Clipper Round The World Race yachts bunker down at Airlie Beach as potential cyclone approaches

Story by By Hannah Walsh and Lillian Watkins / ABC Sport

A mismatched bunch of thrill seekers on a world marathon sailing challenge have been forced to shelter in Airlie Beach as the threat of a tropical cyclone increases.

The Clipper Round The World Race takes 11 nearly identical 70-foot yachts on an 11-month race around the world through the unpredictable Atlantic trade winds and doldrums, and across the formidable waves of the Pacific.

But according to race director Mark Light, it is the first time in the race’s 28-year history crews have been forced to bunker down due to a cyclone.

The crews, which are made up almost entirely of non-professional sailors bar the captain and first mate, are spending the next few days battening down the hatches in anticipation of Cyclone Kirrily.
Hannah Brewis, 27, is a skipper on board one of the yachts.

“We have seen some big, big winds, maybe not cyclone level but we have been through some pretty big storms and the boats are totally prepared for them,” she said.

“We’ve had plenty of time to get the boats safe on the dock where they are, we have a thorough preparation list which all of the boats have done.

“We’re ready for it to come.”

She said the crews, which could be made up of people from every continent and job, ranging from top lawyers to hairdressers to tattooists, had all been through the exact same training to help prepare for these types of situations.

Batten the hatches
But the preparation might be an interesting sight for Whitsundays locals passing by.

Aside from removing “basically anything that can fly away”, Mr Light said the boats were joined together for protection.

“We linked the boats across the bows to make sure they’re all kind of in one unit,” he said.

“And then we spin the boats around so every alternate bow is facing one direction and then the next one to it is facing the other direction.”

Mr Light said this was to stop the masts from banging into each other.

He said he believed this is the first time a race has been stopped for a cyclone since the event began in 1996.

“We’ve obviously had plenty of different weather events. We’ve had race start delayed [due to] … hurricane-force winds in the UK,” he said.

Mr Light said while they’d experienced a cyclone before, it passed ahead of the fleet allowing crews to continue the race.

A chance to see the sights

The current plan is for the fleet to depart Airlie Beach on Friday.

“But obviously, we’re monitoring every day, every few hours … if it needs to change, we will do so,” he said.

Hannah Brewis said the weather in Airlie Beach was still beautiful.

“We’ve had three extra days to enjoy and most people have taken advantage to go and do all of the sites,” she said.

“When the weather starts coming in, it’ll be more resting and keeping calm so that we’re ready for the next race.”

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