Youngest Skipper, Nicola Henderson, Leads Visit Seattle Crew to Victory
On January 16, the 70’ clipper racing sailboat Visit Seattle sailed over the finish line of Airlie Beach in Whitsunday, Australia, securing a first-place win for Race 6 of the All-Australian Leg of the high-profile Clipper Round the World Race. This win makes skipper Nicola (Nikki) Henderson the first woman and the youngest skipper ever to win a race in the global sailing contest. The boat Visit Seattle, sponsored by Seattle’s destination marketing organization, made the win at 15:05:36 local time. This stop marked the end of the All-Australian 4th Leg of the race, and the start of the Asian Pacific 5th Leg. The Whitsunday stopover also marks the half-way, 20,000-nautical mile (nm) point of the 40,000-nm event.
The Clipper Round the World Race was started in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the legendary first person to sail solo non-stop around the world. The event takes experienced sailors and ordinary people who may never have even been on the water before, and sets them on a race around the world. The race takes place every two years, this year being its 11th incarnation.
Race 6 was 1,600 nm, starting in Tasmania and running up the east coast of Australia, and is known as a challenging race in one of the hardest legs. The waters around Australia experience sudden and extreme changes in conditions, going from calm and clear to stormy in just minutes. The boats faced two Southerly Buster storms and gust of 78 knots. Henderson’s log talks about one storm Visit Seattle sailed through a day or two before their win.
“The lightning was very dramatic and very close – it went on for a couple of hours like someone turning the lights on and off constantly. Like stuff from the movies.” The winning boat beat the second place PSP Logistics by only five nm, which was only one nm ahead of the third place Sanya Serenity Coast. The tough conditions and tougher competition makes the win by Henderson and the crew of the Visit Seattle even more impressive.
23-year-old Henderson is from Guilford, England, and the youngest skipper ever in the race, a title she takes from Alex Thompson who was 26 when he won the 1997-1998 Clipper Race. Even at her young age, she already has ten years of sailing experience. Henderson wanted to make sailing a career ever since a stint in the Sea Cadets, an organization that gives teenagers a chance to learn sailing skills. She has logged 38,000 nm since 2006, sailed in three Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) races, where she won the Youngest Skipper Award twice. She has competed in the Caribbean 600 race, two Cowes Weeks, co-skippered two Fastnet Campaigns, and has a total of 10,000 miles of offshore deliveries under her belt. She has taught over 200 students in the three years she has worked as an instructor for the Royal Yachting Association.
Henderson is quoted in her Clipper Race bio stating that, “I hope I can be an inspiration to other young people to go and achieve what they set out to do, to push boundaries.” With her exceptional accomplishments and historic win, this impressive skipper will be inspiring more than just the young.
The clipper crews have a stop-over and start the 5th leg of the race on January 29 when they head to Sanya, China, the first of two Chinese stops on the race. The 6th leg of the race will end in Seattle sometime in April 2018, so if you want to welcome them when they come to town, check their progress on clipperroundtheworld.com.