Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet head to New Zealand

The Parade of Sail in Geraldton, Western Australia, bound for Tauranga, New Zealand in Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fleet have set sail from Geraldton, Western Australia bound for Tauranga, New Zealand on race five of the 15-race, 40,000-mile circumnavigation.

The hooter sounded at 1330 local time (0530 UTC) and, with a flotilla of local spectator boats in attendance, the teams raced away from the start line, around the turning mark and back towards the second mark just 50 metres off the beach in a brisk westerly breeze.

In one of the closest starts in Clipper 11-12 to date, Welcome to Yorkshire was the first across, coming up on the inside of the other yachts who had timed their run to the start line impeccably. They were followed by New York, Derry-Londonderry, representing the UK City of Culture 2013, and the Dutch team, De Lage Landen. The home port favourite, Geraldton Western Australia, was fifth across the start line followed by Visit Finland, Gold Coast Australia and Qingdao. Singapore and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital completed the order.

A one-and-a-half mile beat out to sea to the first course mark and a nose-to-tail drag race back towards the beach saw New York streak into the lead, closely followed by overall leaders Gold Coast Australia, with Visit Finland moving up to third place, while Singapore climbed from ninth to fifth.

Ahead of the teams lies a 3,800-mile race down the coast of Western Australia, rounding the second Great Cape in Clipper 11-12, Cape Leeuwin, the most south westerly point of Australia. It is the first time it has been included in the course in the 15-year history of the event. They will head south again into the desolate isolation of the Southern Ocean and then race east towards New Zealand and the finish line at Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, where they are due to arrive between 25 and 29 November.

Before the start of the race the teams wowed the thousands of spectators on shore who were treated to a parade of sail with all ten yachts steaming in formation past Geraldton’s packed Foreshore.

Gold Coast Australia secures eleventh win in Race 13 - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12
As the boats departed Batavia Coast Marina, where well-wishers turned out in force to wave the fleet farewell, Juan Coetzer, Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper said, 'The reception here has been really welcoming, people have been really friendly. You go up to people in the street and ask for directions and people walk you to your destination! The yacht club has been amazing. The vibe here is really, really great; I’m so proud to be representing Geraldton and hope to make them proud.

'Our finish here has improved the morale on the boat, the crew now know we can be up in the top of the leader board, we’ve been in third place a few times during the last race, so they know it can be done. We’ve got to remain focused and, hopefully, keep climbing.'

On board the ten 68-foot ocean racing yachts each sponsored by a city, state, country or corporation around the world, are people like you – crew members from all walks of life, aged between 18 and 72, who between them represent more than 40 nationalities. Almost half of them had no sailing experience before beginning their gruelling pre-race training.

New Zealander Fred Tooley, who also holds the distinction of being Clipper 11-12’s oldest crew member at 72 years old, said, 'I’ve been waiting quite a long time for this! I woke up the other morning, quite early, and when asked why, I couldn’t put it into words. But the best way to describe it is: I’ve been here a few days working on the boat, I’ve read the preface and now I’m starting Chapter One.'

Auckland resident, Fred, has joined overall race leaders Gold Coast Australia for the race from Western Australia to his homeland and on to the Gold Coast.

He said, 'When I first came here they did give me a bit of stick about the Rugby World Cup! There is no place like home and it will be very nice to sail into my home country.'

During the stopover in Geraldton the crews have been welcomed into the homes of some of the residents of the 33,000-strong community, while others have taken advantage of the fantastic kite surfing conditions and beautiful beaches to relax and unwind before the next stage of the race. They have also paid their respects at the HMAS Sydney II Memorial, commemorating the Australian Navy’s biggest loss of life during World War II.

Yesterday the Race Committee applied a four-point penalty to Gold Coast Australia after they wrote off their heavyweight spinnaker during the last stage of the race.

Skipper, Richard Hewson, said, 'It’s sad to lose the points for the sail but it’s fair for the other boats. The fact we had to cut our sail away in the emergency situation couldn’t really be helped, but the way the Race Committee has viewed it is very understandable and I think it’s all very fair so we’ll just have to win a few more Scoring Gates to get the points back!'

The Clipper Race was established 15 years ago by sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail around the globe solo and non-stop in 1968-9. Clipper 11-12 is the eighth edition of the biennial race which is contested by a fleet of ten identical stripped down 68-foot ocean racing yachts, each of which is sponsored by a global destination or organisation.

Sir Robin’s aim is not only to open up ocean racing to anyone but also to create a global platform for sponsors to profile their destinations and promote business, tourism and culture, acknowledging the traditional trade routes serviced over a century ago by the original clipper ships from which the race takes its name.

Speaking on behalf of the Deputy Premier for Western Australia and the Minister for Regional Development, Ian Blainey, MLA, said, 'The State Government is proud to sponsor a yacht of our own with the City of Greater Geraldton. The Government announced a fund of $40 million over four years through Royalties for Regions for regional events across Western Australia. The Clipper Race was one of the first sponsorships under this programme and, of course, it gives us a high profile international platform. It is a wonderful, clever concept and a fantastic challenge.'

Berths are now available for Clipper 13-14 and beyond. Those interested in taking part in the race can find out more at a series of presentations in Australia and New Zealand, beginning in Wellington, NZ, on 30 November and including a stand at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth, WA, from 3-18 December 2011. For more information visit the website or email oceanracer(@)clipperroundtheworld.com.

And if the real thing seems a bit too extreme, armchair sailors can pit their sailing skills against the teams by playing the Virtual Clipper Race online at the official race website. While those on board the ten yachts are battling on bucking foredecks to change a headsail in pitch darkness, high winds and rough seas, the same manoeuvre in the game is achieved by a simple click of the mouse! More than €30,000 in prize money is offer, as well as Rotary Aquaspeed watches and Henri Lloyd stow bags.

Standings after race five:
1. Gold Coast Australia - 41 points
2. Visit Finland - 32 points
3. De Lage Landen - 28 points
4. New York - 28 points
5. Welcome to Yorkshire - 27 points
6. Singapore - 25 points
7. Qingdao - 19 points
8. Derry-Londonderry - 17 points
9. Geraldton Western Australia - 14 points
10. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 6 points

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website