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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet pounded by Pacific Ocean

by Heather Ewing on 17 Mar 2012
Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the thirteenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The teams have taken another pounding from the Pacific Ocean over the last 24 hours as today sees the crews attempt to celebrate a very unique St Patrick’s Day.

'Firstly, I would like to wish all the good people of Derry-Londonderry a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!' says Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.

'I hope the celebrations are both memorable and plentiful! On Board, we have our own celebrations with decorations, face paints, hats, Irish music and maybe a wee tot of Jameson's Whiskey.

'For dinner we have roast lamb and vegetables with mash (freeze dried and nearly Irish) and we have a delicious fruit cake soaked in Jameson's Irish Whiskey, baked a couple of days ago and allowed to soak. We also have a sweep stake running on the England v Ireland rugby match for the Six Nations so if anybody fancies emailing the result to us we would much appreciate it.

'Secondly, and as importantly, it is another very special occasion today. 17 March is the birthday of our very own Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. So on behalf of the crew of Derry-Londonderry we wish Sir Robin a very happy and LegenDerry birthday and best wishes from the North Pacific Ocean,' continues Mark.

Currently in fourth position, Derry-Londonderry, hopes a good run this St Patrick’s Day will see them creep into the podium positions.

'The North Pacific Ocean is certainly living up to its fearsome reputation and we are in the middle of quite a blow with winds gusting up to 50 knots and mountainous seas. As always, our fine vessel powers on through, shrugging off waves and responding brilliantly at the helm.

'This weather may be severe and safety is of paramount importance, but in reality this is exactly the conditions wanted and expected by all of the crew. This experience will live long in the memory and I imagine will form the basis for many a tale in pubs and yacht clubs for years to come.'

Meanwhile in the city of Derry-Londonderry, this weekend sees a very special St Patrick’s Day celebration.

The St Patrick's Day Spring Celebrations this weekend will have an extra Rio de Janeiro flavour as Carnival fever reaches the city.

The Rio de Janeiro theme of the 2012 Spring Carnival is linked to the success of Derry-Londonderry while it was in the Brazilian city, after the first transatlantic leg of Clipper 11-12.

Leg 8 will see the fleet race from Nova Scotia to the Clipper Homecoming Maritime Festival in the city when the fleet arrives in ‘LegenDerry’ at the end of June this year which promises to be a spectacular event for the North West region.

'The Homecoming of Derry-Londonderry will be an essential part of the lead up to the 2013 UK City of Culture celebrations and is a perfect occasion for locals and visitors to be part of the city’s new story,' explains Mayor Alderman Maurice Devenney.


In pole position for maximum points through the Scoring Gate is Gold Coast Australia, who also boasts an 85 mile lead over their closest rival.

'The wind continues to blow hard maintaining an amazing seascape surrounding the boat in whitecaps, breaking waves and spray as we continue under storm trysail, storm jib and staysail towards the Scoring Gate and Oakland,' explains skipper, Richard Hewson.

'The wind has not been as strong as expected, though may pick up a little tonight and hopefully we will see it moderate enough tomorrow to enable a team to climb the mast and re-assemble the track.

'The constant strong winds plays havoc on the rig and sheets, and today our staysail sheet just snapped in two, allowing the sail to flog and taking four jammers away with it in the process,' continues Richard.

'It seems that our plan to stay safe and not push the boat on this leg is not paying off as we appear to break less when we sail her harder as people are more aware as to what is going on.

'To win you first have to finish, so until conditions abate we will maintain our rough weather watches, keep the storm sails up and push on. One could say that 'life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but it’s about learning to dance in the rain' I would say however that it is a darn sight easier and more fun to dance in a hall on a warm summer night. Once the conditions improve, then we will re-commence racing to win.'

Hoping to reduce the Australian team’s lead on the rest of the fleet is, Singapore, skippered by Ben Bowley.

'Being aboard a Clipper 68 at the moment is much like being inside an otter's pocket: Cold, damp and a bit smelly.

'We cannot complain too much though as it appears we have been making excellent ground over the last 24 hours. This is likely due to having a more favourable wind direction by virtue of being further to the north than a lot of the fleet,' reveals Ben.

'We are trying to squeak whatever height we can out of the big red bus to allow us to make it through the Scoring Gate on one tack. With the winds forecast to ease a little and veer however, it is highly likely that we shall have to pop in a couple of tacks to see us through and hopefully claim two vital race points.'

Extra race points from crossing the Scoring Gate in one of the top three positions would allow the Singaporean entry to extend the gap between themselves and New York in the overall race standings.

'The crew are drained and tired yet our current position within the fleet fills them with enough zeal to climb into soaking wet, cold kit, watch after watch to get the job done. I am continually impressed with their resilience in the face of adversity. If we can keep up this level of drive and keep making the right calls tactically, perhaps we shall slay the ghosts of the Southern Ocean and prove we are worthy of some more pennants!'

Over on board the American entry, skipper Gareth Glover, has likened recent conditions to a popular fairground ride.

'New York has been, for the past 24 hours or more, like a bucking bronco at a rodeo with someone throwing food, water and people at you.

'We have been sailing under just reefed main for around 20 hours of this time and as it got light this morning put up are storm sail which has see us drop back in the overalls but sometimes you just need to take your foot of the gas and wait until it all clams down. As there still a long way to go we are still seeing the wind in the 30s and the sea state is still throwing us around which is take a masses toll on the crew.

Hoping to secure at least one point through the Scoring Gate, Gareth and his crew must decide their next move.

'As we have had only the main up we have been unable head east towards the gate and are still being push to the south east by the wind, we are hoping that most of the wind has pass and now in the next 24 hours the wind will lighten and we will be able to head more north east. We will have to see if we are still going to head for the gate if the wind stays from the east as this will mean tacking to the north and losses any east we have made of the other yachts but we may still be able to get a point from it.'


Many celebrations to be had on board the boats today and De Lage Landen is no different with another birthday on board.

'Today’s weather interrupted our celebrations for Yvonne's (Modu) birthday with the driving rain putting a bit of a dampener on things,' reports Stuart Jackson, skipper of the Dutch entry.

'Also with the boat lurching around it has been rather difficult to produce a flat cake, but I'm sure once it has been iced and decorated it will hide a multitude of sins! With the weather looking better tomorrow we may have to hold another party to celebrate properly.

'Thankfully we seem to have missed out on the worst of the conditions from the low having had moderate winds last night. This morning and this afternoon have been pretty blustery with some strong gusts into the high 40s but generally have been in the low 30s.'

The Clipper Race allows people from all walks of life to take on some of the most extreme conditions on the planet and this leg, Qingdao to Oakland, sees them take on the world’s biggest expanse of water, the Pacific Ocean.

'For our crew members who have only signed up to this leg as they were after a real challenge, they are certainly getting their money’s worth and I think at times wishing they had signed up for a leg with lighter winds, more sunshine and warmer temperatures! Although if it was going to be easy, it wouldn't be worth doing!'

Relishing another day of the tough conditions is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid.

'Just another day at the office for the skipper and crew of the Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.

'Gusting 48 to 52 knots with the wind blowing around 35 knots consistently, freezing hail the size of a five pence piece, falling so hard you can feel it through all of your many layers of clothing and making it virtually impossible to see whilst driving, like a day at the spa, extreme exfoliation for the skin followed by a salty shower,' says Gordon.

'At night it's so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face, we have no headlights and it's all about anticipating the motion of the ocean. There is usually uniformity to wave patterns and as they come is sets, you can usually count the intervals... but the interaction of the various high and low pressure systems is turning the sea into a boiling mass of confusion one minute you are surfing a set the next minute, side swiped by a steam train of a wave. You can't see them coming in the dark and even in daylight they come out of nowhere all you can do is hold on tight, the cockpit has been filled many times and the crew are constantly being sweep across the decks.

'For sure the conditions are challenging for the crew both physically and mentally, and as it is set to be full on for at least another few days, we need to dig deep, remained focussed and keep the faith, we are sailing fast , making gains and taking places and we will keep it up.'

With over 3,000 miles left to race positions on the leader board will continue to chop and change, Geraldton Western Australia are hoping they can improved on their current sixth place.

'Last night was pretty intense, with 40 knots plus winds and confused mountainous swell,' reports skipper, Juan Coetzer.

'It was not an easy job for the helms, as there was no real set pattern to the swell, so every once in a while the boat would launch off a swell, and crash into an empty trough. All this bouncing around broke our temporary fixed wind anemometer, so once again no wind direction or strength readings.

'This morning at watch change, the steer cable jumped off the quadrant. So quickly the crew hoved the boat to and got the emergency steering attached. Russell Sandbach spent at least two hours undoing and re-tensioning the cables. During this drama, Qingdao appeared on the AIS. I had a brief chat exchanging some war story as they sailed by. This was a good result for the crew, as it showed them how well we are doing and that the race is still far from being over.'

Currently in third place and hoping their more northerly position will hold them in good stead for the Scoring Gate is Qingdao.

'We decided to play it safe last night as the wind was still being unpredictable and gusting up to 45 knots so we stuck with three reefs and the storm jib,' reveals Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese entry.

'This lost us time to the likes of Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia but we emerged this morning with no more breakages if slightly damp!

'This morning we hoisted the staysail back up and are now making good speed again. The race is on for the Scoring Gate and with Derry-Londonderry, New York and Geraldton Western Australia all close together it will be interesting to see who goes for the gate and who focuses on the overall race.'

Meanwhile on board Visit Finland, Olly Osborne sums the conditions well in his 0600 report to the Race Office.

'Life has been pretty challenging for everyone on board during the last 24 hours, with the boat lurching and bucking violently as the helms try to keep the bow riding over the wave crests. Last night the third reefing line snapped again and so we had to pull the main down and lash it roughly to the boom overnight.

'We rigged our storm trysail which provided some steerage along with the storm jib, but trying to keep a course that has some east in it has been very challenging.

'Still, the sun has made an appearance and we have now been able to repair the reefing line and hoist our main again as the wind has moderated a little. We have been watching in a fairly large panel slowly tearing off at the top of the sail during the last week but at the moment it is not looking too drastic and if needs be we will be able to repair it on board,' continues the skipper.

'So as the weather moderates over the next few days it will be good to see the course set once again towards the date line.'

With the teams not even half way across the Pacific Ocean, keeping crew and the boat in good working order is any team’s top priority.


'Preserving the boat and crew has been the order of the day on Welcome to Yorkshire these past 24 hours,' says Rupert Dean, skipper of the Yorkshire entry.

'In line with our preparations a couple of days ago, we have been adopting a policy of implementing sail changes and reefs earlier than usual, in anticipation of rapidly rising headwinds.

'Even so, when they came they did so with both a timing and ferocity which surprised us. Save an innocent looking little dark cloud, we had little clue that they were about to hit yesterday evening, as we sailed in 32 knots apparent under treble reefed main, staysail and Yankee 3. Indeed the wind dramatically dropped to early 20s apparent for 20 minutes, before hitting us solidly at 50 knots with pouring rain, thunder and lightning.

'For me, personally, the past 18 hours have been extremely frustrating. In this area of the low, we appear to be experiencing stronger winds than boats both to the north and south of us. Not being able to fly our staysail because of them, is allowing our competitors to point much higher than us, get better VMG (Velocity Made Good) and, make significant miles. I find myself literally praying that the winds will soon abate enough to allow a staysail hoist, so we can stop the rot.'

Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 17 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3183nm
2 Singapore - 3268nm (+85nm**)
3 Qingdao - 3355nm (+172nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 3374nm (+191nm)
5 New York - 3380nm (+197nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 3390nm (+207nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3442nm (+259nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3447nm (+263nm)
9 Visit Finland - 3449nm (+265nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 3522nm (+339nm)

*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.

www.clipperroundtheworld.com/" target="_blank">Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website

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