Whale tail fluke, New Zealand

The Global Ocean Race gets underway!

EIA’s partnership with the Global Ocean Race (GOR) made its first tangible splash as the six yachts competing in the double-handed around-the-world yacht event began on Sunday, September 25, 2011.

EIA Director and whale campaigner Jennifer Lonsdale was in Palma, Mallorca, to meet the teams and promote the aims of the partnership.

The goals of the Partnership for the Future between EIA and GOR are to:

• Set good environmental standards for the race which will also be promoted to sailors around the world;

• Increase international awareness of the threat of collisions between whales and sailing yachts, and the imperative to report incidents of strikes on a no-blame basis;

• Launch a pioneering ‘Eyes of the Oceans’ data collection programme for the sailors to increase scientific knowledge of the marine ecosystem.

It was exciting to see these gorgeous 40ft sailing yachts lined up at the dock and feel the buzz of the race village. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to set sail on this eight-month, 30,000-mile odyssey knowing that you face some of the greatest challenges on Earth, including storms and doldrums, highs and lows, and waves so tall they defy belief that such small yachts can safely sail through them. In many ways, these sailors are travelling into the unknown.

The few days before the start were all about preparation. Six weeks’ worth of food and water was loaded on board, satellite trackers installed, sails, equipment and supplies loaded, everything checked and double-checked. The boats underwent the official race scrutiny process to ensure safety systems are in place and in full compliance with race rules.

The GOR organising team also worked flat out and in the weeks leading up to the start, with so much to do before these intrepid sailors were waved goodbye.

Jennifer made a presentation to the sailors at the Skippers’ Brief to discuss the partnership programme. These 12 sailors are the pioneers for the new ‘Eyes of the Oceans’ project instigated by EIA, and could contribute vital information to increase our scientific knowledge of the oceans.

Their enthusiasm to take photos of sights they see was very encouraging. This includes marine debris, whales, turtles or birds – in fact, anything they think could be interesting. They all have forms for recording further information. In addition, they have a reporting form in case they are involved in a collision with a whale – however, we sincerely hope that this form will remain empty and that they sail without incident.

Their documentation of the oceans could provide vital first-hand information for EIA’s campaigns to address threats to the marine environment and to whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The Global Ocean Race 2011-12 gets underway (c) Jesus Renedo/GOR

The Start

September 25 was a beautiful sunny day in Palma de Mallorca. At 8am, the GOR yachts were surprisingly silent, as though their skippers had forgotten they were due to set sail on a remarkable journey around the world. At the Global Ocean Race Village café, some were sending last minute e-mails over the last proper cooked breakfast they would have for about 40 days.

By 11am, the dock was abuzz and packed with spectators eager to see the yachts and their crews. A local priest said prayers for the race and its competitors, families were hugged, a Mallorcan singer beautifully performed Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye, bringing tears to the eyes. The sailors then boarded and moved one-by-one from the dock to the start line just outside Palma harbour. The Global Ocean Race 2011-2012 was about to begin.

There was a reasonable wind as the start gun was fired and the yachts, cheered on by many spectator boats, sailed off on their global adventure. It was so exciting to see yachts bearing the EIA logo.

The yachts can be followed on the GOR race tracker, which you can find here. The website includes news of the race’s progress, great pictures and information about the teams. In addition, there is a virtual GOR game to be played!

The Phesheya Racing, bearing the EIA logo (c) Hetty Madge

Progress so far

The sailors have passed through the Straights of Gibraltar and are now heading towards the Canary Islands. They aim to reach Cape Town for the first stop-over in about 40 days.

Already, Phillippa Hutton-Squire aboard Phesheya Racing has reported seeing three turtles, many dolphins and some flying fish. Sadly, she also reports seeing a lot of garbage, including an inflatable beach toy in the shape of a dog!

Regular updates will be posted here on the progress of the Global Ocean Race competitors and the sights they see as they navigate the oceans.