Clipper Race: Welcome to the jungle

Published on March 21st, 2022

(March 21, 2022) – After a two year postponement due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Clipper 2019-20 Race departed today from the Philippines with the eleven yachts, crewed by non-professional sailors, set to be quickly tested in the North Pacific crossing to Seattle, WA.

The 6100 nm course will see the teams compete for just over a month, facing frigid temperatures and winds reaching over 60 knots. “The mighty North Pacific Ocean is one of the most hostile places on earth and few people venture there, let alone race across in high tech state-of-the-art race yachts,” noted Clipper Race Director Mark Light.

A reminder of the danger comes from the 2015-16 edition when Sarah Young (40) was on deck at night during a storm with wind speeds gusting over 60 knots, when a wave broke over the deck causing her to lose her footing ending up next to the guardrail when a second wave washed her overboard as she was not connected to the boat by her safety tether.

To avoid the fickle winds during the leg start, the fleet will spend the following four days making their way up the western coast of Luzon, Philippines, with a Le Mans start on March 24.

“In the start area in the Luzon Strait, the forecast is for moderate to strong upwind conditions as the fleet commence Race 10 into the typical north easterly monsoon winds,” explained Light. “Wind of 15-20 knots will be expected and may increase slightly and veer more to the east. As a result, we can expect the fleet to start upwind on a starboard tack heading in a northerly direction toward the southern tip of Taiwan.

“After the first 24 hours, the wind will veer further to the south-east and moderate to 10-15 knots giving a much more comfortable but fast reaching conditions. As the winds clock round to the south, spinnakers will be prominent with some really favorable downwind conditions. This looks to continue to be the case for the following two to three days which will give the fleet a really good and fast start to the race.

“Looking forwards, the yachts that can make ground to the north and east quickest may be the first to pick up the favorable westerly winds which will propel them across the North Pacific Ocean.

“Weather conditions across the North Pacific will be dominated by the large low pressure (depression) systems that roll across every few days. Moving into the great expanse of the ocean, there are no land masses that impede these weather systems and this creates large sea states and big waves.

“The larger and more intense the depression, the stronger the winds and larger waves. Hurricane force 12 winds (67-71 knots) are not uncommon in the North Pacific but they are very predictable and easy to track in advance.

“The main tactic and key to a fast race is to position yourself on the correct side (the lower quadrant) of the depressions in order make best use of the strong westerly winds and fast downwind surfing conditions. The Clipper 70 yachts are best equipped when on downwind and reaching points of sail and they are very fast in these types of sea states.

“Race crew can expect very wet and wild conditions through the vast majority of this race. Grey skies, cold temperatures, and fast sailing is most definitely on the menu and the result will be some of the most exhilarating sailing experiences that can be gained anywhere in the world.

“The finish will be the biggest achievement and sense of pride that any sailor can feel and a smile to match, as the dream of conquering the mighty North Pacific Ocean becomes a reality.”

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The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-69. His aim was to allow anyone, regardless of previous sailing experience, the chance to embrace the thrill of ocean racing; it is the only event of its kind for amateur sailors.

Held biennially, the 2019-20 Clipper Race got underway September 1 for the fleet of eleven identical Tony Castro designed Clipper 70s. As the most subscribed round the world race, the 12th edition had attracted 688 crew representing 43 nationalities for the 41,000+ nm course.

However, when the fleet arrived in Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic blocked the fleet from the planned routes in China. The 11 Clipper 70s have remained at Subic Bay Yacht Club in the Philippines since March 2020 after organizers and Race Crew were forced to return home due to pandemic restrictions, with the restart taking place in March 2022.

Source: Clipper Race

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