Spirit of Australia, the Australian entry in the Clipper 09-10 Round World Yacht Race, was cheered on by more than 100,000 spectators this afternoon, as the team set off from the Humber, UK, to do battle against nine other international entries in the 35,000 mile challenge. As the cannon fired at 1400 BST (1300 GMT), line honours went to Edinburgh Inspiring Capital , but Spirit of Australia and the rest of the fleet were chasing hard as the boats raced down the Humber River and out to sea.
The first race takes the fleet from the east coast of the UK to La Rochelle , France . The northerly breeze at the start and the weather conditions forecast for the next few days indicate that the 780-mile race will be a fast one.
Before he and his team left the dock, Spirit of Australia' s skipper Brendan Hall, from Brisbane , said, “I'm really excited. The start is finally here and I just can't wait to get out there. The team spirit on board is really good but there is also a lot of raw emotion as the crew say goodbye to their friends and family. But we'll pull together and, once we're out there on the river, we'll click into professional sailing mode and racing hard.”
The Clipper Race is the only race in the world where the crews come from all walks of life, all ages and with all levels of experience. Prior to their training, some 40 percent of the crews had never stepped aboard a sailing yacht before.
Honoured to be representing her country around the world is Kirsty Whyte, a 36-year-old senior manager from Bellvue Hill , New South Wales . “I'm hugely proud to be representing my home country in this race as I'm extremely patriotic,” she said. “I have an Aussie hat and my dad has sent over a national flag and a giant Boxing Kangaroo flag for us to fly.
“There are a few butterflies this morning but mostly I'm just really excited and can't wait to get underway. It's taken a long time to get to this point so I just want to get the sails up and start.”
Race start day was an emotional experience for the crew and their families and friends who had come to support them on their challenge of a lifetime.
Before the race start the world renowned RAF display team, the Red Arrows, drew gasps and applause with their display of precision flying, the Hawk jets flying just two metres apart during some of the formations. On the ground the Band of the Royal Marines played as the home team, Hull & Humber , left Hull Marina to join the rest of the fleet on the river.
Hull & Humber is sponsored by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency that is also responsible for bringing the Clipper Race to the Humber. Chairman, Terry Hodgkinson, addressed the spectators, saying, “This event is about much more than sailing. It's about bringing trade and tourism to
Britain and, in particular, to the
Humber. It's great to see so many people having such a grand time. May I give my best wishes to all the crews and the very best of luck, I hope that we can do better with our boat than we did last time, when we came second. But it's not about winning it's about changing people's lives. That's why we have invested in it and I'm very proud to be the chairman of an organisation that has put money into this.”
Ahead lies a ten-month-long, 35,000 mile course that will take the race to France before crossing to
Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, China, California, Panama, Jamaica, New York, Cape Breton Island, Cork and the Netherlands . The race will make its triumphant return to the Humber on July 17 2010.
The Clipper Race is the brainchild of legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail non-stop single handed around the world. He wanted to open the sport of long distance sailing to all and allow others to experience the challenges of ocean racing.
Paying tribute to the hosts, Sir Robin said, “The reception on the Humber has been simply fantastic. The enthusiasm from the city, Yorkshire Forward and most especially from the people has been incredible. It is wonderful to see the interest they are taking in ordinary people going out to do something quite extraordinary. All of us at Clipper say a huge thank you for coming out and showing their support and their interest in the Clipper Yacht Race.”
More than 400 crews have signed up for Clipper 09-10. Some will complete a full circumnavigation while others will race one or a combination of the seven legs available.
Each Clipper yacht is entered by a city, region or country and sponsors use the event to showcase themselves to the world. On the last running of the Clipper Race, more than 212 million people worldwide followed the adventure through television, print media, radio and online.