Australian female Skipper Wendy Tuck leads Clipper Race fleet as it starts Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Australian skipper Wendy Tuck led the 12-strong Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race fleet in the early stages of the Australian bluewater classic the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race (RSHYR).

The first Australian female skipper in the 19-year history of the Clipper Race, Wendy started her ninth RSHYR today (26 December), leading the Da Nang Viet Nam entry.

The Clipper Race fleet – made up of 225 novice sailors representing 27 nationalities – started the race at 1300 Local Time (0200 UTC) with the Clipper 70s joined by two Clipper 68 yachts, one of which includes legendary sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, on the second of the three start lines.

Mission Performance was first over the start line, followed by Da Nang – Viet Nam in second and LMAX Exchange third in around 15 knots of wind which then built to 25 knots, gusting into the 30s, as the teams passed the second mark outside Sydney Harbour Heads.

A strong wind weather warning is forecast for later tonight, with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issuing a gale warning.

Wendy said there was extra pressure for her ahead of the start. “Crossing the Bass Strait is up there as one of the most difficult pieces of water in the world. We saw water spouts on our way up to Sydney which was pretty scary.

“I absolutely love this race, and there is added pressure as I am the most experienced Clipper Race Skipper in terms of numbers of RSHYRs I have done. I have a little bit of an advantage, but there are a lot of good sailors and it is a very tough race,” Wendy added.

Frenchman Olivier Cardin, Skipper of LMAX Exchange, currently top of the leaderboard, said the team was entirely focused on being the first Clipper 70 into Hobart.

“I am under pressure for the start and the weather on the first night with the front that is forecasted to come through, but we all believe we can do it,” Olivier said.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started in London in August and takes eleven months to complete, is the only event on the planet that trains amateur sailors to circumnavigate the world. 40 per cent of Clipper Race crew have no previous sailing experience before starting their intensive training.

The prestigious 628 nautical mile RSHYR doubles as Race 5 in the Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race meaning teams are racing each other as normal for the standard Clipper Race points. In addition however they are competing against professional teams in the wider Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for overall line honours in the IRC 2 class, and will also be part of the special division Clipper 70 class.

Clipper Race Chairman and Founder, legendary British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the Navigator on board Clipper 68 Clipper Ventures 10, has set the Clipper Race teams the mission of beating him into port.

He said the crews are fully prepared for the RSHYR having already sailed past Tasmania and across the Bass Strait once during Race 4 from Albany.

“The crew are used to the weather and what to expect having sailed the Southern Ocean on three separate races now. They have seen the power it can unleash during the Bass Strait crossing on Race 4 to Sydney. The greatest challenge is between them themselves as competing teams. 

“Fear is of the unknown. The first time you get into a gale, you’re frightened. And to a certain extent the crews have seen what the weather can be like, they know the boats are tough and can take it, they know they can deal with it. Our crews are possibly less apprehensive about the race than perhaps some others are,” Sir Robin added.

Following a spectacular start in Sydney Harbour with Australia’s pedigree racing yachts, in front of 150,000 spectators and millions across the country watching at home, the fleet sailed out into the Tasman Sea.

Ash Skett, Skipper of Garmin, added: “This is the big one. Everyone is very excited. We are going to try our hardest. I am a little bit nervous, but everyone knows what they are doing and is fully prepared for what we could face.”

There won’t be much time to celebrate or rest once the Clipper Race fleet reaches Hobart as the next test, the Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race starts on 2 January. Teams will encounter the Bass Strait for the third time in this race to Abell Point Marina, Airlie Beach where they are expected to arrive between 13 to 14 January and stay until 18 January to finish up the last stop of the All-Australian leg.

The Clipper 2015-16 Race will then continue to Da Nang – Viet Nam, Qingdao – China, Seattle, Panama, New York, Derry Londonerry – Northern Ireland, and Den Helder – the Netherlands before the epic journey returns to London on 31 July 2016.

To follow the fleet's progress, see the Race Viewer here. 

Jeanneau SO380