In 1995, Sir Robin’s vision to allow people from all walks of life to race around the world was rapidly taking shape. Eight 60-foot David Pedrick-designed yachts were being built by Colvic Craft and the crews recruited. The yachts were all named after the original tea clippers which ruled the waves 150 years ago, racing to deliver their cargo from China to the fashionable, tea-drinking sets in London. In the Great Tea Race of 1866, Ariel was first over the finish line, completing the 15,000-mile race from the Chinese port of Foo-Chow-Foo to London in just 90 days.
More than a century later, another Clipper race was underway, as eight yachts devoid of sponsors’ badges and with minimum fanfare slipped out from Plymouth under the watchful gaze of a handful of spectators, heralding a new dawn in ocean racing. And it was fitting that on their return eleven months later it was Ariel, skippered by Ras Turner, which picked up the inaugural trophy.
The contrast from the first race to the start of Clipper 07-08 could not be more pronounced. At the start of the most recent circumnavigation, thousands of spectators lined the banks of Liverpool’s River Mersey to watch ten stripped down Ed Dubois-designed 68-foot racers head for the start line. Each boat carried the proud team colours of its global sponsors and as Durban 2010 and Beyond battled with Hull & Humber, Uniquely Singapore, New York, Qingdao, Jamaica, Glasgow Scotland with style Clipper, Nova Scotia, westernaustralia2011.com and Liverpool 08, the Clipper Race really had come of age.
Back in 1996, the Clipper route went westabout, racing from Plymouth to Madeira, Fort Lauderdale, Panama, Galapagos, Hawaii, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Seychelles, Durban, Cape Town, Salvador de Bahia and back to Plymouth via the Azores.
Two years later, the route was modified slightly to allow a visit to Marina Hemmingway, five miles west of Havana in Ciba. This adjustment also included a brief stop at Nassau in the Bahamas. A visit to New York replaced the Azores and the new route worked well for Ariel which once again took overall first place under the youthful skipper Alex Thomson – who used the win to springboard him in to the international racing scene on his Open 60 Hugo Boss.
The Clipper 2000 Race heralded a big change for the company when The Times newspaper came onboard as title sponsor, featuring the race as their Millennium project. The race was re-named The Times Clipper 2000 and for the first time, the yachts were backed by UK cities. In a grand parade out of Portsmouth harbour, the home boat prepared for the off against entries from Plymouth, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Jersey and Liverpool.
The race attempted to make it from Yokohama to Shanghai but a fierce storm in Tokyo Bay caused damage to several of the boats and by the time they had returned to Japan for repair, the entry visas to China had lapsed. Instead, the fleet raced to Naha, the capital of Japanese island Okinawa. Another diversion took place in May 2001 when mechanical problems to Bristol Clipper’s generator meant the fleet spent two days in Christmas Island and the crews got an unexpected Australian stamp in their passports.
In another modification to the Clipper ‘96 and Clipper ‘98 route, stops were included in Vilamoura (Portugal), Singapore and Mauritius with the penultimate race going from New York to the Channel Island port of St. Helier. It meant that the race back to Portsmouth was a short one, providing a grandstand finish for spectators and media alike. And what a finish they had with Jersey, Bristol and London all fighting for overall honours. In the end, it was Bob Beggs on Bristol who just pipped Jersey for the lead crystal Times Clipper 2000 trophy.
Buoyed by the success of the 2000 event, the city concept was expanded for the Clipper 2002 Race with entries from international cities including Cape Town, Hong Kong and New York. The race continued to go westabout for the fourth (and final) circumnavigation by the venerable Clipper 60 fleet. On this occasion, the race start was from the city of Liverpool – the first time a global yacht race had used the River Mersey, endorsing Clipper’s strategy of taking the sport of ocean racing to new markets and new audiences.
The north west of England threw down a powerful gauntlet over race start weekend with 100 mph gusts turning the local waters in to a boiling maelstrom and the start was postponed from the Sunday until the next day. Despite that, more than 40,000 spectators were there to cheer the fleet on their way.
As in 2000, the attempt to race in to Shanghai failed – this time thanks to the promised berthing facilities being withdrawn. Further along the route, the fleet was challenged by the dreaded SARS virus and the yachts were forced to find an alternative location close to Singapore. The popular Indonesian island of Batam provided the facilities and the stop proved so popular, it was a catalyst to Singapore entering a yacht in the next running of the race.
Jersey Clipper, which had come so close to winning in 2000, now tasted the victor’s champagne as skipper Simon Rowell and his crew stood on the podium’s top step as overall winners.
A new fleet of Ed Dubois 68-foot racing yachts was commissioned in time for Clipper 05-06 and the race fleet increased from eight boats to ten. Built in China, they are now on their fourth circumnavigation and represent a truly international mixture of cities. Going east-about for the first time, the race route has taken in more firsts, including Cascais in Portugal, La Rochelle in France, Fremantle in Western Australia, the Olympic sailing venue of Qingdao in China, Victoria in British Columbia, Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia and Cork in the west of Ireland, Gold Coast Australia and Tauranga in the North Island of New Zealand.
Despite these changes, the race remained true to its Clipper heritage, selecting routes that allowed for a high proportion of downwind sailing – the most exciting and technically demanding point of sail. A longer hull line, taller mast, lighter overall weight and a flatter bottom meant faster boat speeds and the Clipper 68’s have enjoyed downwind surfs approaching 30 knots!
For 2012, the race start moves again and this time the South of England will see a round the world start when the Clipper fleet convenes on the Solent in July 2011.
Since 1996, the Clipper Race has taken more than 3,000 people from all walks of life and turned them in to long distance racers. In Clipper 09-10, these came from 27 nationalities and most have gone on to continue their love of the sea through boat purchases, sailing holidays and jobs in the marine sector. The Clipper alumni of former crew is an extraordinary list of exceptional people, each of them bonded forever by the lifechanging experience and camaraderie that racing around the world brings.
With the eighth edition of the race, Clipper 11-12 starting in August 2012, highly respected naval architect Tony Castro has been commissioned to design a new fleet that will bring the Clipper Race to the next level for Clipper 13-14 and beyond.
Tony Castro's new Clipper 70 will form the third generation of Clipper racing yachts and his design is an exciting one, perfectly suited for this particularly gruelling sailing event. The new yachts will be built in China and fitted out by UK and International suppliers and the fleet will increase from ten to 12 yachts. The crew capacity of each yacht has increased from 20 to 22.
For the Clipper 13-14 Round the World Yacht Race the introduction of the Clipper 70 steps things up a gear one more.
The inclusion of state of the art features in the new hull design will give better performance and, when surfing on big following seas, the Clipper 70 is likely to set new speed records compared to previous fleets, where crews can expect to top 30 knots in good weather conditions.
New features include twin helms, twin rudders and a six-foot bowsprit which includes the inclusion of a huge Code Zero sail to complement a suite of Yankee headsails, staysail and main. The new sail will increase performance in light airs and deliver higher daily average speeds across the 40,000-mile race. the mainsail will have three reefing points and will be set from a 92-foot mast.