Race 1 Wrap Up: London to Portimão


Race 1 from London to Portimão was a baptism of fire for the Clipper Race crews, with the teams experiencing almost every type of condition and racing during the six days at sea.

The spectacle of Race Start, where Tower Bridge opened for the yachts to parade on the Thames, signalled an end to the months and months of preparation. It was time for the racing to begin at last.

The spinnakers were flying at the Thames Estuary and Qingdao made the most of the sunshine and 10-12 knots to build an early and impressive lead.

However, the ideal downwind conditions didn’t last for long. The English Channel showed its teeth early and many were struck down by the dreaded green monster as the Clipper 70s began to beat upwind. It was an early chance for the non-professional crew to show their skippers what they are made of and Guy Waites says of his team on Dare To Lead: “The crew are coping enormously well considering the onslaught, life at a steep angle, managing Dare To Lead, and catering for our food and liquid requirements.

“We worked hard during the night and progress is good. No lack of spirit aboard.”

Thankfully, by Day 3, the upwind beat became a thing of the past and the first points of the Clipper 2019-20 Race were secured when Qingdao, Visit Sanya, China, and Zhuhai claimed three, two and one bonus points in the Scoring Gate.

The Scoring Gate wasn’t the only excitement on offer, with the Bay of Biscay offering up some truly incredible sailing conditions, just in time for the start of the Dell Latitude Rugged Ocean Sprint. Wind speeds of over 40 knots with a swell of over four meters made for some of the most exhilarating downwind conditions that the professional skippers, and their non-professional crews, have faced.

Qingdao Skipper Chris Brooks commented at the time: “The conditions of Finisterre were phenomenal! Surfing up to 26.5 knots with non-professional crews and helms. Absolutely fantastic. These guys never cease to impress, taking each problem within their stride.

“The surfing at constant 25 knots for some time was some of the best sailing I've done ever.”

The fastest reported speed was on Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam at 29.7 knots. Skipper Josh Stickland reported: “My, my... Tony, Tony, Tony (Castro), what a machine you have built!

“We have been skimming for the last four to five hours with our speed now averaging 14-15 knots surfing across and down waves! I myself am a keen surfer and for anyone else who is, it's the closest I feel like dropping in on a wave - only my surfboard weighs 40 tonnes!”

In the end, it was Punta del Este who set the fastest time in the Dell Latitude Rugged Ocean Sprint, followed by Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, and Zhuhai, with the three teams earning three, two and one bonus point respectively.

The race looked as though it was becoming a battle between Unicef and Qingdao, with the two teams looking strong out in front. However, Mother Nature had a few tricks left up her sleeve and the two leaders were left wallowing in a windhole

Despite being as low as sixth in the standings earlier in the day, the Spanish Skipper of Punta del Este Skipper, Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, used his local knowledge to navigate the light winds off Portugal with precision and cross the finish line in first place at 00:45:22 UTC. The win, plus the three bonus points in the Dell Latitude Rugged Ocean Sprint, means Punta del Este will go into the race into its home port on top of the overall standings.

Punta del Este Skipper Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez said: “It has been a bit of a challenging one but it feels amazing. My team has worked so hard and I am just ecstatic, just over the moon.

“I think the moment was when we went through Finisterre. We pushed ourselves so hard day and night, day and night. We won the Dell Latitude Rugged Ocean Sprint and that kept us motivated and focused.”

Dare To Lead also fared well in the light conditions to snare second place after finishing one hour and three seconds behind Punta del Este at 01:45:25 UTC, while Qingdao was third to be second in the overall standings.