Non-professional sailors depart Qingdao and embark on epic 5,000nm race across North Pacific

Today, the Clipper Race fleet began the tenth race, and longest ocean crossing of the circumnavigation. Race 10: The Ultimate Test of Perseverance is a 5,340nm race across the North Pacific from China’s Sailing City of Qingdao in China to Seattle in the USA. 

The Clipper Race fleet departed Qingdao yesterday, and after an overnight motor, the race officially got underway at 0200 UTC today, 28 March. The start took place in light winds and low visibility, via a Le Mans start, led by Dutch skipper Ineke Van Der Weijden of Perseverance, whose team currently sits at the top of the overall race standings.

Commenting on the start, Ineke said: “After a 2-hour delay due to light winds and bad visibility, Race 10 got on its way at 0200 UTC. Light wind starts are always challenging, add to that some reduced visibility and that makes for an interesting mix, certainly for my first time as Lead Skipper. But the fleet did a great effort on the lineup, and it all went according to plan. Now, 25 minutes into the race, the fleet has already shown vastly different strategies with regards to sail plan and course, although boat speeds remain very low across the fleet. All in all, a slow start to a long race. Next stop: Seattle.” 

This is the longest race of the circuit, with crew expected to spend between 26 and 31 days at sea. After navigating the fishing fleets, variable winds and Kuroshio current around China and Japan, once the fleet hits the North Pacific proper, it will face the infamous huge conditions that aren’t found anywhere else, and it is a part of the world were few vessels, let alone sailing yachts, venture. The teams can expect waves the size of tower blocks, winds of over 80 knots and sub-zero temperatures on board as the fleet hurtles through large weather systems in one of the biggest and most remote expanses of ocean on the planet.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Clipper Ventures Chairman and Founder of the Clipper Race, was on the dock to wave off the teams as they departed Qingdao, he said: “This next leg with be a month. It is a long trip across the North Pacific, some 5,000nm. The teams are going off on a great adventure, and the crews are up for it. When they get to Seattle, they will have achieved something to be really proud of. 

“The North Pacific is very underestimated. It is the toughest leg of the whole race, and it you can face some brutal weather. On the other hand, if you want to say you are a real sailor, you want to say you have done this leg.”  

Race 10, as usual, will feature an Ocean Sprint and Scoring Gate with bonus points up for grabs, and this race is unique in that it gives teams the option to go into Stealth Mode twice, each for 24 hours, or for a single 48-hour period. Stealth Mode means that the team’s position will be hidden from the Race Viewer and the fleet. Two teams have played their Joker on this race, which doubles the race points. Both UNICEF and Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, which are currently sat in 4th and 5th place on the overall Race Standings, decided to play the lucrative Joker on this race across the North Pacific.

Half of the professional sailing staff on this race edition have already crossed the North Pacific. Our Isles and Oceans Skipper, Max Rivers, who led his team to victory in Race 9 into Qingdao, commented on what’s ahead: “It’s an incredibly remote part of the world. We are closer to people in the international space station to anyone else, and the Clipper Race yachts will be the only boats out there. On the last race across the North Pacific, we had a tanker go past us.

They were the only other vessel we spoke to in an entire month. It’s an amazing experience to be so remote out in the middle of nowhere. We will have sub-zero temperatures, some large waves of 10+meters and strong winds as the low pressures roll through.”

The first few hours of racing has seen the yachts struggle to make good boat speeds in the fickle winds and fog, making for an already testing start to the race ahead.

The Clipper Race fleet is expected to arrive in Seattle from 21-26 April, docking in Bell Harbour Marina. 

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