Last Saturday evening when most Australians were in the middle of their bedtime routines, or perhaps already asleep, on the other side of the world another Australian was making history.
On Saturday evening at approximately 10.52pm AEST, Australian sailor Wendy Tuck became the first woman in history to win a round the world yacht race when she crossed the line in the thirteenth and final race of the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
The thirteenth and final race was a 900 nautical mile dash from Derry-Londonderry around Ireland to Liverpool in the United Kingdom with the stunning finale being a sprint down the River Mersey before Wendy and her team were awarded the Clipper Race trophy at the Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool.
Wendy and her team were given a welcome worthy of heroes – and it was well deserved considering that the sailors had been at sea for almost a year.
Thousands of people gathered along the River Mersey to watch that final sprint and were there when fireworks and confetti cannons exploded, setting a party atmosphere to celebrate the historic victory.
It had been almost a year to the date that the yachts had first departed for the 11th edition of the race.
It was an incredible race from Wendy and her Sanya Serenity Coast team who had been at the top of the leader board since the Australian Leg of the Race back in January and had a 14 point lead heading into the final leg, with only one main competitor remaining.
In the context of a performance which has put Wendy in the history books, it was pleasing to see that heading into the final leg, Wendy’s only other competitor was the only other female skipper competing in this year’s Clipper.
At age 24, Nikki Henderson was the youngest Skipper in the 22 year history of the race. Her crew, Visit Seattle, was still able to cause an upset heading into the final leg because they still had their Joker Card up their sleeve. This Joker Card doubles the number of race points earned in the race in which it is played.
By the time the sprint up the Mersey started, the win was out of reach though with Visit Seattle coming in second behind Wendy and her crew after finishing at the top of four podiums during the race.
While still at sea, Wendy commented on the rivalry between the pair, saying, “I don’t see Nikki as a female competitor, I just see her as a really good sailor. I think her age is more incredible than her gender. I always say at 24 I couldn’t even look after myself let alone Skipper a 70-foot yacht full of crew and go round the world.”
Nikki is certainly a skipper to watch in the future.
The Clipper is now in its 11th year and is an 11 month, 40,000 nautical mile ocean challenge. In this year’s edition, participants visited six continents and made their way across six ocean crossings with stopovers in Punta del Este, Cape Town, Fremantle, Sydney, Hobart, The Whitsundays, Sanya, Qingdao, Seattle, Panama, New York and Derry-Londonderry.
The race was established by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1996, who was the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world with the goal of training non-professionals to become sailors.
When signing up to compete in the race, 40 per cent of participants have no previous sailing experience. These participants then undergo four weeks of compulsory training before competing and then spend almost a year out at sea.
In this year’s race, 711 people from 41 different nations took part, including our very own Wendy Tuck.
When I first heard about Wendy and her chance to make history, I had very little understanding of how challenging sailing and particularly the Clipper race is.
To put it in perspective, when I think of the hardest and most demanding of physical challenges, I think about those who make a decision to climb Mount Everest. More people have climbed Mount Everest than people who have made their way around the world as part of this race.
During the race, the competitors sail on board eleven identical 70-foot ocean racing yachts and they experienced 14 metre waves and hurricane winds during their journey as well as other challenges thrown to them by the weather and the ocean.
Wendy’s success is a very proud moment for Australia. With the victory she also became the first Australian to complete two circumnavigations with the Clipper Race and has stood on the podium six times, including second in the Clipper 70 Class of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race which doubled as Race 5 of the Clipper 2017-18 Race.
She is only the sixth Australian Skipper to participate in the Clipper, with Richard Hewson winning the race with team Gold Coast Australia in the Clipper 2011-12 Race, and team Spirit of Australia, skippered by British sailor Brendan Hall, winning the 2009-10 edition.
On finishing first, Wendy had this to say: “I can’t believe it. It hasn’t really sunk in really but I am just so happy. It is so, so special.
“I hate banging on about women. It’s just do what I do. But I am very proud and even prouder of my team. They are the ones that did all the work and considering many had never sailed before, what they have accomplished is incredible.”
I wonder whether it was the Australian flag and boxing kangaroo on board that gave Wendy the luck she needed on her incredible year long journey.