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Boats in London gearing up for start of Clipper race

'Switzerland' will carry the name of Mercy Ships as it circumnavigates the world. Credit: David Baehler

Anyone visiting St Katharine Docks next to Tower Bridge will see a row of colourful sailing ships. These are the Clipper Race yachts going through final preparations for the race start on Sunday.

The twelve yachts arrived in London on Friday after a leisurely cruise up the Thames.

'Switzerland' at the O2 Arena.

It was very different at 1am on Friday morning on board my yacht 'Switzerland' as we attempted to navigate the approach to the Thames in the dark. The Thames Estuary is infamous for hidden sandbanks which lie just under the surface, endangering yachts that stray out of the correct channel.

The only clue where to go is a myriad of floating buoys with flashing lights indicating the areas to avoid. From up high on the bridge of a huge container ship, those lights mark out a clear route to follow. But we were on a much smaller yacht and the lights are a lot more confusing at a lower angle.

The buoys' lights are all set to flash with a different pattern - for instance, two flashes every five seconds or four flashes every twelve. So that left me peering through binoculars trying to spot each light and work out which one was flashing the required pattern.

Under the supervision of our watch leader Charlie and skipper Vicky, we picked them out and safely found our way through - though we found out later that one of the other Clipper yachts had had a close shave with a sandbank.

Preparation underway on Clipper yacht.

Members of the Switzerland crew have now spent almost three weeks preparing her for the first leg of the race and sailing her from her usual home in Gosport to London.

It's been a lot of hard work - tasks included maintenance on the mast, storing 42 days-worth of food and building a watermaker so we have fresh water to drink.

Safety drills ahead of race.

On the sail to London, we carried out our safety drills (we dropped our bosun Gordon in the water for a man overboard exercise) and practised our racing manoeuvres.

The official crew registration was yesterday and there are now just three days to go before the race starts for real on September 1.

Yacht sails as race begins on September 1.

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