A female skipper at the helm of a Clipper Round The World yacht has sailed into the history books after becoming the first woman to win the race.
More than 11 months after leaving Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a fleet of 11 Clipper Race vessels returned to the North West city having completed their full circumnavigation.
It was Australian sailor and skipper Wendy Tuck who clinched overall victory on board Sanya Serenity Coast, followed closely by female British skipper Nikki Henderson on Visit Seattle.
Asked how she is feeling about picking up the title and winning, Tuck said: “I am really happy, it still hasn’t sunk in just yet, it is pretty amazing.”
She added that it was definitely the “highest moment” in her sailing career so far.
“It has been tough, it has been fun, it has been heartbreaking… I think every emotion you can think of – I have felt it at some stage,” she said.
Co-founder of the Clipper Race and the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world, Sir Robin Knox Johnston, said it was a “brilliant finish” to the Clipper 2017-2018 race.
Asked how momentous the win by a woman is, he said: “It is not just this race, it is any around-the-world race – it is the first time ever a female has won.
“It is bigger than people think. The fact we have first and second with both lady skippers is quite remarkable.”
Asked what message it sends, he said it shows that it is a “level playing field”, adding: “They got no favours because they were ladies.
“They had battles with extremely capable male sailors and they beat them. I think it says to any lady, any girl, you can do it if you want to.”
The 70ft Clipper yachts were raced across the planet by 712 amateur sailors – led by professional skippers – in what is the 11th edition of the biennial race.
Split into eight legs, the first was from the UK to Punta del Este, Uruguay, which was the longest opening leg in the 21-year history of the race, at more than 6,400 nautical miles.
Across the total 40,000 nautical miles, the race also visited other cities around the world, including Seattle, Cape Town, Sanya and Qingdao.
The race officially ended on Saturday with a sprint finish up the River Mersey to the Royal Albert Dock, with throngs of spectators lining the waterside to welcome the fleet home.
Tuck, 53, finished on 143 points, 25-year-old skipper Henderson, the daughter of Conservative MP Anne Milton, was hot on her heels with 139 points.
Henderson said: “By far it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I wonder if it might be the hardest thing I ever do.
“I am so young, and I think I have come on such a journey, I feel like a different person to the person that left last year.”
Henderson, the youngest ever skipper in the Clipper Race, said beforehand that she felt “very privileged” to have been given the opportunity to lead a crew around the world.
Of her appointment she added: “I hope to encourage more young people to do things out of the normal, defined career path that society sets out for us.”
Based in Portsmouth, her selection meant she stole the youngest skipper title from Alex Thomson, who at the age of 26 led a team to win the Clipper Round The World race in 1998.
Thomson finished second in the gruelling solo round-the-world Vendee Globe race in January last year – in what is known as single-handed offshore racing’s ultimate test.
As the crews finished the race for the sprint up the River Mersey, which was won by Garmin, Sir Robin said the teams were still battling it out right until the last moment.
“All these people, so many of them have just been around the world, and they are still fighting.”
Sir Robin praised the way the crews had handled a particularly difficult storm in the Pacific Ocean during the race, and said he is “very, very proud” of all the participants.
But this edition of the race was not without incident.
In November the Greenings yacht, one of 12 which originally left Liverpool, ran aground off the coast of South Africa, forcing the vessel to be withdrawn due to damage.
And in the same month, 60-year-old retired solicitor Simon Speirs from Bristol was killed while racing on board the GREAT Britain yacht, on the leg from South Africa to Australia.
He had been on the foredeck of the vessel to help change a sail when the incident happened.
Speirs became separated from the boat in the Southern Ocean, in what were rough seas with 20 knots of wind and gusts at 40.
An investigation into why his tether failed to keep him attached to the boat is currently underway.