It’s been a while since a round-the-world yacht race started from the Solent, so Sunday should see a big send-off for the 10 yachts taking part in the Clipper Race 2011-12.
Gosport’s Royal Clarence Marina has been a hive of activity all week as the hundreds of amateur sailors who make up the race crews – all led by a professional skipper – prepared for the opening leg of the 40,000-mile event.
The starting gun will be fired at 4.30pm on Sunday from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, and the fleet will head off past Portsmouth and then move south for a brief pit-stop in Madeira before crossing the Atlantic on the first leg to Rio de Janeiro.
Subsequent legs will take the fleet to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, China, California, New York, Nova Scotia and Londonderry, before the finish of the marathon race in the Netherlands next July.
The yachts moved down the Solent yesterday from the Clipper race’s Gosport base to Ocean Village Marina in Southampton, where the race village has been set up.
On Sunday the fleet will leave at 2.30pm to sail down Southampton Water ahead of Portsmouth-based HMS Illustrious – an involvement that has delighted founder and chairman of the Clipper Race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.
‘The Clipper Race has always had a very strong relationship with the Royal Navy and I am very pleased to welcome HMS Illustrious for the start of Clipper 11-12,’ he said.
‘She is part of the large maritime community of the south coast and I am very keen that as many members of that community as possible are able to enjoy this event, which promises to be a quite spectacular sight.’
Sunday’s forecast shows a gentle introduction to the novice crews’ great adventure, with a southwesterly breeze of around nine knots. With some 40 tons of yacht to shift, they may be hoping for a little more.