SPORT — <I>Spirit of Australia</I> claims first victory of Clipper 09-10

SPORT - Spirit of Australia claims first victory of Clipper 09-10

Saturday, Feb 20: In a race that has thrown everything at the crews and seen positions on the leader board change daily, Spirit of Australia has claimed their first victory of Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race. Having moved into the lead five days ago, the Australian team were able to hold their nerve at the front of the fleet and crossed the finish line at 1307 local time (0507 GMT).

"Spirit of Australia is number one into Qingdao," exclaimed skipper Brendan Hall as they crossed the line.

"After an incredibly tough race, we have come through and snatched a victory all of us can be proud of and remember. Ten days ago, back in eighth position, we had set ourselves the goal of getting a mid-fleet position and keeping the boat undamaged for the next leg. To have overtaken the entire fleet was above what we thought was a realistic goal.

“In the end, though, our dogged persistence paid off as it always does and the rougher the conditions became, the more this team excelled. Now, we are en route to Qingdao marina, where we have been told a great party awaits us," he said.

With the finish located off Chaolian Dao, the team is now making their way by fastest means to Qingdao and the boat is expected to pull alongside late this afternoon local time.

In the meantime, the Olympic Sailing Centre in Qingdao is a riot of colour and sound as artists rehearse for the spectacular welcoming ceremony that will herald the team's arrival.

With a backdrop of giant posters that cover the sides of buildings, horses adorned with decorative head pieces prepare for dressage displays, martial art teams limber up and final touches are added to costumes for the welcome performance.

The soundtrack to all of this is a mixture of music, drumming, and excited chatter interspersed with the dull thud of fireworks that sound out across the city and serve as a constant reminder that the Chinese New Year celebrations are in full swing.

At the centre of everything, a giant stage resembling a large sailing vessel, complete with sails, stands proud and is where the team will be officially welcomed to the city and congratulated on their victory.

Back on the racetrack the fight for the remaining podium positions is a fierce one.

"Another exciting finish is developing," says Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper Pete Stirling.

"Having given up hope of beating Spirit of Australia into first place, our priority now is to keep Qingdao, who are snapping at our heels, at bay and retain our second place.

"I chatted with Chris (Stanmore-Major, skipper of Qingdao) on the radio this morning and understandably both of us were very coy about giving anything away about our positions or tactics. In true sporting fashion we have agreed that whatever the result the winning boat will wait for the other after crossing the line so that we can motor towards Qingdao in company ? as near as we can get to a handshake," he said.

The crew on board Uniquely Singapore are aware that a podium position may now be beyond them, but it won't stop them from trying. Skipper Jim Dobie said: "We've had a good night and we were with California until we hoisted the kite under the cover of darkness and managed to pull away from them.

“Since then, we have had a fast run and have tried our best to chase down the front three, which has proven to be a hard ask. We won't give up but we need something pretty special to get on the podium," he said.

California's disappointment is palpable and the team's skipper Pete Rollason expresses his frustration in his report to the race office today. "Despite driving hard and pushing every last ounce of speed from the wind, we have lost miles to the boats in front," he says.

"It is never over until you cross the line and we will fight all the way and can only hope that we may see some benefit over the next six to eight hours.

"The crew have performed magnificently and I could not have asked more of them. We are currently very disappointed with our position having been in second place for so long.

“Unfortunately, when the fleet is so closely matched, make one little mistake and it will cost you big time. That one mistake came a couple of nights ago and we have been struggling to regain the losses ever since," said Rollason.

This morning's position report provides clear evidence that Hull & Humber's tactic of staying farther east has failed to deliver. Skipper Piers Dudin says, "So our flyer didn't pay off. Looking at the forecast three days ago it appeared the guys on the inside would get caught by the light airs in the high-pressure ridge and it would then move out to catch us, but to a lesser extent.

“It now seems like we were the only ones to be affected by the light winds and by the time we caught the fairer breeze behind, it was too late. We figured there was a 30 per cent chance of doing really well with the move but it wasn't to be," said Dudin.

For the team's that know a podium-place is now out of reach, thoughts are turning to their arrival in Qingdao and plans for the Chinese stopover.

"It looks like we will cross the finish line later this evening and enter the Olympic Sailing Centre tomorrow morning," says Cape Breton Island's skipper Jan Ridd. "We have decided not to go straight into the deep clean and maintenance of the boat, but make our way to the hotel and get some needed rest first."

Positions at 0600 UTC, Saturday, February 20

1. Spirit of Australia

Finished 0507 GMT
2. Jamaica Lightning Bolt

3. Qingdao

4. Uniquely Singapore

5. California

6. Cape Breton Island

7. Hull & Humber

8. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital

9. Team Finland


*DTF = Distance to Finish)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at

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Photo: Spirit of Australia skippered by Brendan Hall arrives in first place in Qingdao, China at the end of Race 6 from Singapore.