Ariel started to raise her anchor at 5 am on the 29th and with the paddle steamer Island Queen towing alongside, headed down-river for the sea. The river pilot left and the tug was sent ahead to tow. The fast flowing River Min then presented problems for the under-powered tug as they met eddies and Ariel had to anchor to regain control of the situation. By this time it was low tide. With a mean draft of 18 ft 5.5 ins., there was not enough water for her to get over the bar.
Captain Keay's frustration was increased by Fiery Cross, with a more powerful tug and drawing significantly less, towing past her and getting out to sea. Then the weather closed in: poor visibility preventing safe departure on the next tide. On the morning of the 30th Ariel finally got to sea, but with Taeping and Serica only a few minutes behind and Fiery Cross 14 hours ahead. In a final delay, Ariel could not leave her pilot on Island Queen, as the tug's boat capsized on launching (the boat crew eventually being rescued) - so a pilot boat had to be summoned.
Three of the front runners now had as level a start in the race as a spectator could hope for. There was a moderate northeast wind and the course set was "South by East a half East" (163 degrees on a modern compass). All three had set their main skysails and fore topmast and lower stunsails. Ariel was slowly over-hauling the other two ships, but then the weather closed in and they lost sight of each other, racing on unseen in the rain.