Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day sixteen of race eight from Singapore to Qingdao. It has been a memorable 24 hours on board Gold Coast Australia, one of the two Australian entries taking part in the race, after a drama packed day which saw the successful diversion to Taiwan to evacuate two injured crew members.
Gold Coast Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Tim Burgess was on the foredeck when he broke his leg changing a headsail in the gruelling conditions. Nick Woodward was also evacuated with Tim as a precaution after he sustained a head injury when he was thrown across the crew accommodation in the rough seas. All teams have now resumed racing as they continue towards the finish in Qingdao, China.
Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, reports, 'Nick went in for a CT scan yesterday evening and got the all clear, while Tim went in for surgery last night at the first available opportunity after x-ray revealed he had snapped his leg in two places.'
The team resumed racing after leaving Taiwan, picking up in fourth place.
'Unfortunately to gain the best out of the current we had to sacrifice a winning tack and headed east to get into the current stream costing us one place to Visit Finland. Ever since we have been hot on Visit Finland's heels and have had them in sight for the past 12 hours,' says Richard. 'It will be interesting to see where we stand once Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore come out of Stealth Mode and if there is any hope of catching them before the finish in Qingdao.
'The remainder of the race is fairly straightforward and dictated by waypoints so we cannot go chasing wind or make use of back eddies along the shore. It will be a drag race, so we will need to stay on the ball, sail straight and trim for speed if we want to win some places back!
'Conditions have started to get a lot colder over the past 12 hours as we lose the northerly flowing tropical currents and they are replaced by the cold currents and winds streaming down from the Yellow Sea. Yesterday people were still wearing shorts and t-shirts (well I was) and today the thermals have come out, and for many people on board, mid layers are also being worn for the first time since the Southern Ocean. Over the next three days before the finish conditions are set to get bitterly cold, with sub-zero temperatures forecasted in Qingdao on our arrival.'
Dutch entry De Lage Landen, which resumed racing shortly after assisting the Australian entry, entered Stealth Mode at midnight.
On board, skipper Stuart Jackson, says, 'Blue skies, a flatter boat and lesser pounding of wave after wave has brought a welcome respite to the blue beast of De Lage Landen.
'The sun is shining and Qingdao is getting closer still. Today we all managed to sit on deck for lunchtime treats (lots of chocolate, prawn crackers and sparkling apple) and toasted the fairer weather after the physical battering we have experienced over the last few days. No one is foolish enough to believe that this is the last of the rough weather we may see, but it brings a welcome relief for the time being and a chance to reflect on what we have been through together as a team.
'Our new biggest challenge is the packs of large fishing vessels that seem to be on a continuous 24-hour trawl of the oceans around us. Our AIS (Automatic Identification System for tracking other vessels) shut down in fright last night at the sheer volume of boats that were surrounding us.
'Everywhere we looked all we could see was fishing boats which once you had cleared the first 20 or so, would then replenish themselves with wave after wave (if you pardon the pun) of more boats following them. Our radar looks like the M25 on a bad Friday afternoon, but with no direction control as the boats seem to change course and go in alternative directions in the blink of an eye. Our navigators have turned into computer game players, but know that one bad move could have a costly effect. Luckily the on deck watch are there to assist and between the two sets of eyes we can sleep safely in our bunks at night,' Stuart adds.
Race 8 from Singapore to Qingdao in China has been one of extremes that have challenged the crews on board with sweltering heat and lacklustre conditions to challenging headwinds and plummeting cold temperatures. This stage has certainly become a race of two halves with the changing weather and only time will tell which of the team’s tactics will have benefited their position in this neck and neck drag race.
In a bid to secure a place on the podium is Derry-Londonderry, who with its competitors in sight also entered Stealth Mode at 0600 UTC.
As the team clears the coast of Taiwan and reports calmer winds as they enter the East China Sea, skipper Mark Light says, 'Our half racing / half survival mode is over and we can now resume racing proper. The winds have abated but most notable is the reduction in sea state - this was the main problem for us over the last two days.
'We certainly could have handled more wind but the short, steep, sharp waves were causing concern and could definitely be described as ‘boat breaking’. On Derry-Londonderry we followed the pre-race advice of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston: ‘race hard for the first half of the race then throttle back and look after the boat and crew through the rough stuff. Live to fight another day.’ This is good seamanship and it is something that we endeavour to demonstrate at all times.
'The other startling aspect to this race is how quickly it has got cold. The drop in air temperature necessitates wearing most layers including thermals, mid-layers, gloves, hats and even the ski goggles have made an appearance! It looks like the forecast weather should be favourable for the remainder of the race and the general feeling amongst the crew is that we deserve some sort of break. As most sailors know, the sea shows no regard for people’s feelings and will act as she chooses. For now, we sail on.'
Meanwhile, on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skipper Gordon Reid reflects on the race at hand and admits that a few minor issues in the last 24 hours have cost the team time as they try to claw back the miles.
'After a wild ride up the east coast of Taiwan, we made a relatively quick transition back into the shallower water, with only a few roller coaster free-falls in the pitch black night. Following the current as it snaked around the northern tip of Taiwan and still closing the gap, we unfortunately dropped a place as we battled with a few minor issues yesterday during a sail change that took a lot longer than usual but we are more determined than ever to keep pushing ourselves and moving up the fleet once more. Now that the sea state is slightly more friendly we can step it up a bit without damaging any of our gear.'
'After making it past Taiwan with the crew and yacht in one piece the sea state has calmed down and we are now back into race mode. We are still seeing 30 knots of apparent wind across the deck but with the smaller sea state we can make good speed,' New York skipper, Gareth Glover, reports.
'We are now in the East China Sea and the china fishing fleets that we are trying to get around are all called Zhecangyo and then a number. They all have AIS but don't answer any of our VHF calls and just drive around making it very hard to avoid them. We are just trying to get past a fleet now of around 40 boats.
'We are hoping to make some miles up against Visit Finland and Derry-Londonderry that they made on us up the coast and with the wind now forecast to drop and come from the east we may see the kites come back out of the bags and the crew get some respite from the last few days.'
As eight of the ten fleet of 68-foot ocean racing yachts enter the East China Sea past Taiwan, they also cross the finish line of the Ocean Sprint. The fastest team to cover the distance between the latitudes of 22 degrees north and 25 degrees north will score one bonus point. Once all teams have reported their start and finish crossing times the Race Office will calculate who crossed in the best time and a point will be awarded.
Currently the team to beat is Singapore who covered the distance in 28 hours 20 minutes and 54 seconds, bettering De Lage Landen’s time by just under 14 minutes.
Singapore emerged from Stealth Mode at 1200 UTC, along with Geraldton Western Australia, who managed to gain some distance on them.
'Does anyone remember playing the arcade game asteroids?' skipper, Ben Bowley, asks. 'Your ship was at the centre of the screen and you had to spin around either shooting down or avoiding large targets that came spiralling toward you from all angles of the screen.
'This is what it is like looking at the radar screen whilst trying to pick our way through the literally thousands of boats that make up the Chinese fishing fleet. Add into the mix numerous large commercial vessels, a strong counter current and a true wind varying from 12 to 25 knots, swinging through 90 degrees at times, Plus the bitter, bitter cold and you have a recipe for a very tired and slightly overwrought skipper and crew.
'It is, however, a true joy to not have tons of freezing salt spray surging down the decks at regular intervals any more. In the early hours of this morning we were able to start to increase sail slightly, shifting initially from three to two reefs in the mainsail. Shortly after we were able to hoist the Yankee 3 in place of the storm jib and as I type I am giving serious thought to getting the guys to hank in the Yankee 2. Having the wind and current together has done wonders for the sea state and is allowing people to get a little more rest during their off watch. However it has rather slowed our VMG (Velocity Made Good), increasing the time it will take us to get to Qingdao and the hot baths, beer, food and friends that await us. The next 500 miles can't pass under the keel fast enough for us right now!'
With De Lage Landen in Stealth Mode, Geraldton Western Australia has emerged from their 24 hours undercover in first place.
Skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports, 'Every time we enter a new strip of water, we think the shipping is busy. Singapore was real busy with tankers and containers zooming up and down the Straits at 10 -16 knots. Now in the East China Sea the fishing fleets are insane. There will be a gathering of six to ten fishing boats in the same area, motoring in different directions, making navigation a real challenge. Half a mile further on you will come across the same scenario, and there also tankers and container ships to deal with.'
Juan adds, 'The winds have been easing off slightly as well as the sea state. The challenge now for the crew is staying warm, winter has arrived.'
The only team which can possibly beat Singapore in the Ocean Sprint now is Welcome to Yorkshire who are negotiating strong winds off the coast of Taiwan.
'Our decision to tack in tight to the Taiwanese peninsula in order to utilise the current didn't really pay off yesterday,' comments skipper, Rupert Dean. 'Whilst we gained more current than our immediate rival, Qingdao, the higher winds and large seas slowed us down, particularly on the tack out again to the east. So fierce were the conditions that we had to keep sail down to a triple reefed main and storm jib, as there was just too much wind for our precious staysail to handle. It looks like staying east, out of the current but in lighter winds and smoother seas was the way to go.
'Now, as we work our way up the coast towards the north east headland of San-tiao Chiao, we have two things on our minds. These are to make up the miles lost on Qingdao and keep our fingers crossed that the east and south easterly winds, when they arrive, do so for as long as possible. The latter is what we really need in order to regain miles on the boats already pushed to the north west, and in order to get to Qingdao itself as quickly as possible.'
While Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper rues his earlier routing decision, Ian Conchie on Qingdao is celebrating a minor victory as they begin the Ocean Sprint.
'Our offshore route finally paid dividend last night as we managed to overhaul Welcome to Yorkshire again! All night we had winds up in the 30s making a another night of hard work for the crew trying to keep the ‘Purple Dragon’ on course through rough seas but this morning the wind started to ease allowing us to drop the storm jib and hoist our Yankee 3.'
Ian adds, 'This morning however has been a frustrating affair with the wind varying from 15 to 30 knots making it hard to pick the right sail plan and keep the boat moving as fast as possible. You can see extra care being taken in each evolution though after the news from Gold Coast Australia and we wish both of their crew a swift recovery and a return to the race.'
Meanwhile, on board Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne reports that the Finnish entry has been greeted by more tolerable conditions as they push forward towards the finish.
'We are now over the continental shelf and into much shallower water which seems to have had a positive effect on the sea state, although the waves are still fairly steep. The breeze now favours the starboard tack and we are hoping to lay the next way point in one hit, but time will tell if this is possible.'
Olly adds, 'Life on board is fairly civilised as it can be most of the time, although sleeping is not really possible for any length of time. It is good to be into a cooler airstream though, and everyone is enjoying being able to use their thermal gear without it being too cold yet. The weather is due to moderate over the next couple of days now, and the chance to recuperate a little will be very welcome before the final push north.'
The first teams are expected to arrive to a spectacular welcome in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February.
Positions at 1500 UTC, Sunday 19 February
1 Geraldton Western Australia 458nm
2 Singapore 472nm (+14nm DTL**)
3 Visit Finland 490nm (+31nm)
4 Gold Coast Australia 505nm (+471nm)
5 De Lage Landen 525nm (+67nm) Stealth Mode: position at 0003 UTC
6 New York 536nm (+78nm)
7 Derry-Londonderry 544nm (+86nm) Stealth Mode: position at 1200 UTC
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 556nm (+98nm)
9 Qingdao 653nm (+194nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 668nm (+210nm)
*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