Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's eight strong fleet of 60-footers leave Portsmouth on their third race round the world

Blue skies and bright sunshine greeted the start of the third The Times Clipper 2000 round the world race on Sunday. The event is organised by Clipper Ventures plc whose chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, was present to watch the eight identical 60ft yachts start off Southsea Castle, Portsmouth for the 1,000-mile first leg to Vilamoura, Portugal.

The eight competitors are being sponsored by a city: London, Bristol, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool and the Island of Jersey. An estimated 20,000-strong crowd gathered on the shore, and nearly 2,000 spectator boats vied for a position to watch the start. Olympic Gold medallist Shirley Robertson was aboard the Destroyer HMS Glasgow, which led the competitors and the spectator boats towards the start.

However, there was little wind, and only two of the yachts made good starts. London Clipper was first over the line with Bristol Clipper crossing shortly afterwards. The other six were left floundering against the tide and four of the Clippers were forced to turn on their to avoid being swept onto the committee boat marking the start line.

After this slightly chaotic and slow start, only Plymouth and Bristol Clippers managed to get inside the two buoys off Cowes and escape the Solent, leaving the other Clippers to kedge for six hours. By this morning, Plymouth Clipper had drawn out a two-mile lead on Bristol, with the chasing pack a further 21 miles behind.

Each yacht is crewed by 15 amateur sailors and is led by a professional skipper. Crew have paid anywhere between GBP6,500 for an individual leg, which takes 6-8 weeks, to GBP23,000 for the entire race. A circumnavigation takes approximately 11 months. Clive Kennedy, 41, who will be doing all six legs on Portsmouth Clipper decided to spend his redundancy pay from a job as an IT specialist and says it is “better than a pension or an investment”.

The race is predominently downwind, following the tradewinds route. Stopovers include Cuba, Galapagos, Hawaii and Hong Kong, which is the halfway point of the race. The fleet will return back through Singapore, Cape Town, Brazil and New York with a final stopover on the island of Jersey before the race to the finish at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth in September 2001.