Since leaving Liverpool almost a year ago, the eleven Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race teams have battled each other in twelve races, experiencing everything from frustrating wind holes to ‘phenomenal sea states’, boat speeds up to 35 knots (equivalent to 40 mph), extreme heat and freezing conditions.
But their epic endurance challenge is almost over as the thirteenth and final stage in this unique global adventure departed today from Derry-Londonderry, destination Liverpool, where the race will end on Saturday, 28 July.
In an exciting outcome for women’s sport, British and Australian Skippers, Nikki Henderson and Wendy Tuck, are competing to be the first ever female winner in the event’s 22 years, with the strong likelihood that both will end up topping the overall standings. This would be a ground-breaking result for sailing, as a female Skipper has never before won a round the world yacht race, and also for sport in general where it is rare to have women and men compete in the same competition.
Race 13 got off to a clean start at 1700 local time today, off the coast of Greencastle in the Republic of Ireland. Dare To Lead was the first over the start line, in front of hundreds of spectators who gathered along on the coastline, closely followed by Unicef, Sanya Serenity Coast and Visit Seattle.
Teams will race anti-clockwise around Ireland, to Liverpool, which is expected to take five days. The final race will conclude with a thrilling sprint finish up the River Mersey on 28 July, towards the Royal Albert Dock, where crew will be given a heroes’ welcome by family, friends, and over 100,000 expected spectators.
Sanya Serenity Coast, skippered by Wendy Tuck, 53, went into the final race at the top of the leaderboard with 137 points. Teams Visit Seattle and Qingdao, skippered by Nikki Henderson and German Chris Kobusch, are joint second with 123 points each. Shrewd tactician Henderson, 24, also the youngest ever Skipper of the Clipper Race, has chosen to play her Joker Card on the very last race which means her points will be doubled.
Ahead of departing for the race start, Skipper Wendy Tuck said: “It’s time for us to pull out everything we have, last night one of my crew reminded me that when I first met the team I said I was aiming for a top four finish. We can certainly aim higher now.
“I have had an awesome year and I feel privileged to have been the leader of this amazing crew. To my biggest competitor in this final race I say, Nikki you are amazing, at 24 I couldn’t even be in charge of myself, let alone up to 50 plus crew who you have got round the world fast and safely. However we finish up, women’s sailing will be the winner.”
Once teams cross the finish line in Liverpool Bay, it won’t quite be over because Race 13 will then conclude with a Le Mans start and a 20 mile sprint up the River Mersey to the Royal Albert Dock, in which the top three teams will be awarded 3, 2 and 1 points respectively.
Giving his opinion on the contest for the overall trophy, Clipper Race Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston says “There has never been a round the world sailing race where the leading skippers are women. The competition is tough with experienced sailors and a previous winner too. To have men and women competing together in sport on a level playing field is very special and I’m really looking forward to what this last race brings. I’m incredibly proud of Nikki and Wendy and whatever their final standings are, I couldn’t imagine better role models for women’s sport.”
Mathematically, Qingdao can still win the overall race title, but with a maximum fifteen points on offer across the race and sprint finish, and a minimum two points awarded to last placed team, its overall victory would rely on Sanya Serenity Coast being disqualified or retiring from this final stage.
Amongst the rest of the fleet, there is still plenty of competition for final positions. PSP Logistics and Garmin are both tied in fourth and fifth place respectively, eleven points behind Qingdao, with both teams keeping their eye on making the podium. Dare To Lead, in sixth, is just two points ahead of Unicef, and at the bottom of the fleet, pride and positions are all to race for. Hotelplanner.com in tenth will be looking to advance on Liverpool 2018, just two points above, though will also be keeping an eye on Nasdaq, six points below.
Sailing fans will be able to watch the Sprint Finish and Prize Giving live on 22nd July between 0900 and 1515 BST at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/livestream.