Clipper Round the World Yacht Race's first Atlantic leg underway

Clipper Round The World Yacht Race 2011
The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet entered the 3,850 mile first Atlantic leg which takes them from Madeira to Rio de Janeiro at 1630 local time (1530GMT).

In the strong north easterly trade winds, blowing twenty to twenty-five knots, the boats jostled for position and Geraldton Western Australia, who were early to the line had to put on the breaks to prevent themselves crossing early. The Western Australian entry took line honours but were closely followed by Derry-Londonderry who trimmed their sails at the right time to cross in second place. Visit Finland were third across followed by Singapore, Qingdao, New York, Welcome to Yorkshire, Gold Coast Australia, De Lage Landen and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.

As the teams headed towards the turning mark off the coast of Machico, Geraldton Western Australia had stretched out a lead of eight boat lengths and was first to round the mark. Battling it to be second round the mark were the three podium placed boats in Race 1, New York, Gold Coast Australia and Visit Finland who rounded in that order with barely a quarter of a boat’s length between them. Next to turn was Welcome to Yorkshire followed by Derry-Londonderry, Qingdao, Singapore, De Lage Landen and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.

Speaking before the start, winning skipper of Race 1, Richard Hewson from Gold Coast Australia, said, 'This will be the longest time on the water many of the crew will have ever spent. The last race was only nine days, this will be more than twenty days. Tensions will build, people will get tired and no doubt agitated. Everyone has just got to keep their cool, keep sailing the boat fast and keep focusing on the wind. Our main tactic is just to stay between the fleet and Rio.'

As the fleet heads south the teams will be influenced more and more by the North Atlantic high pressure system which will propel the yachts for many days at good average speeds in perfect trade wind conditions. Spinnakers are likely to be set constantly for as long as two weeks and this race will become a battle of the trimmers who keep the sails in the perfect shape for optimum speed.

The Canary Islands are on the direct route from Madeira to Rio and the decision whether to leave them to the east, sail through the middle or pass on the west could deliver one of the biggest turning points in this race. Get it wrong and the teams will be caught in the wind shadow of the huge mountains that extend for more than 100 miles out to sea.

As the fleet closes in on the Equator the teams will prepare for two things. Firstly, the dreaded Doldrums of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) with large wind holes, squalls and unpredictable conditions which will try the patience of even the most stoical crew members. Secondly, a visit to the Court of King Neptune as crews ‘cross the line’ of the Equator and go from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere.

Skipper of Derry-Londonderry, Mark Light, says, 'This race is going to deliver lots of downwind sailing and the temperature will get warmer every single day. I think we are going to get some pretty difficult and testing conditions around the Doldrums, but it’s going to be a good race.'

The fleet is expected to arrive in Rio between the 2nd and 5th September, after which they will race back across the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa.

Clipper Round The World Yacht Race website