Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-2012 third race, from Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town, is currently underway. The teams are dividing into two distinct groups to the south and the north east as they hunt for the elusive westerlies to power them to the finish line in Cape Town.
Welcome to Yorkshire - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Rupert Dean, skipper of Welcome to Yorkshire, said his team is aware that they have chosen a high risk strategy by heading out on a limb and have taken a 'big hit' in terms of their distance to the finish and position in the fleet.
After studying the grib files and synoptic charts that are sent out daily to the Clipper fleet from the Race Office in Gosport, Rupert and his team decided that taking the direct line to Cape Town would be 'a physical impossibility' due to the headwinds forecast many days ahead.
'To separate from the fleet as we have done is a high risk strategy and not one which one takes lightly in one design yacht racing. What's more, we’re having to sail through a high pressure belt of light winds to reach these westerlies. However, the Welcome to Yorkshire crew is aware of the risks and have been briefed and involved in the decision making process at all times,' he said.
In the Clipper Race skippers share their knowledge and skills to involve their team in all aspects of running their boat. On Welcome to Yorkshire the crew has prepared the passage plans under Rupert’s guidance and he believes their input is important.
'After all, it is their race, they are living their dreams and carrying the hopes and aspirations of our Welcome to Yorkshire sponsor and all our supporters back home,' he said.
To add to the excitement, Welcome to Yorkshire has opted to go into Stealth Mode for 24 hours so their position will not be reported again until midnight UTC tonight leaving the teams guessing as to whether their dive south has paid off.
Another team going into Stealth Mode option whilst tactics play out is Derry-Londonderry. Skipper Mark Light reports that good boat speeds have put his team in a 'nice position' as they hunt down the westerlies overnight.
'The whole crew has worked fantastically well and has had to dig deep to discover the hidden energy and determination which is exactly what is needed to push on and keep our boat moving through everything that Mother Nature has to throw at us,' he said.
After beating into the wind the weary teams are keen to get the breeze behind them so they can hoist their powerful spinnakers and resume life at a more civilised angle.
'But before getting back to downwind conditions we first have the tricky business of negotiating the large South Atlantic high pressure which is currently to the south and east of us. We think we have a strategy that will get us through the light and fluffy stuff into the westerlies all the way to Cape Town but only time will tell,' Mark said.
Mark added that the Derry-Londonderry team is looking forward to reaching Cape Town to see their round the world crew member, Tim Hawkins, who broke his ankle during race two from Madeira to Rio de Janeiro.
Gold Coast Australia continues to maintain the lead and skipper Richard Hewson said that the team had 'fantastic' sailing conditions overnight as they sailed up the inner contour of the high pressure system making good progress to the east.
'Early this morning as the high pressure system overtook us, the wind backed on cue and Gold Coast Australia made a tack to the south east where we plan to sail around the back of the high pressure system to the stronger westerly belt of wind in the south,' Richard said.
Despite his team’s good progress, the last 24 hours haven’t been without their dramas on Gold Coast Australia. Richard reports that the steering went sloppy last night and investigation identified a lot of play in the rudder stock inside the bearing.
Richard’s concern that the Clipper 68 had caught a net or line around the rudder prompted him to 'back off the tempo a bit' until he was able determine the cause of the problem to confirm that it is safe to go full steam ahead.
On Edinburgh Inspiring Capital at the back of the fleet, skipper Gordon Reid has taken yet another trip up the mast to deal with chafe issues following a spree of snapped halyards.
With the wind easing, the crews are faced with a new set of steering challenges, he reports.
'As the wind eased the call from the skipper below was, 'Do you want some coffee to go with those donuts?' as inevitably sailing too close to the variable wind caused a few steering errors,' Gordon said, referring to the 360 degree turns carried out after accidentally tacking the boat through the wind.
Gordon and his crew are hoping that their decision to head south will put them in the band of westerly wind any time soon.
'For the time being we are trucking towards Tristan da Cunha, on which we’ve discovered there is a town and anchorage called Edinburgh!' he said. The settlement known as Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is the main village in the overseas territory of the United Kingdom, and is widely-regarded as the most remote permanent settlement in the world being some 1,500 miles from the nearest inhabited land.
On Geraldton Western Australia, skipper Juan Coetzer, said that despite painfully slow progress towards the finish due to headwinds, his crew was in high spirits and enjoyed showers and shaves.
'Looking at our distance to the finish between the 1200 position report and then six hours later at 1800, we were actually one mile further away from Cape Town. We are looking for long term pay off, so fingers crossed,' he said.
Juan also commended his crew, particularly medic Jane Hitchins, for their care of injured crew member Hilly Bouteloup who suffered suspected broken ribs after being flung from her bunk in heavy seas. 'My biggest surprise this morning was to see Hilly standing at the nav station by herself without support whilst I was typing at the computer. Jane has done an excellent job so well done to her and the rest of the crew,' he said.
Also heading south is Ben Bowley and his crew on Singapore. The team backed by Keppel Corporation is hoping that the group to the north east will remain stuck in headwinds whilst his team picks up the strong north westerly breeze earlier.
'We may end up sailing more miles but hope to be able to hoist our kite earlier and start the final charge to Cape Town. To be totally honest, either tactic could pay off and a lot depends on how accurately the weather matches the forecasts. But for now though we have made our choice and we must stick to it,' Ben said.
'As the night has worn on we have been very gradually lifted and hope to see the wind start to fill in over the coming 24 hours. Once again, Lady Luck will have the last laugh with some of us as we all eagerly await the next set of grib files and synoptic charts,' he added.
In the north easterly group, skipper Stuart Jackson on De Lage Landen said that his team is battling with steering issues again.
'We are back on emergency steering whilst we fashion another modification to our steering pulley system, which hopefully will be ready for trial around sunrise, so fingers crossed for this one,' he said.
Whilst using the emergency steering, the boat was smashing into waves it was impossible to avoid, bringing them to a near standstill, Stuart reported.
Life is also uncomfortable on the most northerly boat, Qingdao. Skipper Ian Conchie reports that the conditions have continued to take their toll on crew and the boat as they push upwind.
'Every job takes longer and more effort simply because of the angle of the boat. It is still a bizarre sight to see someone hanging on whilst brushing their teeth,' Ian said.
'What I am most grateful for is the morale and grit of my crew on Qingdao. Come what may weather wise everything has been greeted with fun and good banter, he added.
Skipper Olly Osborne on Visit Finland said that his team was now almost exactly halfway to Cape Town as the crow flies.
'But as the headwinds continue it looks like the latter part of the journey will take some time. However, the weather files look promising and although there will be some lighter airs to negotiate there is the promise of westerlies beyond them,' he said.
The punishing conditions have resulting in a very wet boat and the dampness has forced a halt to the repairs to the team’s heavyweight kite as the tape will no longer stick to the fabric.
'The consistent battering that we are taking on deck is beginning to test our stamina as white water rolls down the foredeck and into the cockpit, but spirits are high and I have been very impressed by the determination and support that everyone on board is showing,' Olly said.
On New York, skipper Gareth Glover, reports that lighter winds have enabled his crew to regroup after a tough few days as they remain positioned amongst the southerly group.
'The crew has worked hard all day fixing and cleaning to get us back to full race mode after the last 36 hours of beating we have taken,' he said.
As the boat has flattened out, Gareth reported that the mood on board was relief as the crew can now move around without bashing themselves against the boat.
Gareth reports that eating was now 'pleasurable again and not an Olympic sport' and the crew on Mother Duty are cooking non-stop to feed the crew now they are feeling better.
But all eyes are on the position updates as the fleet are halfway to the finish line in Cape Town. 'The next 24 hours is going to see a big divide in the fleet, and we’re all waiting for the next reports to come in to see how things play out,' Gareth said.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 20 September
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1503nm
2 Visit Finland - 1561nm (+58nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 1584nm (+81nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 1638nm (+135nm) Stealth Mode until 0555 21/09
5 Qingadao - 1652nm (+149nm)
6 Singapore - 1655nm (+152nm)
7 New York - 1687nm (+184nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1756nm (+253nm) Stealth Mode until 2355 20/09
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 1767nm (+264nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1855nm (+352nm)
DTF* = Distance to Finish. DTL** = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found here.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website