THEY conjure up images of swashbuckling scoundrels roaming the high seas in search of treasure.

But the threat of pirates couldn’t be more real for the teams competing in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

The fleet is in the middle of a challenging, 4,500-mile race from Brisbane, Australia, to Singapore in waters where modern pirates are known to operate.

Although cases of piracy are rare, skippers and their crews have been trained in precautionary responses and race officials liaise closely with the regional anti-piracy centre and the Royal Navy.

Race director Justin Taylor said: “Incidents of piracy are very rare but we have to take prudent precautions. The greatest challenge here will be the range of weather and navigation challenges as the fleet initially crosses ‘cyclone alley’ to the north of Australia and then negotiates the many islands en route.”

It is race eight of 16 with the winner securing the Old Pulteney Navigator Cup.

The 12 teams set off yesterday in a Le Mans-style start offshore where the fleet lined up and hoisted headsales at an allotted start time co-ordinated by a nominated skipper.

And pirates are not the only concern as they could come face to face with wild tropical storms and become marooned in the Pacific Ocean, while they will also experience high temperatures and scorching sunlight.

Qingdao skipper Gareth Glover, from Gosport, said: “This will be one of the most testing races of the global circuit which will push skippers and crews to their mental and physical limits. I am confident that our team is well prepared and we’re all excited to be heading for our ‘home’ port of Qingdao via Singapore.”

Organised by Gosport-based Clipper Ventures, the race is skippered by professionals but crewed by novices.

Hampshire-based sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston founded the race, which set off in December from the UK to arrive back in July.