The race of our lives has officially begun

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I saw the start of a yacht race and no ordinary race either, but the Clipper 2019/20 RTW yacht race with my crew mates aboard Punta del Este vying with 10 other identical Clipper 70 yachts at 10am on the start line just off Southend pier in Essex. I feel like I have just waved off my children, wondering if and when I’ll see them again! I didn’t sleep a wink last night for thinking about how they were doing, what they’d likely be doing on board and how everyone must be feeling after a momentous weekend in the public eye and much hand shaking and flag waving. The last 4 days have been a blur of speeches, blessings, hugs, flag waving, greetings, drinks receptions and heightened emotions. I have not done much sleeping nor eating of hearty meals if truth be told.

I am now adding the Clipper race viewer to an already growing list of things that help me procrastinate with academic work on a daily basis. I have been rather glued to it waiting to see who will strike out from the fleet and lead on over the horizon towards the finish line of Race 1 off Portimao in Portugal in about a week’s time. I love the significance of the publication date for the first Crew Diary entry and Skipper’s daily report from the boat – both being my birthday – so I hope that’s an auspicious start to the race for Punta del Este!

But before these were both posted from the boat on the 3rd September, St. Katherine’s Dock and Southend Pier had seen a lot of frenzied activity, media crews and displays of strong emotions, which for me, began with our yacht’s naming ceremony on Friday 30th August.

Race Start officially kicked off with our racing yacht being named at 6pm on Friday 30th August in St Katherine’s Dock by the Commodore of Punta del Este yacht club (far right) and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (middle) with one of our team member’s, Fernando, from Uruguay.

The crew who are on Leg 1 and the circumnavigators (of which our team has only 8 out of a crew of 69) were joined by other Punta del Este leggers, such as myself and Sue (pictured below). We cheered on our crew with much chanting of “Vamos! Punta del Este” and waving of anything matching our team/boat colour, as well as the pennant for Punta del Este yacht club (our team’s boat sponsor). Our cheering and chanting could be heard from St. Katherine’s Dock all the way down the Thames estuary to Southend Pier.

Family and friends turned out to see Punta del Este slip her lines and motor down the Thames in the 11-strong fleet, accompanied by media in helicopters and accompanying vessels of all sizes on the Thames. The atmosphere was electric and I was quite emotional at the thought that the next time I am on the Thames hearing “Vamos! Punta del Este” I will have just sailed in the Pacific and across the Atlantic and be coming home myself after 3.5 months on board; that’s in just under a year from now – a few weeks before my next birthday.

A lovely surprise for my family and friends who had turned up to share in this momentous day was seeing the iconic Tower Bridge opening up to allow the fleet of Clipper 70s to pass down the Thames.

Team Punta del Este was leading the fleet down the Thames since Punta del Este is the destination all the yachts are sailing to marking the official end of Leg 1. Their estimated arrival window is the 14-16th October 2019.

I was joined for the Parade of Sail by some family and friends and they all did me and the team proud by sporting (unofficial) Punta del Este team t-shirts (despite all declaring that yellow “wasn’t their colour”!) and the two youngest supporters in our gang had even been practicing the Spanish lyrics to our team song the night before! I was so proud of them.

A close friend and her daughter looking fabulous in yellow.
My kind-hearted mother-in-law and my number 1 junior crew supporter.
I think yellow rather suits my dad.
My number one supporter! My husband, Dave.
Capturing our Race Skipper’s ambition (aside from winning of course)!
I hadn’t got the heart to tel her they were upside down!
Skipper with fellow Spanish crew and the Commodore of Punta del Este yacht club, just before slipping the lines from St. Katherine’s Dock
Marking the start of our parade onto the stage as a team to wave off friends and family.
Punta del Este crew, well,some of us anyway.
Captures our hopes!
All I kept thinking as I observed my team from the spectator boat was “I wonder how they must be feeling and what they’re thinking?”

All the spectator boats left the fleet at the Thames barrier where they continued to motor down river and we turned back towards Tower Bridge. The following day I was up very early to make my way to Essex from Fenchurch Street train station to catch the fleet begin their 40,000 nautical mile circumnavigation from Southend Pier. Three canons were fired to mark the official race start at 10am (GMT) on Monday 1st September. I watched the fleet jostle with each other to claim an advantageous start line position and then wrestle with their spinnaker hoists before sailing off into the horizon. I had very mixed emotions about not being aboard with my crew mates at this stage of the race, but as I walked back up the pier I thought, race aside, I just hope all the yachts and crew return safe and well in mind and body. We are all amateur crews, so it’s remarkable really that we’re even living this opportunity to race around the world under sail. I am privileged to be a part of it.

Given my inexperience of sailing, let alone racing, I do find these yachts a little too close for comfort.
They crossed the start line in the lead too!
Getting those spinnakers up in close quarters!
It looks like Punta del Este have Korea hot on their heels…or should that be stern? 😉
Heading out of the Thames Estuary towards the English Channel, with spinnakers flying.
The last photo I took of the fleet before turning my back and walking towards Southend’s shore. I will not see Punta del Este again until I fly to Seattle in late-April 2020. At this point I’m not sure how I feel about that.

So, the race of our lives has officially begun and for the next 7.5 months I will be vicariously living it with my crew via the Race Viewer and reading the daily Crew Diary posted from the yacht and the daily Skipper’s Report. As they say in sailing circles; “fair winds and following seas”.

You can watch the Clipper live stream of the race start below. Punta del Este appear about 16 minutes 24 seconds in.

…And as I publish this post I am pleased to say Punta del Este have climbed up the leader board into 4th place!