Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the fourteenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. It’s been another adventurous 24 hours. While UK residents are peacefully celebrating Mother’s Day the ten-strong fleet are reflecting on their last two weeks at sea, as the battle with the mighty Pacific continues.
Geraldton Western Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
'To all the mothers following the race, or doing the race, the Geraldton Western Australia crew wishes you a peaceful Mother’s day,' skipper Juan Coetzer starts his 0600 report to the Race Office.
'To all the fathers out there, we hope you enjoyed St Patrick's Day yesterday along with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's birthday. For us, the sun is out and the wind has settled down a little, allowing us to use our yankee 3 again, and do some repairs to our old faithful storm sail. The boat is also getting a bit of a clean and dry out session, while the weather is pleasant.'
More northerly in the fleet is Gold Coast Australia. They were the first to pass the scoring gate in race nine at 13:19:27UTC yesterday, awarding them three points. However the additional three points are bitter-sweet as the Australian entry is hit by a series of bad luck.
'Crossing the scoring gate first is a massive achievement for the Gold Coast Australia team. In some respects it is a bit of a shallow victory however as yesterday alone we spent four points when our staysail sheet chafed through sending the sail wild and ripping off four spinlock jammers (each costing approximately one point each) off. Irrespective, I am very proud of our team and hope we continue to make good safe progress for the remainder of the race,' says skipper Richard Hewson.
Explaining how they deal with the consequences, he says, 'We continue racing under trisail as conditions are still not suitable for a safe assent of the mast to try and re-mount the mainsail track. Earlier today we decided we had two options; option one was to carry on at a slightly reduced performance under trisail while making good speed and try to stay ahead of the bad weather and fix the problem when the wind dies off completely in about four to five days’ time. Option two was to heave to and try to resolve the problem now. After looking at the time it may take to fix the problem in this sea state we decided on option one, this option is also a lot safer and keeps us prepared for the worst conditions possible if we are unlucky enough to be on the receiving end.'
Reflecting on the last 24 hours, Richard continues, 'Some may say that Team Gold Coast Australia has had their fair share of bad luck this trip and I would tend to agree with them. This race is the longest and hardest leg of the entire round the world race and we have definitely had our fair share of challenges.
'Not only do crew and equipment have to face constant upwind battling in over 30 knots (though the wind did die off to 20 knots today and the sun came out and it felt like heaven!), but we are also enduring very cold surface and sea temperatures, that are lowered by wind chill. Down below the boat is like a washing machine that has not completed its cycle, and constant shamming and drying does little to help the condensation build up. On this leg everything is hard and there is little reward. The reward will come at the end for years to come. The reward will be something that the team members of Gold Coast Australia will be proud of for life. The reward will be to say that we raced across the Northern Pacific in winter and it was bloody hard but we survived and won!'
Second to pass the Scoring Gate at 01:01:34 UTC this morning was Singapore securing two points.
In an up-beat report to the Race Office skipper Ben Bowley says, 'Good news all round! We are through the scoring gate, I believe, in second place. This comes as a great relief having had a couple of infuriating fourth place gate crossings since our very beneficial three points in leg 1.
'The wind and seas have also calmed down considerably making life aboard a little more bearable, we are cold, but at least we are fairly dry and cold; a much more bearable situation than 24 hours ago. We are now able to turn our attentions to slightly more trivial matters of long distance ocean racing such as how to ensure we do not run out of loo roll; why the battery charger is not working properly; how to stop getting shocks off the companionway steps when wet and a multitude of more minor repairs.
But a race is a race, as Ben points out, reflecting on the first place rivals ahead of them, 'Our thoughts go out to the crew of Gold Coast Australia with a broken main track. Although the idea of potentially overtaking them and gaining control of the race does fill some of the crew of Singapore with a large amount of glee; no pressure!'
The rest of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht race are more southerly than the Scoring Gate and are unlikely to deviate to the optional gate for a possible third place and one bonus point. Instead they are making the most of the improving conditions ahead of the looming storms.
'We have decided to forgo the scoring gate opportunity, even though we had a great chance of a bonus point and to concentrate on our overall objective of sailing into San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the top three boats,' says Derry-Londonderry skipper Mark Light.
While the entry’s home town residents are likely to spend the day recovering from yesterday’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Mark and his crew have other priorities – making the most of the sunshine that has hit the Pacific Ocean.
'Conditions are finally starting to moderate. We have consistently under 35 knots of wind now and a sea state that doesn't shake every bone in your body when we crash off a wave. We have also experienced something very weird up above. Like a strange being from another world, a happening from a time gone by, a natural phenomenon - today we witnessed sunshine!'
After spending two weeks at sea in some of the roughest conditions the mighty Pacific brings, Mark reflects on his crew. 'Things are going well on board and we are all working together as a team. We have now experienced two North Pacific blows and have come through cold, wet, tired but relatively unscathed (save for our steering cable failure) but better for the experience and tough enough to face the next one.
'This race is sometimes like a war of attrition but my crew have shown great qualities of endurance and stamina as well as keeping the banter alive and in-keeping with the Irish theme, always enjoying the 'craic'.'
But it’s a tough race for the crew that have swapped their day-jobs as everything from taxi-drivers, doctors and accountants, to students and pilots for life at sea – with around another two-three weeks to go until they reach the Race 9 finishing line under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay.
'The relentless onslaught continues, as we are at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean weather patterns. The breeze is blowing at well over 39 knots and has been for days now, gusts have reached the high 40's regularly and some small cracks are starting to appear in the crew dynamic. Patience is tested as the conditions sap the energy from the crew very quickly on every watch and the constant slamming and free-falling making it difficult to get much needed sleep off watch. On the whole the crew are coping well and still smiling as we do battle with the elements,' says Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper Gordon Reid.
'We are maintaining a fast but most sail plan, appropriate to the weather and sea state and if the wind eases and backs as forecast we will increase sail as we bear away for a time. The High pressure is descending from the North West as the lows more quickly east, so with a bit of luck we should get a bit of sunshine, which always makes everything seem more pleasant. For the now, we suck it up and keep the ‘Purple Beastie’ trucking.'
Meanwhile the Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, has more than racing to deal with, as his crew embrace the more bearable conditions to recover from illnesses.
Skipper Stuart Jackson says, 'How lovely it is to finally have some respite after a week of heavy weather. The crew that is still fighting that stomach bug is enjoying the moment of rest and the sunshine that comes with it.
'The last week has been very challenging for the yacht and for the crew. Natural resistance was getting low which explains how a simple stomach bug can easily spread from one individual to another. Now spirits are up, the crew is gathering forces again in order to fight the elements once more. San Fran – here we come!'
American entry New York is more than keen to get back to their home land, but are for now using the calmer winds to address sail repairs. 'After a few hard days the wind is now a more manageable 25kt and we are now back in full racing mode after the last few days. This morning we drop are main on deck to replace the broken reefing lines and give the main a quick look over,' says New York skipper Gareth Glover.
The team has spent the last 24 hours in Stealth Mode, meaning that their position has not been reported to the fleet or on the website - although the Race Office has still been tracking them.
'New York and crew are drying out in the sunshine we broke this race into four parts and each part had a goal we are now in part three after the Scoring Gate and part of that plan was to go into stealth which we are now in hoping to thrown off the other yachts racing around us, we will not know for a few more days if this has worked or not,' says Gareth.
Meanwhile Qingdao skipper Ian Conchie highlights the importance of maintenance in his 0600 report to the Race Office. 'The wind has finally started to ease but the system has driven us so far south it is unlikely that we will make the scoring gate. We were hoping that the wind would veer round earlier to allow us to tack for the gate but so far it hasn't,' he says.
'We have been slowly changing up sails through the day as the wind eased and have found some damage inflicted by the big seas we have been fighting through. First one of the stanchions has been bent and we have found cracks in our pulpit from the impact of the big waves.
'This has all been added to our every growing list of jobs to deal with in port, when crossing oceans it is inevitable that the boats get damaged and part of the strategy for the race is looking after them!'
Meanwhile Welcome to Yorkshire skipper Rupert Dean reflects on the weather conditions. 'A beautiful sunny spring day out here in the North Pacific. Blue skies, fluffy cumulus pods and a nice fresh breeze are creating wonderful upwind sailing conditions on Welcome to Yorkshire, even more now the waves have gone down to a more co-operative size,' he says.
'As I write this, Welcome to Yorkshire is trucking along on port tack, nicely powered up with Yankee 3, staysail and two reefs in the main. Boat speed is good, although we can't quite sail the course we would like to do. As time goes on, we will be pushed further south, until tacking onto starboard to head north, before being lifted onto a more north-easterly course by the winds of the advancing high.
'These winds are expected to be strong so, for now, the focus is on re-energising before going back down through the sail plan again to storm status.'
But the fleet can certainly not rest on its laurels. Clipper meteorologist, Simon Rowell, who provides the teams with a stack of information on wind, weather, wave height and local currents every day predicts more storms ahead. 'The next low coming in looks to be pretty strong - the good news is that it's going well north of you. The front will come in very hard and fast, however, and I reckon that from about the middle of Monday (UTC) you may well get consistent winds of 40 plus with gusts going into the 50's and 60's. When you see it coming in, change down early as this will combine with a very messed up sea state to give you horrible working conditions on deck. '
Back on Welcome to Yorkshire they are only well-aware of what is to come, but both crew and skippers remain positive about the experience of a lifetime that the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race can give.
'As one of my crew said to me today, 'When you're on your deathbed, thinking about all the money you've earnt and the women you've loved, you'd trade all that in for just one day like this,' concludes skipper Rupert Dean.
We are still recruiting for the Clipper 13-14 Round the World Yacht Race. To find out more visit the event website.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Oakland, California between 1-7 April, where it will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Jack London Square. Oakland is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
Positions at 1200 UTC, Sunday 18 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1. Gold Coast Australia - 2949nm*
2. Singapore - 3063nm (113nm**)
3. Derry-Londonderry - 3194nm (245nm)
4. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3219nm (269nm)
5. Qingdao - 3310nm (360nm)
6. Geraldton Western Australia - 3331nm (381nm)
7. Visit Finland - 3355nm (406nm)
8. New York - 3383nm (434nm)
9. Welcome to Yorkshire - 3420nm (471nm)
10.De Lage Landen - 3487nm (538nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website