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Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious gave a "spectacular send off'' to 10 yachts as they set off on the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
More than 500 amateur sailors from 40 countries will take turns to sail the yachts in the 40,000-mile race which set off from Southampton under blue skies and a gentle breeze on the afternoon of Sunday July the 31st 2011.
More than 40% of them had no sailing experience before beginning their rigorous training for the world's longest yacht race.
The 10 ocean-racing yachts sailed in formation ahead of HMS Illustrious before the race began from the historic Royal Yacht Squadron line in Southampton Water.
A flotilla of small boats also turned out to see off the teams as they set off on their global challenge, while thousands of well-wishers also waved them off from the race village, with more positioned on the coastline of the Isle of Wight to watch the yachts as they sailed by.
A spokeswoman for the race said the yacht Gold Coast Australia took the lead after the starting cannon was fired, with compatriots Geraldton Western Australia following closely behind.
Founder and chairman of the Clipper Race Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo and non-stop around the world, thanked spectators for giving the yachts such a send off and said the crews would remember it for the rest of their lives.
''These crews are not professional sailors - these are people from all walks of life going out and doing something extraordinary with their lives.''
Earlier Commanding Officer of HMS Illustrious Captain Jerry Kydd said:
''HMS Illustrious is delighted to be in Southampton to support the start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
''The Clipper Race stands for much of what the Royal Navy and Royal Marines hold dear: personal determination and fortitude, in dangerous and demanding conditions, where teamwork, resilience and a winning spirit overcome any challenge the crews may face on their adventure.
''On behalf of the officers and crew of HMS Illustrious, I wish all yachts and their crews the very best of luck for a safe and fast circumnavigation and a cracking race.''
The 12-month journey will take the 68ft yachts to 15 ports on six continents and across the largest and most ferocious expanses of water on the planet.
Each of the colourful yachts bears the name of the city, region, country or company it represents.
Amongst them is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, which features five crew members who have undergone transplant operations and who hope to draw attention to the shortage of organs in the country.
Nick Barclay, 30, who underwent a kidney transplant in 2005, plans to compete in the race from beginning to end.
''Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the world, so I'm very proud to be part of the Edinburgh Inspiring Capital team.
''It's going to be an incredible, life changing experience and I can't wait to get started.''
Lucia Ainsworth, 45, originally from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, has given up her job as a head of legal at Lloyds Banking Group in London to join Gold Coast Australia skippered by Rich Hewson.
Explaining her reasons for taking part in the first half of the race, she said:
''To take part in this, the greatest amateur yacht race, will fulfil my lifelong dream to sail across oceans.
''I have resigned from my job and taken a year out not only to take part in the race but to travel in Australia and New Zealand.
''As well as fulfilling my own ambitions I wanted to inspire my young nephews and nieces.''
Miss Ainsworth is raising money for Toe in the Water, a tri-service charity to help injured service personnel rehabilitate through competitive sailing.
Mr Hewson, from Hobart, Tasmania, said: ''Our chances of winning are pretty good.
''With all the hard work we've put into the training, we've got all the ingredients to cook a winner.''