Famous backdrop for start of the world’s longest ocean race

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THE crew of Great Britain led the way under Tower Bridge yesterday as scores of amateur sailors set off on the world’s longest ocean race.

They include Sophie Hetherton, from York, who at 18 is the youngest female competitor in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, an epic, 40,000-mile challenge featuring 12 stripped- down 70ft ocean racers.

Miss Hetherton, who is on board Mission Performance, recently received her A-level results from The Mount school in York and should find her A grade in geography useful.

She and the rest of the round-the-worlders will sail across six continents, stopping at 16 ports including exotic locations such as Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Singapore, Qingdao, Panama and Jamaica, before returning to St Katherine’s Docks in London, where the race began, in July next year.

Others have chosen to complete only part of the journey.

Crowds in excess of 120,000 lined the banks of the Thames to see the start of the latest staging of the biennial event, which was launched by racing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo non-stop around the globe.

“It is wonderful to see these gutsy people set off on one of the greatest adventures left on the planet,” Sir Robin said.

“Departing from the iconic Tower Bridge, in the British capital London, is something really special for the crews and skippers who have been building up to this moment for months.

“To see them return to London as accomplished circumnavigators in 11 months time will be a special moment.”

About 3,500 have taken part in the race, with 670 signed up this year.

Miss Hetherton decided to have her waist-length hair cut before setting off.

“With four-hour watches and no home luxuries like a hot shower or bath, I knew there would be no way I would be able to even wash my hair and it would have been far too uncomfortable,” she said.