The contenders are lining up for the penultimate fifth leg of the Clipper 2002 Round the World Series, which gets underway tomorrow, Friday, 6 June 2003.
The eight-strong international fleet will set sail at 08:00 GMT on a 2,311 mile long race from Mauritius to Cape Town.
Race 12 is set to provide a great deal of interest as the 60-foot yachts, namely Bristol, Cape Town, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Jersey, Liverpool, London and New York, will be affected by several diverse weather patterns and currents as they head to the south west to round the Cape of Good Hope.
The Clipper fleet's visit to Mauritius has seen the arrival of some 25 eager new recruits who have waited to do battle on the high seas since the Clipper 2002 race set sail last October from the UK city of Liverpool, crowned this week as the European Capital of Culture 2008.
His Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Mauritius, Mr Raouf Bundhun, will sound the hooter on the Coast Guard Ship Interceptor at 12:00 local time to start Race 12 from Port Louis, amidst the perfect setting of a dramatic mountainous backdrop.
Embarking on a route from Mauritius to the South of Madagascar, the fleet will then race to Agulhas Current (East London area) and onto Agulhas Point, before their scheduled arrival in Cape Town on Saturday, 21 June 2003.
The first part of Race 12 is approximately 750 miles with the direct line going through the centre of Reunion and it is expected that most yachts will pass to the south of the island. The weather will be much as they experienced en route to Mauritius with SE Trade Winds, until they get further south where these will start to diminish. The currents can be strong and tiresome to the south and southwest of Madagascar and the crews could also confront dramatic electrical storms in this area.
Sooner or later the yachts will have to cross the Agulhas current, a testing time for the Clipper skippers as they judge where and when to do so. In practice, the decision will of course be driven by the prevailing conditions at the time. The race onwards to Agulhas Point promises to be just as fascinating and the yachts will either have fairly light tail winds and a strong current under them, or be fighting the south westerlies.
Cape Agulhas, and not the Cape of Good Hope, is actually the southern most point of Africa. Rounding the successions of capes past Cape Agulhas can be a lengthy and time-consuming task, just when the yachts are relatively near the end of Race 12. The weather at the Cape can be anything between calms and 70 knots, so all of the Clipper crews will be kept on their toes.
Their destination of Cape Town, otherwise known as the Tavern of the Seas, has much to offer the crews from the 1,000 metre high Table Mountain to the wine growing area around Stellenbosch. An especially warm welcome awaits the fleet's South African skipper Roger Steven-Jennings and his crew aboard Cape Town Clipper. The boats will then re-victual here for the crossing of the Southern Atlantic to the port of Salvador in Brazil and the conclusion of the fifth crew leg.
With just three points dividing 1st and 2nd place on the leader board, it will be hard to top the excitement of the last two crew legs of Clipper 2002. As the series has advanced through the longer ocean races and the challenging sprints in Asian waters, it has become clear that the cerebral agility of the skippers and crews is just as important as eking every ounce of boat speed possible.
In other words, it is still anybody's race. The two frontrunners, Jersey and Bristol treated race spectators to a thrilling showdown on the Clipper 2000 event where the overall result hinged on the closing sprint of the sixteen race series. These two teams are again looking strong, but the chasing pack are well-placed to stop a repeat performance and the final two legs of the Clipper 2002 race promise to hold countless dramas in store yet.