THEY’RE off.

Hampshire sailors competing in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race were due to cast off today on the latest stage of their global circumnavigation.

Now more than half way across the planet, the 12-strong fleet are casting off from Singapore, bound for Southampton’s twin city Qingdao in China.

The 2,400-mile race will see them swapping the searing heat of the equator for the cooler wintry weather of the Northern Hemisphere.

More than 30 sailors from Hampshire are taking part in the race, which is skippered by professionals but crewed by novices who have placed their lives on hold to compete.

But only 11 from the county are going the whole hog – or 40,000 miles of some of the world’s most dangerous sailing conditions.

One of them is 20-year-old Jacob Carter from Portchester, whose Great Britain team came second in the last race from Brisbane.

Speaking to the Daily Echo on the eve of his departure, he told of the terrifying moment his yacht was hit by a sea tornado as they approached Singapore. He said: “The chances of getting hit by one are similar to getting hit by lightning – and we were close to that at times.

“It hit us and knocked us from 20 degree heel on starboard tack to 81 degree heel on port tack.

“I will never underestimate the raw power of Mother Nature after this.

“There was 20 knots of wind to well over 70 then back to 20 again in about a minute.

“Some were shaken but we did our checks, repaired the little damage we sustained and restarted racing again within 90 minutes.”

When not hit by furious storms he and the other Hampshire sailors have been battling extreme heat. He said: “The only respite is on deck at night. The sea temperature is 30 plus so you are cooked from below.

“From above the sun beats down throughout the day. The combination means you sleep in a furnace below decks which can reach 40 degrees.

“Couple that with the month-long duration of the race, it is hard.”

But he said he was determined not to give up.

He said: “The race ends for me when we bring the boat home to the UK as high up the leader board as possible.

“Giving up is not in me, although the brutality of racing a boat hard for long periods of time isn't easy it would be harder to walk away.”

Another competitor going the whole distance is 60-year-old Lindsey Noble, from Winchester, who gave up her role as principal of Southampton City College to take part.

But Lindsey said it was not her voyage to China she feared most.

She said: “The one I fear most is the next one across the North Pacific to San Francisco – back to big waves and strong winds but for four weeks instead of the three we had in the Southern Ocean.”

But she admits to feeling a little home sick, mainly for, of all things, what she recalls as the “benign” British weather.