by Peter Carruthers
THE Whitsundays said farewell to the 11-strong Clipper Round the World fleet after a two-week break on their 40,000 nautical mile race around the world.
The fanfare on the dock at Abell Point Marina as the yachts slipped lines in the Whitsundays for the last time was punctuated by hugs, family farewells and a real atmosphere of excitement as crews embarked on the next chapter in their global challenge.
Mayor Andrew Willcox posed up with skipper of Sanya Serenity Coast, Wendy Tuck, before making a short address and wishing crews bon voyage.
The fleet headed out into a 15 knot breeze for the traditional parade of sails before the sailing of a short course around Pioneer Bay, the finishing order determined the yacht's positioning for a Le Mans race start tomorrow morning once the fleet is clear of the Great Barrier Reef.
Clipper head of global communications, Julia Fry said Visit Seattle will claim the position in the most windward position but over a 7,700kms the starting order would not make a big difference.
"We are expecting them to arrive in Sanya between the 21 and the 25 February,” she said.
Ms Fry said Sanya is a very proud sailing city and have just hosted the Volvo Ocean Race and Junior World Sailing Championships.
Clipper crews have all enjoyed the break taking in the sights and tastes of the inaugural Whitsunday Clipper Carnival, Ms Fry said.
"It has been really important to them, especially at this time in the race. The Whitsundays is half way in terms of that route mileage.
"This has been the longest stop, the skippers have all had three days off which is rare and the crews have had some time away form the boat.”
The Whitsundays is a change over port which means a lot of the boats have new crew members onboard.
"So the teaching process starts again at the beginning of the leg. But all the boats have their skipper and a core group of around the worlders, to begin that coaching process with them,” Ms Fry said.
The fleet will now motor sail south through the Whitsunday Passage before threading their way through the Great Barrier Reef at Hydrographers Passage before the racing proper starts tomorrow morning from White Tip Reef.