IT IS the moment he has been waiting for – the reason why he decided to pack up and leave home to take on the ultimate sailing challenge.

Sailing into New York past the iconic Statue of Liberty on the next leg of the Clipper Round the World Race will be a dream come true for Hampshire sailor Edward Collison.

The 18-year-old from Wickham, the youngest competitor in the race, knew being away from home for so long would be tough, but the realisation of a life-long ambition will make it all worth it.

And he will set off today on board Invest Africa, along with all the other yachts as the seventh leg of the race, from San Francisco to Panama, gets under way.

He said: “I am most looking forward to sailing into New York and sailing past the Statue of Liberty on the next leg, as that is what I signed up for.

“I always dreamed of sailing into New York. I will also see my best friend there, who I have not seen since the race left London, which will be amazing.”

Another highlight for the teenager is travelling through the Panama Canal, as they head towards their next finish line in the Gulf of Panama.

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He added: “Going through the Panama Canal is also something I am really looking forward to, as it is the centenary of the canal being built. It will be very interesting to transit it.

“Sailing through the Caribbean is something I haven’t done since I was young either, so I am looking forward to that.”

This highly tactical leg will see the thermal layers give way to sunscreen and the big question facing crews is whether to take the inshore or the offshore routes.

The race down to Panama should be fast, but it’s not over until the finish line is crossed, as changeable conditions near the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone could decide the finishing positions in the final stages of the race.

But Edward is confident that his team is ready for this latest challenge.

He said: “Things have got much better on the yacht, we have made a lot of changes and that has reflected in our results, and it was a great feeling to get a podium coming into San Francisco after improving in the last two races.”