Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Singapore to Qingdao Day 14 report.
Yesterday's respite for the fleet is over and Race 6 is once again living up to its reputation of being the toughest of the global Clipper Race. Positions have been changing constantly and unfortunately for Team Finland, who had moved into the lead yesterday, the race to Qingdao was brought to a sudden end by the loss of part of their rig.
On Sunday evening (GMT) Team Finland reported to the race office that they had lost the top third of their rig, that all the crew were safe and well and they were heading due west towards the Taiwanese port of Hualien.
Working in conjunction with Falmouth Coastguard, the race organisers, Clipper Ventures, alerted the Taiwanese authorities who confirmed that they were happy to receive the yacht and a patrol vessel was sent to escort Team Finland safely into port.
As they arrived, skipper, Rob McInally, and his crew were greeted by local media and TV crews and are now going through the process of immigration. Once completed, they will conduct a full assessment of the mast and that information will be shared with Clipper and its rigging experts. From that, a clear plan will be developed over the course of today. The yacht had 18 crew on board including seven Britons, two Americans, four Dutch nationals, two New Zealanders, one Australian, one Belgian and one Finnish national.
It is too early to speculate what caused the incident but the area through which the fleet was racing is notorious for the tough conditions it produces. Crews were dealing with strong headwinds and the short sharp sea state that is to be expected off the coast of Taiwan. In the last Volvo Ocean Race, five of the seven competitors were damaged by
these testing conditions when they were also racing from Singapore to Qingdao.
The Clipper fleet has successfully raced through these waters twice before and has completed the course without incident.
Clipper Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, says, 'One of the givens in long distance ocean racing is to expect the unexpected. We know that this section of the race can deliver some of the hardest conditions faced by our crew and it is clear that they have dealt with the incident in a seamanlike manner. We are grateful for the immediate offer of
support from the Taiwanese authorities and the assistance they are providing.'
For the rest of the Clipper fleet it is business as usual as they take on the heavy North East Monsoon conditions for the remaining 700 miles of Race 6.
'The battle continues and this time there is another competitor besides the other Clipper yachts,' says California's skipper, Pete Rollason. 'Mother Nature. Since yesterday evening she has been throwing her full might at us with some huge waves and fierce winds.
'We are currently locked in the closest race of Clipper 09-10 to date and have never been more than a few miles from our nearest rivals. Each position report sees precious miles gained and then lost or vice versa and no one seems able to break away from the fleet at present. Hopefully we can change that over the next couple of days.'
The recent change in conditions came on suddenly and took many of the teams by surprise, including Race 6 Scoring Gate champions, Jamaica Lightning Bolt.
'According to the forecast the expected wind shift of 180 degrees and an increase in strength of 20 knots was supposed to be gradual and take place over several hours,' says the Caribbean team's skipper, Pete Stirling. 'It actually changed in the space of five minutes and led to an interesting half an hour as the on watch crew performed several perfectly executed evolutions to stow the spinnaker pole, change the headsail to the Yankee 3 and put two reefs in the mainsail.
After passing through the Scoring Gate Jamaica Lightning Bolt made the tactical decision to head east so that when the strong winds returned they would have a better angle on the wind and a favourable current.
Pete says, 'Though we are the furthest east, we find ourselves back at the bottom end of the fleet. This is largely due to the fact that the boats that stayed close to the Taiwan coast did better than we expected and the current is actually against us not with us. Not to worry, we are the comeback kids so watch this space!'
Spirit of Australia's decision to avoid the Scoring Gate in favour of positioning themselves for the beat up the east coast of Taiwan has paid dividends and they have moved to the front of the fleet. It's been a tough 24 hours for the Australian entry but according to skipper, Brendan Hall, crew morale couldn't be better.
Brendan says, 'Last night, the Spirit of Australia crew did their hardest headsail change of the race thus far. We changed from the Yankee 3 to our storm jib in 35 knots of wind, gusting over 40. As always the foredeck crew approached the daunting task with total confidence and a calm and methodical approach but, in the end, it was their sheer brute strength, willpower and grit that got the sail down and changed. Their beaming smiles as they returned from the foredeck, bruised and exhausted said it all - a team of people had just accomplished something extraordinary, together.'
Uniquely Singapore's skipper, Jim Dobie, has been equally impressed with the way his crew are handling the conditions, saying. 'It's amazing how much grit and determination the guys have and they are always willing to
get back up on the foredeck to change yet another sail or put in another reef.
'Now begins a slow process of tacking, trying to make a decent course to Qingdao as well as keeping our speed up. Fortunately it hasn't got too cold yet but, as we clear Taiwan, we know the sea temperature will drop sharply and so will the air temperature. Socks, thermals and hats are starting to come out now.'
Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin, is also looking at what lies ahead as his team battles with the confused sea state caused by the wind blowing against the current.
'So it turns out that Saturday's fun and games for the Scoring Gate was only the warm-up act,' says Piers. 'Right now we're bashing north against the headline act, a heavy North East Monsoon which looks set to stay for the next few days. There looks like there will be respite once we're in the Yellow Sea but not for a couple of days yet.'
Positions at 0900 UTC, Monday 15 February
Boat DTF* DTL*
1 Spirit of Australia 670nm
2 Cape Breton Island 684nm 14nm
3 California 685nm 15nm
4 Qingdao 687nm 17nm
5 Uniquely Singapore 689nm 19nm
6 Hull & Humber 699nm 29nm
7 Jamaica Lightning Bolt 721nm 51nm
8 Team Finland 750nm 80nm
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 778nm 108nm
*DTF = Distance to Finish, *DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com