Line honours in the first race of Clipper 09-10 go to Team Finland as a drama-filled Race 1 draws to a conclusion.
The Finnish skipper, Eero Lehtinen, and his team led for much of the last two days of a fast race from The Humber to La Rochelle, successfully holding off the chasing pack and watching the drama unfold in their wake as the Race Committee considered whether to protest two of the teams pushing hard for a first podium place.
Arriving in the Bassin des Chalutiers, La Rochelle, a jubilant Eero said, “It was a good warm up. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that we've actually started the race and that it's actually happening. It was almost too easy to be honest; we didn't tack once on the way from the Humber to La Rochelle. We did 740 miles averaging more than 10 knots, so it was pretty good sailing.
“Of course it's a confidence boost for everybody, at the same time putting a bit more pressure on us because I think we started as a bit of a favourite after the training races in the summer. But it didn't distract us, so it's all good.”
Team Finland will have to wait until later this week for confirmation that they have won the race. The results are provisional until all the teams have made their declarations and the Race Committee rules on their decision to protest two of the yachts, Hull & Humber and Cork, for an apparent infringement of the sailing instructions.
Orla Mellett from Galway, Ireland, a crew member on Cork, said, “We're just hoping we don't get too much of a penalty to take away from our second place. I don't think we really touched on the TSS too much so we hope it won't take away from our position. Either way, if it comes down to us losing our position we did really well, we sailed really hard and we've come into a fantastic port and great welcome.”
Cork was second across the finish line in La Rochelle after a tight battle which had raged at the head of the fleet for the last three days.
Orla explained, “We could see Team Finland all the time, we were chasing them all the way. Hull & Humber and Spirit of Australia in the last 24 to 36 hours were right on us so you'd wake up and come on your watch and you could just see their lights coming at you, especially during the night watches. It's serious motivation when you can see them coming up behind you!”
Perhaps the most nail biting finish was between Hull & Humber and Spirit of Australia. Just 40 seconds separated the two boats at the finish of Race 1.
For the fiercely competitive Australian team it was a bitter pill to swallow. Skipper Brendan Hall said, “We had a really close race with Hull & Humber – we were ahead for much of the last 24 hours and they just pipped us at the last three miles which was absolutely gutting.
“Morale was really down just after we finished but I think that's good in a way because it shows us all how much we want this thing. Now every one's really thrilled to be here and, you know, fourth out of ten is a really respectable position – no injuries, no damage to the boat – you've got to be happy.”
Spirit of Australia's position could change if the Race Committee decides to penalise Hull & Humber and Cork for straying into the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) in the English Channel.
Brendan commented, “It would be great to have beaten them on the water but, at the end of the day, it would be great if we managed to get some extra points at their expense.”
Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin is equally philosophical. “We expected maybe a small issue but it's a grey area so we're waiting for confirmation of what the problem was,” he said. “I explained the situation to the crew and what could happen and everyone's OK with that. We know the Race Committee does a serious job of organising the race so we'd expect a fair result so we'll go along with whatever the Race Committee says and that's the way it goes.
“The main focus is on training. I'm not really concerned about the result on this race, there's a much bigger picture in play on Hull & Humber at the moment. We're in good shape and we're making really strong progress the whole time.”
Cape Breton Island crossed the line in fifth place, emerging victorious from what has been an engaging contest between them and Jamaica Lightning Bolt, who were sixth to cross the finish line about four miles outside La Rochelle.
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.
The ten-month-long, 35,000-mile course will take them from the first stopover in France across the Atlantic to Brazil and on to 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 17 July 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.
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.