Twelve identical 70-foot stripped down ocean racers are preparing to battle it out over an eleven month global series which starts from London this Sunday (30 August 2015). It’s the world’s largest matched fleet and it will be taking on the longest ocean race around the planet at more than 40,000 nautical miles.
The 2015-16 series is the tenth edition of the biennial Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Multinational teams will take on the world’s toughest oceans in what has come to be regarded as one of the most challenging endurance events, with 14 races between six continents.
Apart from the twelve seasoned professional skippers, the teams comprise mainly of amateur competitors, many of them novices prior to their extensive pre-race training. The ‘Corinthian’ spirit of the gruelling race has been made famous by its founder, the British yachting legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who became the first person to sail solo, non-stop, around the world in 1968-9.
Teams have been making final preparations this week in central London’s only marina at St Katharine Docks next to Tower Bridge, which will mark Sunday’s departure on this marathon event. Weather patterns are being studied and tactics developed against a busy backdrop of maintenance, stocking up on provisions for the first month-long race to Rio, mixed with naming ceremonies and farewell celebrations.
Each team is around 60-strong, but there will only be a maximum of 24 per yacht at any one time, dropping to an average of 15 on some stages. Around ten to twelve crew will stay aboard for the full circumnavigation, the remainder joining for one or more of eight legs. The challenge for skippers is managing that changing dynamic while maximising competitive performance.
Around 700 crew, representing 44 different nationalities, will participate in this edition, the biggest in the 19-year history of the event which started in 1996. This latest complement of competitors will bring the total number of new ocean racing sailors created by the Clipper Race to over 4,000 to mark its 20th anniversary next year when the fleet returns to London at the end of July.
There is clear apprehension ahead of this Sunday’s departure in a traditionally emotional farewell mixed with an adrenaline charged desire to get the racing started. The opening ceremony of the event will have a Rio festival feel ahead of a parade on the Thames with Tower Bridge opening to salute the fleet as it heads out to the start line.
Race one gets underway the following day away from the busy river traffic with a start off Southend Pier at 1230 BST (1130 UTC). The race to Rio is filled with navigational and environmental challenges from the confines of the English Channel and the potentially rough conditions of the Bay of Biscay to the frustrations of the Doldrums where wind can disappear between northern and southern hemisphere weather systems ahead of the final push to the finish in Rio de Janeiro.
Subsequent races take in South Africa, around Australia, including the infamous Boxing Day departure Sydney-Hobart race, Vietnam, China, USA coast-to-coast from Seattle to New York, Northern Ireland, Netherlands and back to London on 30 July 2016.