Nearly 200 miles and 24 engine hours after leaving NY, Clipper fleet finally gets away. David Pugh reports from aboard Liverpool 7/7/06

After yesterday’s light winds, the Atlantic certainly showed some personality last night. Gusts up to 35 knots alternated with periods of near calm as the wind backed through from south-west to north-west, spending a few hours in the east to head the boats in the process. But by 0945 local time (1345UT) the breeze had apparently settled to around 15 knots from the NNW and the fleet was ready to start.

We’re now under way, close-hauled to a fickle Force 3/4 that has shifted back to the SE and preparing for what could a be a long beat, but it’s good to be free of the noise of the engine and able to enjoy the easy motion of the yacht under sail.

I mentioned the ‘Le Mans’ start briefly yesterday – the skippers agree on a time to start and the boats line up alongside in a pre-determined order, with mainsails already hoisted. A 10-minute warning is given, and at one minute engines are switched off. At the start, the staysail and yankee are hoisted and the race is on, with the boats following the same course for 10 minutes to avoid too many dirty tricks. It’s certainly odd to watch 10 boats congregate at an apparently random point in the ocean and begin a race, but it allows Clipper some flexibility with the start and finish of their races if the conditions are light. However, once started, the fleet are committed to sailing.

Liverpool’s skipper, Tim Magee, has been in charge of starting the race this time. At 29 he’s the second youngest skipper in the fleet, beaten by a few weeks byVictoria’s skipper Ewan Hind, but with two years as mate in a Challenge 67, followed by running the Challenge operation in the Caribbean, he has plenty of experience of this kind of ocean racing. He’s been withLiverpoolsince she was delivered, the first of the Clipper 68s.

Asked about the race so far, it was clear that his job has become easier and more enjoyable as the race has progressed. “It’s a lot of work at the beginning,” he said. “It took two or three months before I could leave the deck while any sail evolutions were carried out.”

Since then, I’ve seen for myself that the crew are more than competent and confident enough to sail the boat, although Tim’s input is still essential to ensureLiverpool’s performance. “Now it’s more about consistency and racing. My biggest responsibility is calling tactics,” he explained.

One aspect that intrigues me about the Clipper model of ocean racing is the disparity between those who undertake the full race and those who join for one or two legs. Speaking to crewmembers in New York some complained that the ‘worlders’ formed a clique which was hard to penetrate, but Tim disagrees in the case ofLiverpool. In fact, he bans the use of terms such as ‘worlder’ and ‘legger’, instead making the point that everyone is part of the team regardless of how long they are on the boat. “Fresh people can be a real asset to the boat and make positive changes to the crew dynamic. The other crew teach them as we go along – it works well,” he said.

From what I’ve seen so far, he’s right. Nine people on the boat have undertaken the whole race, and those who have only just joined the crew inevitably are allocated the simpler tasks at present, but without asking there is no way of distinguishing between the crew. After all, you would struggle to sail this boat with a crew of nine – it’s in everyone’s interest to work together.