Qingdao Clipper led the 10-yacht fleet at the start of the Clipper 05-06 Round the World Yacht Race yesterday on the River Mersey

The 10 new yachts competing in the Clipper 05-06 Round the World Yacht Race crossed the start line in the River Mersey at midday yesterday amid spectacular scenes ahead of their 35,000-mile circumnavigation.

Double Olympic Gold Medallist James Cracknell fired the start gun from the banks of the River Mersey in Liverpool, the European Capital of Culture 08.

Qingdao Clipper, skippered by 35-year-old Danny Watson, led the fleet across the line closely followed by New York and then Jersey Clipper. All the skippers decided to opt for the number one yankee headsail in the light breeze, apart from Graeme Johnston and his crew on Glasgow who stood out from the crowd with their larger genoa.

The new fleet of identical Clipper 68 yachts, each named after their international sponsor, set sail following a spectacular send off from Liverpool’s Albert Dock. Thousands of spectators lined to banks of the River Mersey to watch the yachts cross the start line after months of training and preparation.

The start took place amidst a carnival staged on the banks of the River Mersey that included street theatre, marquees from international sponsors, live music, an aerobatic display and a flotilla of more than 80 boats, attracting over 100,000 guests.

Among the gathered crowds were many of the crew’s family and friends as they waved their loved ones farewell ahead of their 10-month voyage around the world. Some of the fascinating ports of call on the way include Durban, South Africa; Perth, Western Australia; Qingdao, China; Victoria, Canada; New York, USA; Jersey and Singapore.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, founder and Chairman of Clipper Ventures PLC commented: “It’s a joy to see these great adventurers set off in such magnificent scenes. We wish them fair winds, the best of luck and a safe race around the world.”

After a brief stop-over in Cascais, Portugal the teams cross the Atlantic as they make their way down to Salvador in Brazil. This will be the first of three Atlantic crossings in the challenging race around the globe.

The yachts return to Liverpool’s Albert Dock on 1 July 2006.