HAMPSHIRE sailors competing in the world’s longest yachting race are today on their way to New York, with just weeks left to go in their 40,000-mile global odyssey.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race’s 12-strong fleet has left behind the tropical destination of Jamaica as they head out on their 1,500 nautical mile race to the Big Apple.

However, the fleet, which is skippered by professionals but crewed by novices who have placed their lives on hold to compete, are set for a rough ride.

Thunderstorms are forecast, along with winds from every point of the compass as the yachts head away from the steady Caribbean trade winds. Hazards also include reefs around the Bahamas and a large amount of shipping close to New York.

The yachts are also advised to stay at least 12 miles clear of Haiti and Cuba.

After team Switzerland collected its second podium, they are hoping that race 13 will be third time lucky.

Skipper Vicky Ellis, whose crew includes former Southampton City College principal Lindsey Noble, said: “The start got us off with a bang and we have been enjoying some close racing with the other teams since the gun went.

“A wind shift overnight saw the fleet divide into two groups, but it is still very close between all the boats.

“Great Britain is on our tail and has been now for several hours.”

Meanwhile, skipper of Jamaica Get All Right, Pete Stirling, from Titchfield, said he was disappointed with his team’s start, but as a veteran of the Clipper he says he was well aware New York was still a long way off.

He said: “I decided to head further east than the rest of the fleet and left the Formigas Bank to port whilst the other teams left it to starboard.

“While we were the most southerly boat we were also the most easterly boat which I thought would put us in a good position to lay through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.

“However we got headed early by the wind and now find ourselves approximately ten miles due south of the rest of the fleet.

“I am quite annoyed at myself for following these tactics but it is still early days and we have a long way to go to New York.”