Portsmouth-based sailor takes podium place in Clipper global ocean raceÂ

THE youngest skipper to lead a crew in the global Clipper Race has scored second place as the epic yachting competition ended today.

Saturday, 28th July 2018, 6:20 pm
Updated Saturday, 28th July 2018, 7:24 pm
The Liverpool 2018 team arrives at the finish line after a "sprint finish" to conclude the Clipper 2017-2018 Round the World Yacht Race outside the Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Portsmouth-based Nikki Henderson led her crew on Visit Seattle, reaching Liverpool's Albert Dock today after more than 11 months of  sailing.

It was Australian sailor and skipper Wendy Tuck who clinched overall victory on board Sanya Serenity Coast, followed closely by Henderson.

Co-founder of the Gosport-based Clipper Race and the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world, Sir Robin Knox Johnston, who lives in Old Portsmouth, said it was a 'brilliant finish' to the Clipper 2017-2018 race.

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With 53-year-old skipper Tuck finishing on 143 overall points, 25-year-old skipper Henderson, the daughter of Conservative MP Anne Milton, was hot on her heels with 139 points overall.

Henderson, the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Race, said beforehand that she felt 'very privileged' to have been given the opportunity to lead a crew around the world.

Portsmouth-based Ms Henderson, the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Race, said she feels she can walk away from the competition with her head held high.

Speaking today, she said: '˜It was always really important for me to have a good balance between doing well, but also having a happy crew and a crew that respected each other and were a good team and a good family.

'˜I really feel like overwhelmingly that is what I achieved.'

Describing the Clipper Race as being the hardest thing she has ever done in her life by far, Ms Henderson said she has come on a journey and that the race "will stand out forever".

Her selection meant she stole the youngest skipper title from Gosport-based Alex Thomson, who at the age of 26 led a team to win the Clipper Round The World race in 1998.

Thomson finished second in the gruelling solo round-the-world Vendee Globe race in January last year '“ in what is known as single-handed offshore racing's ultimate test.

Asked how momentous the win by a woman is, he told the Press Association: 'It is not just this race, it is any around-the-world race '“ it is the first time ever a female has won.

'It is bigger than people think. The fact we have first and second with both lady skippers is quite remarkable.'

Asked what message it sends, he said it shows that it is a 'level playing field', adding: 'They got no favours because they were ladies.

'They had battles with extremely capable male sailors and they beat them. I think it says to any lady, any girl, you can do it if you want to.'

The 70ft Clipper yachts were raced across the planet by 712 amateur sailors - led by professional skippers - in what is the 11th edition of the biennial race.

Split into eight legs, the first was from the UK to Punta del Este, Uruguay, which was the longest opening leg in the 21-year history of the race, at more than 6,400 nautical miles.

Across the total 40,000 nautical miles, the race also visited other cities around the world, including Seattle, Cape Town, Sanya and Qingdao.

The race officially ended today with a sprint finish up the River Mersey to the Royal Albert Dock, with throngs of spectators lining the waterside to welcome the fleet home.

As the crews finished the race for the sprint up the River Mersey, which was won by Garmin, Sir Robin said the teams were still battling it out right until the last moment.

'All these people, so many of them have just been around the world, and they are still fighting it out at the end - just great to see,' he said.

Sir Robin praised the way the crews had handled a particularly difficult storm in the Pacific Ocean during the race, and said he is 'very, very proud' of all the participants.

But this edition of the race was not without incident.

In November the Greenings yacht, one of 12 which originally left Liverpool, ran aground off the coast of South Africa forcing the vessel to be withdrawn due to damage.

And in the same month 60-year-old retired solicitor Simon Speirs from Bristol was killed on the leg from South Africa to Australia while racing on board the GREAT Britain yacht.

He had been on the foredeck of the vessel to help change a sail when the incident happened.

Speirs became separated from the boat which was in the Southern Ocean, in what were rough seas with 20 knots of wind and gusts at 40.

An investigation into why his tether failed to keep him attached to the boat is currently under way.