Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the eleventh day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The race offers everyday people the chance to take on some of the planet’s most extreme sailing conditions and today is no different with the crew of the eighth edition of the race preparing for another Pacific Ocean onslaught.
The Clipper 11-12 Race fleet departs Qingdao, China to start Race 9, to Oakland, San Francisco Bay - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
'A warning about the low coming from the south which looks like it will merge with its own secondary in about two days time,' reveals Simon Rowell, Meteorologist and winning skipper of the Clipper Race in 2002, in his daily weather report to the fleet.
'This will squeeze up against a smallish, by North Pacific standards, high to the north, which will give a period of pretty strong headwinds.'
For now the ten internationally backed teams are making the most of light winds ahead of the predicted strong winds.
'Yesterday afternoon the winds abated and although the temperature has dropped significantly the afternoon sunshine was and enjoyable and welcome sight,' explains Gordon Reid, skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
'In the wee small hours we dropped out of the back end of the low, which we had been sailing in for several days and as the sun rose again we set about a vigorous servicing programme, maintaining winches, cleaning and lubricating blocks, whipping new sheaves on halyards, sheets and reefing lines, inspecting all sails and every single bit of deck equipment on board.
'Below deck, everything has been carefully stowed and secured and I have initiated my NFA policy (No Flying Articles) as we prepare for the next Pacific Ocean kicking,' continues Gordon.
'We are ready and waiting for the raw fury of the ocean and on the ‘Purple Beastie’ it is NFA all the way!'
Meanwhile on board Derry-Londonderry, skipper Mark Light also reports of calmer conditions.
'As the low pressure system moves away to the east we are presented with lighter conditions and a chance to recharge a little before the next big blow! This morning with blue skies and flat seas we hoisted our lightweight spinnaker and improved our boat speed up to 7 knots.
'As the wind veered from west-north-west towards north we trimmed on, adjusted our pole angle and while reaching managed up to 10 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground).
'Unfortunately this didn't last long enough and we had to drop the spinnaker and go back to white sails (Yankee 1 and staysail) after only a few hours,' says Mark.
'Now we are preparing once again, physically and mentally for the next heavy weather courtesy of yet another North Pacific depression.'
Currently leading the fleet and in the driving sit in the race to the Scoring Gate is Gold Coast Australia, skippered by Richard Hewson.
'Yesterday evening the winds began to abate and seas calmed down a bit allowing us to change back through our sail inventory and decrease the amount of reefs to the point that we are now sailing again with a full mainsail, Yankee 1 and staysail.'
Boasting a lead of 98 miles over their closest rival New York, the Australian entry will hope to extend their advantage once the lighter conditions have passed.
'This morning the wind died out all together and for most of the day it has been very variable. Normally we would find this very frustrating, however, with the sun out and blue skies it was a welcome relief from the strong winds we have had over the past couple of weeks and it allowed us to not only dry some kit on deck but do some maintenance to get the boat ready for the next blow,' continues Richard.
'Included in the maintenance was the job of repairing our spinnaker pole. Sean Fuller who is an engineer and project manager in 'real life' took charge of the job by devising a way of shortening the pole by two feet by using an existing sleeve that was already in the pole to re-sleeve it. The finished pole maybe two foot shorter but at least it will do the job.
'The forecasted conditions are not exactly desirable and I have been spending a lot of time looking at the best and safest route and options to deal with the weather. Unlike most sailing events we cannot just find a nice little cove or head back to the marina when things get rough out here. We must be prepared to deal with any conditions that we may face and look at every available option to try to minimise the impact on the boat and crew. Once all the preparations are done, sometimes all we can do is wait and hope that the punishment is not too severe.'
Over on board national rivals, Geraldton Western Australia, they too have been working on preparing the boat ahead of the strong conditions.
'All yesterday’s hard work, getting the boat back into racing order, was rewarded with hot showers and a working stereo,' says skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'Night time is really chilli, and last night the crew discovered a new method of discoing to 80' Jive in order to keep warm and alert.'
Leg 6 is the longest of Clipper 11-12 with tactics and weather routing all playing a major part and often being a deciding factor in a team’s performance.
'Very strange things are happening to the weather systems in this area of the world at present,' reveals Welcome to Yorkshire skipper, Rupert Dean.
'The classic sailing route involves heading north east from Japan to this point or higher, then riding the westerly winds compressed between the high pressure systems to the south and the lows to the north. This is strategy being followed by the fleet leaders now and was ours too, until we entered our second phase of Stealth Mode sailing.
'Our first phase had done us proud. Taking a high risk through sailing more miles, we tacked our way north to keep in the Kuroshio Current off the south east coast of Japan. Riding this on its oscillation east saw us climb from seventh to fourth, which we would never have achieved otherwise. Seeing a large low unusually developing at 38 degrees north 170 degrees west and an extension of the Kuroshio moving east at 35 to 30 north, we've made a bold move south using our second stealth card. The idea being to ride the current east, get westerly winds under the low, then south-westerlies to help us get north again. All this the leaders endure headwinds at the top!' continues Rupert, with his team currently in sixth place.
'Our bold hand will hopefully reap long term rewards. However, with the low now forecast to be at 35 north 170 east in a day’s time, this is less likely to be so. Whilst we could get stronger winds than the boats north in the calm before this low hits, we now look set to endure headwinds too and stronger ones to boot. These may continue in the massive elongated high which develops once the low moves off north east, the saving grace being that the boats further north may experience little wind at all.
'To summarise, this is a real complex meteorological situation at present, which is creating headaches for all the navigators in the fleet, 'Chess with muscles' this surely is!'
Hoping to jump ahead of their Yorkshire rivals and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is Visit Finland, currently in eighth position.
'The mood of the sea has changed once again during the last few hours and we are getting back into a good sailing breeze after an unusual spell of light airs,' reports skipper, Olly Osborne.
'We have been able to keep moving though and I am hoping that our southerly position will allow us to tap into the new air stream sooner than some of the other boats.
'At this stage in the race we need to be seeing the gap closing with the leaders and the focus for us now is get back into a competitive position before the distance becomes too great. Morale on board is high though and with some upwind conditions forecast it will be a good opportunity to put the pedal down.'
Currently the most southerly positioned boat of the fleet is De Lage Landen, skipper by Stuart Jackson.
'As the yacht has made it over a third of the way to San Francisco, the aims and goals are being updated for this leg.
'Almost one week after we have had to medevac one of our crew members, we are very much aware that we will have to keep fighting until the last mile to make it higher up the leader board,' explains Stuart.
'After eight months of racing we can see that the competition has become stronger and stronger over time. In order to retrieve 24 hours worth of miles it demands a very strong and dedicated crew. Also we are racing in a whole different weather pattern. The last 24 hours we have once again been pushed south by winds from a new forming system. In the meanwhile we are giving it everything we've got and hopefully we'll make it up to the top again.'
Frustrated by the light winds which are halting his team’s progress is Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley.
'From too much to not enough, wind that is. The high pressure has truly swallowed Singapore and we are making our way tediously slowly to the east on what little patches of wind are to be found here and there. It requires a lot of concentration from the helm to keep the boat moving and the apparent wind up.
'Things are a little better this morning now that the sea state has calmed down a little. Yesterday it was like someone switched off the wind and left us wallowing in a tumbling windless seascape with flogging sails and a very uncomfortable motion,' continues Ben.
'This is where an element of luck is coming into play with some boats getting better angles or strengths in wind depending on their position in the fleet. We are trying to keep as much height as we can in order to keep our windward advantage over New York.'
The Singaporean entry has been locked in a battle with their American counterparts over the last few days with only two miles separating them in the current race as they as two points on the overall leader board.
'We are well aware that they are our nearest rivals in the series and I do not want Gareth to leap frog in front of us by getting more points at the Scoring Gate. He's had a good race so far and seems to be making excellent speed so let's hope this veering wind favours us a little further to the north! Game on buddy!'
On board New York, skipper, Gareth Glover has also been left perturbed by the calm conditions over the last 24 hours.
'Now the wind has died off we are left bobbing around in less than five knots of wind. So out comes the job list... We took this time to do repairs on our headsails and to drop the main for a few hours to swap out some of the battens you always damage when you are reefing the main and swap out our number two reef that had been worn out from the wind a few days ago.
'Main back up and crew sat on the leeward side we are getting around two knots of speed heading east, we have to just wait now until the new wind fills in and hope that we can pick up some miles on the fleet towards the gate and for the rest of the race hold on to a top three place.'
If you’ve ever wondered the best way to motivate a crew of ocean racers, Gareth, reveals his tricks.
'This morning whist most of the crew were asleep I made chocolate chip cookies for the crew as rewards for working hard so far, but did make a big mess for the awaiting mothers of the day... but all was forgiven for the cookies.'
Meanwhile Chinese entry Qingdao, won’t have ruled out a late dash for the Scoring Gate and are well positioned currently in fifth place and hoping for quick conclusion to the light winds.
'After several days of good wind (sometimes too much wind) the wind gods deserted us in the early hours of the morning and left us in the first of many wind holes!' explains skipper, Ian Conchie.
'This lost us some mileage to the boats around us and dropped us to fifth but looking at their positions it would appear that they have the same problem as us just maybe not as bad!
'With over 3,500 miles to go though we are not unduly worried as long as we keep up with the leading pack.
'We have used the time as best we can to clean and fix as much as we can before the next system comes through in the next 24 hours so we have fixed lee cloths sails, cleaned the boat throughout and done our routine maintenance and safety checks.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Thursday 15 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3451nm
2 Singapore - 3554nm (+103nm**)
3 New York - 3556nm (+105nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 3574nm (+123nm)
5 Qingdao - 3601nm (+150nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3644nm (+193nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3673nm (+222nm)
8 Visit Finland - 3679nm (+228nm)
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 3681nm (+230nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 3804nm (+353nm)
*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