WYE Valley yachtsman Angus Whitehead and his crew mates sailed into harbour to a heroes’ welcome in Uruguay after taking the Hundred Years Cup crossing the Atlantic in their skipper’s home port.
The boat is named after the century-old local yacht club Punta del Este, and the skipper Nano Antia Bernardez was raised in the town.
Hundreds crammed along the harbourside on Thursday night to welcome the boat, which stands top of the leaderboard after the first leg of the round the-world Clipper Race, comprising two races from Portsmouth to Cadiz, and then on to South America.
Old Monmothian Angus, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on the 11-month trip, is the first mate - one of just two professional sailors on board the amateur-crewed boat.
And his delighted mum Angela, who lives with their family in Monmouth, posted: “I can’t stop smiling, crying, singin, crying , smiling, crying, singing every emotion, unbelievable. Just incredible and inspiring, you are phenomenal. Punta Power. Love you Angus.”
The second leg saw the 11-yacht field - which includes former Met Police senior officer David Hartshorn from Chepstow skippering Bekezela Community Foundation, and Monmouth Rowing Club member Eric Froggatt crewing on Ha Long Bay – race 5,300 miles from Puerto Sherry in Spain, starting on September 15, to Uruguay.
The first major ocean crossing of the circumnavigation, the North to South Atlantic passage – which took Yacht Club Punta del Este 26 days - is notorious for its testing and varied conditions and can challenge even the most experienced of sailors.
But Nano and Angus navigated the route with tactics, nerve and skill to be the first to cross the finish line in front of huge crowds of locals and members of the city’s yacht club lining the breakwater to cheer in their hometown heroes.
Nano said before arriving: “It is so special to be in this race representing my own hometown. Knowing that my family, and all my nieces and nephews are going to be there, it’s really emotional. It gets under my skin just thinking about it.
“The motivation of representing Yacht Club Punta del Este, while sailing to my home, it’s just going to be such a boost to our energy, it’s going to be amazing.”
And back onshore, he said: ““Every day, the crew have been pushing their limits, getting out of their comfort zones.
“I’ve been teaching them the details, and they are a really, really special crew. We have kept the pressure on from Puerto Sherry to Cape Verde, across the Atlantic and then all the way to here!
“I wanted to arrive fast! Arriving into Punta the first time [2017-28 edition] was the first time I had done an ocean crossing, and now as a skipper and the winner of this race - just seeing my crew enjoying themselves, that is all that I needed. To see so many people waiting here to give me a hug was amazing. I feel privileged to have so many friends here.”
Congratulating the team on its win, Juan Etcheverrito, Commodore of Yacht Club Punta del Este said: “We couldn’t ask for more! What an entrance, a 100 years one! We are so happy; we are lost for words. VAMOS!”
David Hartshorn’s yacht finished ninth on Sunday after having to take a detour to Cape Verde, with the skipper saying: “I’m feeling quite emotional really... we had pulled back from our detour, we fought back, caught the fleet up, got into ninth position, dropped back to 11th, and then today came back into ninth.
“So, I’m really proud of the crew. They have done an amazing job; you would not recognise their ability compared to when we left Portsmouth just over a month ago.”
Siltbuster co-founder Eric, who sailed leg 6 in the 2017-2018 race, but is going all the way round this time, said: “Leg 1 is very different to Leg 6! Very cold, very hot, very cold, going really well, and then you just stop. You have to pick yourself up a lot of times. You have to pull together and work together.”
The fleet set off 3,555 nautical miles on the second leg to Cape Town on Sunday (October 22).