Clipper Round the World Race fleet enjoy quality time in New Zealand

Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition
The Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet have completed race five, from Western Australia to New Zealand, and are enjoying their downtime in Tauranga to the maximum during the biennial event’s historic first visit to New Zealand.

With all ten yachts safely berthed in Tauranga Bridge Marina by Sunday lunchtime, a full two days ahead of schedule, the teams have been able to crack through all their maintenance and cleaning jobs and enjoy some quality time in the Bay of Plenty.

Tauranga and neighbouring Mount Maunganui boast stunning beaches and on Thursday, officially the first day of summer in New Zealand, blue skies were reflected in the Pacific: picture postcard perfect.

Although the teams are relaxing, they have not been inactive. In fact, they have been busy making the most of their time ashore by exploring locally and further afield. The Bay of Plenty, in common with the rest of New Zealand, has a multitude of activities on offer. White water rafting, sky diving, paddle boarding, hiking (or tramping, as it is called locally), land yachting, sampling the excellent local seafood and wines have all been on the agenda. Groups of crew have visited the stunning volcanic White Island and climbed Mount Maunganui in the company of a Maori guide, before soaking in the geothermal salt water hot pools at its base.

Many of the crew have hired cars to explore further afield. Auckland, Taupo and Rotorua, with its boiling mud pools and geysers shooting steaming water into the air have been on the destination list giving the crew a chance to recharge their batteries before the next race in the year-long series.

Qingdao skipper, Ian Conchie, attended a traditional hangi, a traditional Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven used for special occasions. Ian was also invited to take part in a haka, a traditional ancestral war cry and a privilege reserved only for men.

Today, one of his crew, David Hall was heading off on a fishing expedition. The Hong Kong-based teacher has been trying to catch a fish since the race left Southampton on 31 July without any joy – the subject of much good humoured ribbing from the rest of his team mates.

The waters around Mayor Island, about 20 miles off Tauranga, are prime fishing grounds for king fish. 'He just needs to throw the line over the side,' commented one local. 'If he can’t catch something here, there’s no hope!'

Race five prize giving took place on Friday evening at Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club. As well as the presentation of the much coveted pennants for first, second and third place, the male crew members who have been cultivating some truly entertaining moustaches for Movember, the international campaign raising funds and awareness for male cancers and mental health issues, shaved off their hairy chops.

Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, has been one of the main mo-tivators behind the Clipper 11-12 teams’ mo-growing in the last race. Richard and crew members from all ten of the yachts were sporting a fine array of variously-styled whiskers when they arrived from Geraldton, Western Australia last week.

The yachts themselves have been a tourist attraction for Bay of Plenty residents. More than 300 people visited over the weekend, thrilled to be able to chat with crew members and get on board to look around and see what conditions are like for the people from all walks of life representing dozens of nationalities who are racing around the world in Clipper 11-12.

The final open boat session is on Saturday afternoon from 1pm to 4pm, and in the evening there will be a presentation about the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and the new fleet of 70-foot yachts which are currently under construction in China. The presentation will take place at 5pm on Saturday at Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club.

Clipper’s Crew Recruitment Manager, David Cusworth, has been holding a series of presentations in Auckland and Wellington to give locals the chance to get on board for the world’s longest yacht race. After Saturday’s presentation in Tauranga, David heads to Australia to host recruitment sessions in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. Additionally, Clipper has a stand at the 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Fremantle until 18 December.

'It’s great to be here in New Zealand to meet some of the people who will be lining up on the start line for the ninth edition of the Clipper Race in 2013. With the build of the new fleet of Clipper 70s for the next race progressing on schedule, interest is at an all-time high and given the level of interest I’ve already seen here, there’s going to be an unprecedented number of New Zealanders represented on the teams next time round,' David said.

Meanwhile, as the Clipper 11-12 fleet prepares to set sail from New Zealand, it is half a world away from the Solent where the race started four months ago and will return in a further eight months.

(l to r): Cllr Royston Smith, Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor John Hannides, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture, Clipper Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, and Dean Smith, Marketing Director, MDL Marinas celebrate Southampton’s successful bid to host the Clipper 11-12 race finish.
OnEdition/Southampton City Council

However, advanced planning meetings are already underway between Southampton City Council, MDL Marinas at Ocean Village and race organisers Clipper Ventures, to prepare for the return of the ten-strong international Clipper Race fleet on Sunday 22 July next year – just five days before the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

'The race departure from Southampton was spectacular and the warmth and enthusiasm of the thousands of spectators who waved them off made a lasting impression on all the crews,' Clipper Race Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, said. 'We anticipate another great reception when the fleet returns next July after its year-long circumnavigation. The crews are ordinary people who have done something extraordinary in taking on some of the world’s toughest oceans. They deserve a heroes’ welcome.'

Councillor John Hannides, Cabinet Member for Resources, Leisure and Culture at Southampton City Council, said: 'Southampton City Council is delighted to be working with MDL Marinas and Clipper Ventures to plan for the return of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. We were delighted with an amazing race start and are working on our plans to provide a suitable welcome home for the crews.'

The race start in Southampton generated thousands of visitors and stimulated the local economy by filling hotels, restaurants and shops. The finish will have a similar impact with crews’ family, friends and fans joining officials, sponsors, media and visitors from around the world to cheer the ten teams home.

Interest in future races is stronger than ever and the trend of crew places being consistently sold out for the last two editions of the race looks set to continue. A brand new fleet of twelve innovatively designed Clipper 70s will increase capacity to meet this growing demand.

The build of the third generation Clipper Race fleet is progressing to plan and this week the first hull was successfully released from its mould in China. The expanded fleet of Clipper 70s is on schedule to be shipped to the UK next year, and Clipper Ventures has an option to purchase a further four if required.

Clipper Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, said, 'The new fleet build is progressing on target in Qingdao, China. The new yachts will enter service for the Clipper 13-14 Round the World Yacht Race and continue operating until 2020.'

If you can’t wait until 2013 to get a taste of ocean racing, sign up for the Virtual Clipper Race online and share in the excitement of racing around the world without getting wet. It is free to sign up to compete alongside tens of thousands of virtual ocean racers around the world for the chance to win big cash prizes.

More than 30,000 euros is up for grabs in addition to Rotary Aquaspeed Watches and Henri Lloyd Stow Bags, with prizes on offer for each of the 15 individual races.

Players can customise their own boat, create leagues to compete against family, friends and colleagues and, for the more serious player, there is the option to pay a small fee to select the ‘pro’ options such as a wider selection of sails and auto pilot.

The Clipper Virtual Race follows the same route as the real thing and competitors can sign up at any stage to take part with one massive advantage over the teams on the real race course - in the Clipper Virtual Race you stay warm and dry.

Race six from Tauranga, New Zealand to Gold Coast, Australia on Sunday 4 December.

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website