Delayed start for NY Clipper start. Yachting World's David Pugh who's on Liverpool reports 6/7/06

It was hardly the most auspicious start to the final ocean crossing of the Clipper 05/06 race – vertical stair-rods of ever-heavier rain left crews sweltering in foul weather gear as the fleet left North Cove Yacht Harbour, New York.

A couple of passes in front of the Statue of Liberty, peering through the gloom to the waiting cameras, and the boats started a long motor out to the planned starting rendezvous off Ambrose light.

That motor was to prove even longer – very light winds caused the skippers to decide to motor farther east before beginning the race, hoping to find stronger, more settled winds in the open ocean. An attempt was made to start the fleet at around 1830 local time, but the ever-fickle breeze, which had been filling in for the previous quarter-hour, once again dropped away to virtually nothing. We motored on.

A deadline was set for 2000 for the latest possible start, and with no change in the weatherLiverpoolskipper Tim Magee, in charge of co-ordinating the start, chose to defer the attempt until 0600 the following morning. As I write, we’re under engine making around 9 knots in the right direction.

It seems odd to be motoring in what is, after all, a sailing race, but this is something Clipper has perfected – although once the race has started engines will no longer be permitted. To achieve an unsupervised mid-ocean start, the Le Mans technique is used. The boats cruise in line abreast under engines, with mainsails up and their staysails hanked on. On a countdown from the lead boat, engines are switched off, staysails are hoisted and the sailing begins. Fine in theory, but more on this tomorrow when, hopefully, I will have first hand experience!

Regardless of propulsion, the watch system got under way today and I had the dubious pleasure of the ‘Mother watch’. Once every nine days in our case, a pair of crewmembers, one from each watch, are detailed to look after the rest of the crew for the day, providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and occasional snacks and drinks.

Mainstream watch duties are largely waived, as it’s a full time job looking after 19 Brit’s demands for tea. I’m full of admiration for anyone who has to do that job in big seas – in the gentle Atlantic swell we’re currently experiencing there still seems to be plenty to do.

Tomorrow, hopefully, the race will begin in earnest, but for now we’re making good progress – welcome for what may be a tight schedule. The route the boats will take is simply the Great Circle course, with a waypoint set to avoid the Nantucket shoal. A mid-Atlantic low is forecast to give us better winds and some exciting sailing, but for now the rain is back and the wind is still only around five knots. But perhaps by tomorrow’s report the engine noise will finally have ceased and we’ll be doing what this race is really about – sailing.