the Great Barrier Reef became some of the most iconic images captured during the Clipper 2017-18 Race. The party after Visit Seattle arrived into Abell Point Marina wasn’t bad either, with the team overjoyed with the result. After arriving in Airlie Beach, round the world crew member, Marek Omilian, said: “It was phenomenal race. Phenomenal. Quite long because of the heat but it was very good sailing and a well-deserved victory. We were quite prepared for the weather because we faced some similar conditions during Leg 1 to Punta del Este and we were also very well prepared with Nikki’s leadership.”

Another victory awaited the team in Qingdao, and after being given a welcome to remember at Wanda Yacht Club, Leg 5 crew member Chrissie Laming said: “I am in total shock and am completely blown away at managing to come in at first position - we were keeping everything crossed for second place and had been driving hard through a tough ten days. It had always been my dream to come into Qingdao as a winner - and it’s just come true. What a lucky lady I am, and team we are!”

As good as the win in Qingdao was, there was more excitement to come, with the next stop Visit Seattle’s home port. The race across the North Pacific threw up plenty of challenges but the team really came together to overcome everything the world’s biggest ocean threw at them. After a particularly challenging 48 hours, Nikki wrote in a Skipper Blog: “Just seeing these guys and gals managing the weather, enjoying it, experiencing it, was incredible. Their smiles and wide eyes are something I won't forget in a long time. These people who sign up to do this race really are one of a kind. A big, big well done in particular to our helms-people who controlled our baby (man, these boats are tough) beautifully through the whole thing - Marek, Shannon, Simon, Jerome, Phil W, Iain and Will - as well as everyone else for their roles feeding, grinding, keeping moral up, doing the duties, generally all being cogs in our sexy machine - I am so proud of you all.”

The welcome into Seattle was unlike anything the team had experienced before, with every crew member warmly embraced by the Emerald City – especially the four Seattleite crew members on board: Shannon Dean (RTW), Andy Farnum (Leg 6), Marek Omilian (RTW) and Javier Roca (Leg 6). Shannon said after arriving: “We had a great, great, great crossing, we had such a great time!

“I loved the storm and the thing is that it built, so it wasn’t like we suddenly got hit, we had 50s, 60s, 70s. We were prepared and Nikki is so capable, we were never out of control. Then we just hunkered down. We had waves breaking over the boat, we had half the boat under water, it was incredible, I have never seen waves like that in my life.”

The Seattle Stopover was a whirlwind of events and one Nikki described as: “Our home stopover has been so busy but everyone has been incredible, warm, welcoming and the support has been amazing. A huge shout out to all of our Visit Seattle supporters as it has been one massive family here in Seattle.”

The next race to Panama resulted in another podium for Visit Seattle – this time a second place – and also doubled as a chance for the race to take part in pioneering ocean research. Visit Seattle was fitted with a special sensor for monitoring the effects of ocean acidification around the US Coast as part of a project with the Port of Seattle, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - an agency within the US Department of Commerce – as well as the University of Washington, Sunburst Sensors and Visit Seattle.

The importance of this project wasn’t lost on the team, as round the world crew member Phil Whittaker reflected: “We have been fortunate enough to see some of the wonders of the world. Nights so clear that even with no moon you could see by the star light. Seas so wild and big in the North Pacific that made our small boat seem like the only safe place in the world. An endless array of sea life, the most amusing of which were the birds off the US West coast hitching lifts on the back of turtles.”

Visit Seattle achieved its fifth and final podium in Derry-Londonderry, with the first place meaning that the team now had the potential to leapfrog Sanya Serenity Coast and be the ones to lift the Clipper Race Trophy in Liverpool. Whilst it wasn’t to be, the Visit Seattle team held their nerve and raced a great race to ensure that they would take an impressive second place in the overall standings. Well done Visit Seattle!

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