WITH a month at sea ahead of them, the crews of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race were saying heartfelt goodbyes to their family and friends.
For Ali Hudson, saying farewell to her partner John Dyer had a surprise twist as he popped the question while she was on stage for the team presentations.
Ali, from Lee-on-the-Solent, was left shocked and in tears when she looked up in the crowd and saw her partner of nine years holding a sign saying ‘will you marry me?’.
The pair were reunited on the pontoon for one last goodbye and for John to get down on one knee and officially ask her the question in front of the crowds.
Ali, 45, said: ‘I was a bit shell-shocked when I saw the sign and I just burst into tears.
‘I needed a couple of seconds to digest what was happening but, of course, I shouted “yes” to him straight away.
‘We had spoken about getting married and he always said he would ask me in a spectacular way but I never suspected this. I had no idea.’
Ali is taking part in the first leg of the 11-month race which starts today and sees amateur sailors join professional skippers for a battle around the globe.
The fleet of 12 yachts are expected to reach Rio at the end of September and Ali said the finish will be a double celebration.
‘John will be flying out to Rio to meet me there so we will be celebrating both the end of the race and the engagement,’ she said.
We had spoken about getting married and he always said he would ask me in a spectacular way but I never suspected thisAli Hudson
‘It will be amazing and I cannot wait.’
The 70ft yachts left St Katharine Dock in London yesterday and sailed down the Thames with thousands of people watching from the shore and on boats.
After leaving the dock, they passed under Tower Bridge twice before heading to Southend Pier where they will spend the night on board their boats. The first race starts today at 12.30pm.
Gosport skipper Greg Miller, who is leading Mission Performance, said: ‘Sailing on the Thames was a brilliant experience and we are all ready to get racing now.’
Max Stunell, from Portsmouth, is the skipper on PSP Logistics. He said: ‘The crew are excited to get going. We have been building up to this moment for two years so it’s great it’s finally here.’
Sailing great Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, founder of the Clipper race, said: ‘Everyone has trained hard for this. They will be feeling both excited and apprehensive.’