Yachting World's David Pugh reports from New York as the Clipper race prepares for the journey home 4/7/06

After 11 months sailing round the world, the Clipper fleet are about to start their last major sail before the finish in Liverpool, scheduled for 29 July. It’s been an eventful race so far, with the fleet of 10 brand-new Dubois 68s suffering keel failure and requiring a lengthy stopover in the Philippines while repairs were carried out, and a crew member having to be evacuated from theJerseyClipper for medical attention after an accidental gybe.

The next race runs 3,070 miles across the Atlantic from New York to Jersey, and I’m joining theLiverpoolClipper for the journey back into home waters. Currently the fleet are busy with last minute preparations – the dock at North Cove Yacht Harbor, New York, is a hive of activity with people making last minute repairs and checking that the victualling is in hand. Our boat seems to have a slight nutritional imbalance at present, with huge numbers of snacks and no vegetables, but hopefully that will be rectified before we leave and Jersey’s hospitals won’t have a sudden influx of scurvy patients.

Last night was the prizegiving for the last race, with credit going toSingaporeandWestern Australia, who took first and second place racing from Jamaica. There was plenty of food and beer from our American hosts and a good party atmosphere, but the real party for New York starts today with the Independence Day celebrations. Starting an ocean race with a hangover is something to be avoided, but the crews are certainly concentrating on completing their preparations in time for the fireworks this evening.

The start is scheduled for 10am local time tomorrow morning, and so far the weather forecast predicts very light breezes from the south-east. After a zero wind start in Jamaica the fleet are hoping for something a little more exciting, and I’m certainly hoping to get a race feel from the start to my first Atlantic crossing, not to mention first ocean race. I won’t pretend not to be apprehensive, but my first impressions of the skippers and crews are of a group of people that, even if they started out as amateurs, are definitely professionals by now. Most say that the race has changed them to a greater or lesser extent, and some are certainly concerned about the future – one ofVictoria’s crew commented to me last night: “I came on this voyage with the intention of making some life-changing decisions – I’ve just realised I’ve only got a month left to make them.”

Liverpoolcurrently occupies third place overall, so the pressure is very much on to keep and improve our position. I’ll be posting reports of our progress and some personal angles from the fleet as we battle to move further up the fleet, so keep visiting yachtingworld.com for more news about the final stages of this round-the-world adventure.