Non-professional sailors set sail for Christmas at sea on 2,500nm race

Non-professional sailors set sail for Christmas at sea as they race 2,500nm from Western Australia to New South Wales.

It’s onwards to Newcastle, NSW as over 200 non-professional sailors have embarked on the first race of Leg 4: the Australian Coast-To-Coast Leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

As family, friends and loved ones lined the pontoon at Fremantle Sailing Club, it was an extra special send-off for Race Crew as they set about the 2,500nm race to Newcastle, where they will be spending Christmas and New Year at sea.

The Clipper Race is a global sailing event that trains adventurers from all walks of life to race across the world’s oceans, with no prior sailing experience needed before undertaking the intensive four stages of training required to compete in the event. Each race edition is split into eight legs spanning 40,000nm, and participants can compete in one or multiple legs, with the entire race around the globe lasting eleven months.

This stage of the circumnavigation, which sees the eleven teams race around Australia, is known to be tough. With relentless conditions keeping sailors on their toes, this is a mental and physical challenge that sees the fleet dip further south than at any other point in the Clipper Race. The teams will sail round the bottom of Tasmania, giving the crew another taste of the Roaring Forties, before racing up to Newcastle, NSW, the second of a trio of Australian stopovers on the Clipper 2023-24 Race, and a brand new Host Port on the race route.

Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test is the first of two races on Leg 4 of the Clipper Race. The 2,500nm race is scheduled to take the fleet of eleven yachts around two weeks to complete and sees the teams sail past Cape Leeuwin – one of three great capes that few have the privilege to sail around, as well as rounding Tasmania, another bucket-list tick for sailors.

Taking on the challenge are 13 Australian nationals who alongside their fellow crew, will spend Christmas Day sailing around their home nation and through some of the toughest stretches of the ocean.

Speaking on prep day before setting sail, Leg 4 Race Crew and Australian Tim Thomas, said: “I chose Leg 4 of the Clipper Race because I grew up in Sydney watching the Sydney-Hobart Race. This was an opportunity for me to do the same length of water up and down the East Coast of Australia, so that was a big one for me. 

“Sailing around the bottom of Tasmania will be a big tick on the bucket list. And I’ve been to Newcastle a number of times, fun place, really nice beaches, it’s great!”  

Australian circumnavigator Justin Howard, racing on board PSP Logistics, added: “It was excellent to sail into my home territory. Now we’re heading round to Newcastle, which is very close to home, and then to Airlie Beach where I’m super excited to get to as I’ve spent a lot of time up there and in the Whitsundays. And I get to see my four children! I haven’t seen them for five months, so it’s going to be really cool.”  

In total, 72 multinational crew have joined the Clipper Race for this leg, who will get to sail for two iconic Aussie ports: Newcastle, NSW and Airlie Beach, Queensland.

The 200+ Race Crew have now said goodbye to family, friends and loved ones as they set sail to spend Christmas and the holiday season at sea, with many of the yachts already decorated with tinsel in the galley, and each of the teams planning to celebrate in its own unique way.

Ineke Van der Weijden, Skipper of Perseverance, said “Some crew members are really into it, I think we have around 50m of tinsel on board! We also have Christmas dinner and Secret Santa planned, so we will definitely celebrate.” 

Mike Miller, Skipper of PSP Logistics added: “Making life cheerful and uplifting for everyone on board is a super important part of maintaining crew morale and enjoying life together. So, the fact that we are able to spend some big celebrations together at sea is great. We’ve got some big plans for food and parties to try and make it as special as we can for each other. It’s really uplifting and a great way to show our appreciation.” 

Race Day saw a competitive start, with a multitude of different sailing plans chosen by the fleet, however once the teams where over the line, spinnakers were hoisted. First over the line was PSP Logistics, followed by Qingdao and then Perseverance in third.

Deputy Race Director Dale Smyth sums up the thrilling start: “The Fremantle start for Race 5: Sta-Lok Endurance Test had ideal conditions, with a 15kt easterly giving the fleet an easy getaway. 

“The wind angle in the start was slightly too close on the wind for spinnakers to be flown, but light enough to make it possible. With the potential of the wind veering southeast, there was a real split in the fleet with sail selection. Some opted for white sails, and some for kites, but it soon became apparent that those that had taken the chance with kites had the upper hand and pulled away early. Eventually the whole fleet decided kites were the only way and the fleet looked amazing as it pulled off into the distance. 

“Once around Rottnest Island they face dropping kites and days of upwind to get south and around Cape Leeuwin.” 

Talking about the upcoming race conditions he added: “It’s a really challenging but exciting race that the crew are going to have. The fleet will be going to the most southerly point of the circumnavigation, as the teams round the bottom of Tasmania, and then across the infamous Tasman Sea, where they can expect the infamous ‘southerly busters.’ After this, there will be a very tactical sail up to Newcastle against the East Australia Current. It’s going to be an interesting and very, very tactical race.” 

This edition features over 700 people, aged 18 to 71, representing 55 nationalities and many diverse backgrounds including electricians, orthopaedic surgeons, police sergeants and teachers. Each of the eleven teams are led by a professional Skipper and First Mate, and crew can sign up to one leg, multiple legs or the entire 40,000nm circumnavigation.

The Clipper Race got underway from Portsmouth, UK in September, and so far on this edition, its fleet has sailed over 17,000 nautical miles, having already visited Puerto Sherry, Spain, Punta del Este, Uruguay and Cape Town, South Africa before arriving at Fremantle in early December. Once the teams race around Australia to both Newcastle and Airlie Beach, they will head to Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, Qingdao and Zhuhai – China, then cross the North Pacific Ocean to Seattle and around the USA to Washington, DC, before returning to Portsmouth at the end of July 2024, via Oban, Scotland.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Newcastle between 1-4 January 2024. From there, the crews will have time to recharge before Race 6 begins where the teams will race to the third Australian stop on the circumnavigation in Airlie Beach, Queensland. 

Find out what’s happening during the Newcastle stopover here, and keep up with all the action from where you are in the world on the Race Viewer

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