In what has been one of the closest fought legs of the Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, Spirit of Australia, just missed out on a home port victory by a mere 33 minutes. Line honours for the race from Cape Town , South Africa , to Geraldton , Western Australia , went to Team Finland who crossed the line at 1210 local time (0410GMT). Spirit of Australia took second place crossing the line at 1243 local time (0443GMT) having narrowed Team Finland 's lead at the end to less than five nautical miles.
As the two yachts made their final sprint for the line it became apparent that Spirit of Australia would be unable to catch Team Finland despite the Australian team's best efforts to hunt them down. In a sign of true sportsmanship Australian skipper, 27-year-old Brendan Hall from Brisbane , immediately called up the Finnish skipper to congratulate him on a well fought race.
Stepping ashore, Brendan said, ” I'm a little disappointed that we weren't able to catch them but elated with the reception we've received, it's absolutely amazing.
“My crew has worked really hard and we've done our best. We can stand proud knowing that we've got the three scoring gate points by finishing in second place which means we've got an equal points tally with Team Finland for this race. We've also achieved the goal we set for ourselves to be consistently on the podium which is great.”
Crowds of supporters, friends and family lined the breakwater to see the finish and a strong wind, gusting 30 knots, kept the boats fully powered up right to the line.
Waiting on the pontoon were Brendan's parents, Nick and Carmel Hall, who'd travelled from Brisbane to see their son arrive.
Brendan says, “It's quite emotional and a bit surreal to see everyone here having had the same 18 people for company for the last 24 days. Now I'm back in Australia with my nearest and dearest and I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with them over Christmas.”
His thoughts were echoed by round the world crew member, Michael Hanssen, a 36-year-old Managing Director from Perth . He said, “It was quite emotional coming into port and seeing my family here. It's amazing to see all these supporters who have turned out to welcome us in, I never dreamt it would be like this.”
The Southern Ocean leg, which started on 22 November from Cape Town , has been a testing one for the crews – the 68-foot yachts surfing at speeds in excess of 20 knots down large ocean swells. The weather conditions have also been unpredictable from patches of light winds to sudden gale force gusts which would come out of nowhere and catch the teams off guard.
For 36-year-old Spirit of Australia crew member Kirsty Whyte, a Senior Manager from Sydney , the experience of sailing to her home country is one she'll remember for a long time. ” It was a tough leg,” said Kirsty. “The sea itself wasn't as bad as the South Atlantic but it was really cold and extremely wet for the crew. We all did an awesome job on the boat but Team Finland pipped us at the post but we're still really proud of coming in second. “I've been away from home for five months and travelled all over the world, but you just can't beat this country,” she said. “I'm looking forward to going home to Sydney for Christmas and then coming back to Geraldton for the New Year's Eve bash that's being laid on for us by the yacht club.”
As the fleet left the Southern Ocean and headed north towards Geraldton an area of high pressure caused the boats to concertina with some of the yachts so close that they passed within one nautical mile of each other. The final day of racing saw the front seven teams separated by less than forty miles.
The final podium position of Race 4 went to Jamaica Lightning Bolt, the Caribbean entry crossing the line seven miles ahead of their closest competitors Cape Breton Island . Qingdao finished in fifth place, followed by Edinburgh Inspiring Capital , Uniquely Singapore and California . Cork and Hull & Humber are still making good progress to Western Australia following their collision on the start line in Cape Town .
Once ashore the crews will spend the next few days cleaning their boats and carrying out essential maintenance. The fleet will be berthed at the Batavia Coast Marina, Geraldton for the duration of the stopover and lifted at various points for their mid-race refits. Once all the work is complete the crews will have time off to enjoy Christmas and New Year in Australia . The race will restart on Sunday 3 January when the boats will race up the Western Australian coast to Singapore and then on to Qingdao in China .