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RACE AGAINST TIME; THE Round-the-World Clipper race is set to re-start this weekend. MIKE HORNBY reports from the Philippines on Liverpool's chances.

THE Clipper race gets under way on Saturday -but first crews face a race against time.

Each boat is being fitted out again after technical problems forced Clipper organisers to abandon the race last month and embark on massive repairs.

Liverpool's 08 Clipper team is pulling out all the stops as the re-launch looms.

The round-the-world yacht race resumes at noon on Saturday (4am UK-time) and there is still everything to play for.

The race launched on the River Mersey last September and will return for a spectacular finish at the end of July.

A provisional date, which needs to be agreed with Culture Company chiefs, of the last weekend has been set which would mean the Clippers could come into the Mersey during daytime tides.

With three legs of the competition now completed, Liverpool 08 stands in third place behind Western Australia and Durban.

08 Skipper Tim Magee said: "I can't wait to get racing again. The crew are working incredibly hard to make sure everything is ready for the start on Saturday.

"We know we're going to have a fantastic send-off to see us on out way to Qingdao.

"We're only half way through the competition and standing in third place that number one slot is still in our sight."

Most crew members returned to the UK while vital repairs were carried out on all 10 ships, Dubois 68 yachts which were specially built in China for the race.

It was on February 5 when a potentially dangerous flaw in the vessel was discovered by crews investigating a leak on the Glasgow clipper.

Heavy bolts which tied the lead and steel keel to a foam and fibreglass hull had become loose on the Glasgow and inches of water were leaking through.

The ship was diverted to the Philippines mid-way through the fourth leg between Singapore and China and hours later all the teams were told to head for the port.

It led to fears the Mersey homecoming, originally planned for the first weekend in July, would have to be abandoned.

But instead a team of British and local engineers and ship workers have pulled out all the stops to have the keel replaced and the ships sea-ready in just seven weeks.

Race director Tim Hedges said: "We still don't know the cause of the problems, that's something to figure out another day.

"For the time being we've got to concentrate on getting the boats race-ready and all the crews back together as they should be.

"We never considered abandoning the race, or the return for Liverpool, for one minute.

"This is a round-the-world challenge and these things happen in a competition like this, and our job is to make the best of it.

"And that's what everyone has done."

08 crew mate Dave Keane, from Heswall, is taking part in the entire circumnavigation.While the ship was being repaired, he took the chance to head home and see wife Molly, their children and grandchildren.

Dave, 62, said: "It was very strange getting an unexpected chance to go home. But it was wonderful to see them all."

Cath Roberts, from Child-wall is an 08 newcomer having joined the crew in the Philippines for this leg of the race.

Cath, 39, a mother-of-two, said: "We've been working flat out the past couple of days because everything was stripped from the boats before the keel was replaced.

"Now it's all got to go back!"

Read more about the last-minute race to the sea in tomorrow's ECHO.

CAPTION(S):

SAILING BY: The 08 Clipper on the water' RARING TO GO: The 08 Clipper crew now busily preparing for the re-launch of the round-the-world challenge due to take place at noon on Saturday
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 24, 2006
Words:620
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