Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty sixth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. As the finish line of leg six draws closer, the competition between the ten internationally sponsored yachts is certainly heating up.
Gold Coast Australia - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12
With the front running boats expected to arrive this weekend, the teams know they will have to give it all they’ve got for a final boost up the leader board in this race.
Leader Gold Coast Australia is expected to cross the finish line at around 0300 UTC on Saturday, 2000 local time on Friday, arriving in Jack London Square in Oakland shortly afterwards.
As they advance towards the finish line, Richard Hewson reports, 'Gold Coast Australia has received its first entourage of support today as we were escorted towards the Californian coast by a pod of sei whales and a sooty albatross. With fewer than 150 miles and less than a day to run until the finish we are hoping they won’t be the only supporters we see over the next 24 hours.
'As we sail further south the temperature has warmed up slightly making life a lot more enjoyable. Full thermal gear is still required to face the elements, particularly throughout the night where crew find life on deck and down below still bitterly cold. As we near the coast crew are dreaming of warm showers, dry beds and dry clothes and if we continue to make good speeds hopefully dreams will become reality on Friday night.'
Richard adds, 'The wind has maintained its strength allowing us to make some good speed down the Californian coast. The famous California Current, however, seems to have gone on holiday as we are still not seeing any visible signs of this natural super highway. Hopefully as we sail further east we will begin to see signs of its effectiveness carrying us towards the finish under the Golden Gate Bridge.'
Benefiting from a tactical decision to head south for more favourable winds in Stealth Mode, New York’s crew are working hard to keep hold of their podium position.
Skipper Gareth Glover, explains, 'After coming out of Stealth Mode we managed to get in front of Derry-Londonderry and move into third but, as I told the crew, we need to work harder to hold on to this place as I am sure Mark and his team are going to fight to gain this place back and, with 400 miles left to go on this race, it’s still going to go to the wire.
'Before we went into Stealth Mode we had spent most of that day looking at the weather GRIBs. The wind heading to the east looked very light so we entered Stealth and gybed over to starboard and headed south until we got to 38 degrees where the wind forecast was for 30 knots. We then sailed east which we are doing now.
'Luckily for us the wind was there and around 30 knots from the south west so with one reef in the main and Yankee 2 we sailed on a beam reach and powered along at over ten knots. We just hope we can hold off Derry-Londonderry and take our fourth podium spot.'
Meanwhile, on board Derry-Londonderry, there has been an air of disappointment as news of their rivals’ success reaches the team.
'We are getting very close to San Francisco Bay now with less than 48 hours to go. Unfortunately we have lost our battle with New York for third place, painfully so late on in the race, almost at the eleventh hour,' reports skipper, Mark Light.
'We saw the gap to the south, passing ahead of the lighter winds but were reluctant to take a flyer given that we were the ones holding third and nobody else had made the move, so we carried on hoping all would follow. As soon as New York made their move in to Stealth Mode I had a very strong feeling that they had gone for the more southerly route. It seems that the winds were not as light as predicted below us and, after our steering gear failure, we suffered at the hands of the wind gods.
'When we finally picked up momentum and New York came out of Stealth Mode it was clear for us to see and the damage had been done. Big congratulations to Gareth and his team for a very positive move and a very clever 24 hours.'
Mark adds, 'We will now push on to make sure that we remain in fourth and also stay ahead of the heavy weather racing up behind us!'
Emerging after 48 hours in Stealth Mode, Singapore has maintained her second place after a busy night of sail changes in what skipper, Ben Bowley, describes as, 'by far the most challenging we have had at sea this leg.
'I lost count of evolutions fairly early on in proceedings but in the process we went from 35 knots of true to six knots and back to 35 knots. Our soggy sail wardrobe got a thorough airing (although due to the persistent drizzle, nothing actually dried) and by morning I was thanking my lucky stars that we never hoisted the medium kite, as we very nearly did.
'The crew have put in a herculean effort with most of them being up all night trying to keep the boat in the right gear. Much of this was fuelled by seeing that New York had come out of Stealth Mode having apparently managed to avoid the worst of the fluky winds between the lows. Congratulations to them for making some very sound tactical decisions that put them within 50 miles of us yesterday evening.'
Ben continues, 'Luckily for us, the wind started to steady out this morning from the south west with enough punch to keep us driving toward Oakland with a minimum of ten knots VMG (Velocity Made Good) again. With less than 300 miles to go we are still looking over our shoulders, but I feel confident that our more northerly position will pay off in the closing stages of this race. Fingers crossed we shall be passing under the Golden Gate Bridge in a day and a half for a rarely seen daylight arrival!'
In the dash towards the finish line the teams are playing their Stealth Mode cards in a bid for a last re-shuffle in the pack. Race 9 across the North Pacific has seen the teams cover 6,000 miles and is the longest individual stage of the Clipper 11-12 Race. The teams are able to use two periods of Stealth Mode, either combining them to make a period of 48 hours, or using them separately at any time of the race.
While in Stealth Mode, the team's position is not reported to the fleet or on the website for the period of 24 hours, or in some cases during this race 48 hours, however the Race Office still tracks the team for safety reasons.
At 1200 UTC yesterday, Visit Finland cashed in their invisibility card and will be sailing under Stealth Mode for the next 48 hours, or to within 100 miles of the finish line, whichever comes first. Skipper, Olly Osborne, reports, 'It is amazing how close the boats still are at this stage and I think most of us will be finishing within a day of each other. So for the next 24 hours we will be pushing hard to better our position in the final order as the boats re-emerge for the final few miles to the line.
'There is a feeling of anticipation on board as thoughts turn to the food and dry clothes that are only a couple of days away now, but it looks like the Pacific will have one last battering in store for us tomorrow as a deep low develops above the pack. This will be the last challenge to negotiate, and with any luck we will emerge without too much gear damage to enjoy the run it towards the ‘Big Red Bridge’.'
In the last 24 hours the Finnish entry has also finished the Ocean Sprint alongside Welcome to Yorkshire, who will miss out on the extra point on offer as Gold Coast Australia continues to hold the time to beat of 25 hours 53 minutes and 42 seconds.
Unperturbed, skipper Rupert Dean reports that the English entry is making the most of the milder conditions.
'As for the rest of the fleet, the fast sailing under grey skies continues on Welcome to Yorkshire. All of us are looking over our shoulder at the approaching low, which looks set to produce very strong winds during our final push towards Oakland.
'Hopefully those final few miles will be fast and incident free, for we are all very much looking forward to good food, showers, beds and dry clothes on terra firma. It's been a relentless leg for all involved.'
De Lage Landen’s crew are also looking forward to what lies ahead in port in Oakland. The team is in Stealth Mode for 48 hours, and will emerge at 1750 UTC on Sunday.
Skipper Stuart Jackson, reports, 'With less than 500 miles to go, we are starting to feel the end of our journey approaching. The crew is starting to count down the miles towards the finish, and is fantasising about food and various beverages they are going to consume when first on land.
'In the meantime, still far away from land, we are experiencing steady winds coming from the south west, giving us some great speeds. Hopefully we will be able to keep this up for the next 48 hours which should take us all the way towards the Golden Gate Bridge.'
Also hoping to keep up the pace is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital after a heavy night of unrelenting weather conditions.
Skipper Gordon Reid, explains, 'Another full on day in the Pacific Ocean, once more the sea is huge and the wind is howling. Yesterday saw us lose some mileage as we overcame a few challenges with our sails, our old enemy the chafe monster and a brief but devastating lull in the wind.
'However the wind picked up last night and we are back on our game again today, the helming is fairly taxing in the messy sea state we are in but with the sails in perfect balance we have found the groove once more.'
Gordon adds, 'With 500 miles to go we will continue to push hard all the way to the finish.'
On board Geraldton Western Australia, skipper Juan Coetzer and his team have had an interesting 24 hours practicing their traditional sailing methods as they navigate through the shifting winds.
Juan explains, 'The electrical gremlins are back. Somehow, every once in a while the instruments will work at the helm. It’s a great novelty to know how fast you are going, when you know you are surfing down waves in the right direction. So it’s back to traditional sailing, using the compass as a guide, the feel of the wind and the trim of the sails. Link all this up on the right swell, and you will have a smile for a while.
'This is the calm period before the next raging low comes. The tri sail is lashed to the mast as a precaution, and the crew have been briefed.'
With under 700 miles to the finish, Juan adds, 'Hold on and enjoy the ride, it’s almost over!'
'We passed the 500 miles to go mark today which brought another cheer from the crew, plus we managed to just sneak past Welcome to Yorkshire!' announces Qingdao skipper, Ian Conchie.
'Now the goal is to try and keep them behind us! The wind dropped off as night fell so we have been changing our sail plan to try and squeeze every little bit of speed we can.
'All eyes have been on the weather forecasts, as we wait for the new low to catch us up and give us one last blow before the finish. As such we have checked our sails and gone through our routine maintenance checks. We have also started preparing for our arrival in Oakland, making sure we have the paperwork ready and going through our remaining stores to check for customs compliance. I suspect the crews’ eagerness for these tasks is primarily to minimise the time it takes before they can have a well-earned beer!'
Gold Coast Australia is expected to cross the finish line on Friday evening local time (early hours of Saturday UTC), with the chasing boats arriving across the weekend. They will be berthed in Jack London Square, Oakland. Watch out for updated ETAs which will be posted on the official race website and you can follow the teams' progress on Facebook and Twitter. They will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show.
Positions at 1200 UTC, Friday 30 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 102nm
2 Singapore - 265nm (+163nm DTL**)
3 New York - 324nm (+222nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 355nm (+253nm)
5 Qingdao - 420nm (+319nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 424nm (+322nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 511nm (+409nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia - 632nm (+530nm)
9De Lage Landen - 633nm (+531nm) Stealth Mode: position at 1800 UTC 29 March
10 Visit Finland - 721nm (+619nm) Stealth Mode: position at 1200 UTC 29 March
*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