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Matthew Corrigan

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Neil Stafford Whaley Bridge

The Review is following the progress of Whaley Bridge-born sailor Neil Stafford aboard the round-the-world racing yacht Liverpool2018.

March saw the fleet reach China, arriving in Sanya, at the southern tip of Hainan. From here, they set a course through the East China Sea, passing Taiwan to arrive at the Yellow Sea port of Qingdao. The weather changed dramatically en route, Hainan Island's tropical climate giving way to conditions not dissimilar to those seen in South Korea during that country's recent Winter Olympics. Qingdao welcomed the clippers with gifts of winter hats for all crew members.  

Chinese coastal waters are dominated by her vast fishing fleet, a serious hazard to vessels operating in the area. Radar screens fill with hundreds of images and the night sky can appear like a cityscape, with the lights of the fishing boats visible for miles. Having successfully navigated a path through the hordes of trawlers on her way in,  Liverpool2018 unfortunately became entangled in a fishing net while leaving port. Crew members frantically cutting away at the nets, the yacht came within 100 metres of a collision before managing to get free. Seaweed off the coast of Japan was the next hindrance. It took a week longer than expected for the fleet to reach the open ocean to properly begin the arduous trek across the Pacific.

Understandably, there were nerves ahead of the six thousand mile charge to Seattle. The Pacific is a terrifying prospect and the race has not been without tragedy. 

Facing waves up to fourteen metres and winds as high as fifty knots, all of the skippers decided to put safety ahead of speed. Crossing the International Date Line, it is likely that the humans nearest to the sailors were passing at a distance of some 250 miles, far overhead, as they orbited the earth aboard the International Space Station.

Neil Stafford

Thankfully, the fleet made it across the ocean unharmed. The decision did, however, delay their arrival into Seattle. Supporters had an unscheduled week's wait. Several members of Neil's family were there, only just managing to catch him before they had to fly home. Spending half a day with them, Uncle Neil was reunited with his nephew, Lucas, who is now ten months old. He was a tiny baby when Neil first set sail.

At time of writing the fleet is heading south again. Making their way to Panama, they will pass through the Canal three boats at a time, lashed together, before emerging into the warm blue waters of the Caribbean. With three months left to go, the teams are starting to sense the end. A truly life-changing experience.