Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – Downwind dramas

The Clipper 11-12 fleet with Corcovado in the background ahead of the start of Race 3 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Daniel Zeppe/onEdition
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-2012 third race, from Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town, is currently underway. A day of downwind sailing has resulted in gear damage and torn sails across the fleet after the long-awaited wind filled in.

With the spinnakers flying again, frustration has turned to excitement and in some cases drama, as a number of teams have reported damage overnight on the fourth day of race three.

Stuart Jackson and his team on De Lage Landen continue to hold onto a narrow lead in their easterly position. After sailing under the medium weight kite all day yesterday, the Dutch team changed to the heavy weight spinnaker at sunset.

'We were romping along and I was having a little sleep in my bunk when I was called on deck as the spinnaker halyard had snapped. We had to quickly retrieve it from the water to avoid damage. On the down side there was no fruits de mer in our catch!' Stuart reports.

On Gold Coast Australia, high octane surfing turned to drama when the spinnaker pole snapped in half.

'There are times in ocean racing when things do not go as they should, and last night we experienced one of those moments when our spinnaker pole snapped in half, shearing the spinnaker pole end clean off in the process,' skipper Richard Hewson reports.

'The crew handled the situation very well and we dropped the heavyweight spinnaker intact, hoisted the Yankee 2 as a replacement and re-wooled the heavyweight spinnaker in preparation for the next hoist at dawn if the conditions are suitable,' he added.

For the Gold Coast Australia crew, Singapore is their nearest rival with just a mile separating the two boats at the latest position report. The crews are still hoping to find more wind down south, but skipper Richard Hewson offered another clue as to why he has opted for a southerly course in this morning’s report.

'My home is at 42 degrees south, and the further we head south the more I feel closer to home and in my element. Though we are not in the Southern Ocean, the remoteness, beauty and energy of this environment is incredible,' he said adding that had a pod of pilot whales or false killer whales surrounding the boat yesterday. 'One dived just under the bow and I had to yell for everybody to hold on as I thought we were going to hit it,' Richard said.

Rupert Dean also reports that it has been a big night for the crew on Welcome to Yorkshire. After a day of running deep downwind under the medium weight kite, the team hoped to wait for daybreak to change down to the heavyweight kite on double halyards.

'Alas it was not to be. On easing the pole forward the beak [holding the guy rope] at the end of the pole exploded. Something up the rig caught the collapsed kite, causing a simple but major tear down one side. To the crew's credit, we got it down quickly without panic, before hoisting the Yankee 2, staysail and hardening up onto a beam reach to head south east again,' Rupert reports.

'Having sustained no kite damage since leaving Southampton back in July, to have a major repair to do on the medium weight is a major blow and, following a quick debrief on the situation, we allowed ourselves a group scream which certainly made us feel better,' Rupert added.

Derry-Londonderry at the start of Race 3 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Daniel Zeppe/onEdition

Welcome to Yorkshire was not the only team to have snapped off the spinnaker pole beak end fitting, with Mark Light on Derry-Londonderry reporting the same damage.

'Just before dinner and completely without warning the cast beak end fitting on our working starboard pole snapped clean off, leaving the pole swaying around and clattering twice into our forestay,' Mark said.

'As usual, the Derry-Londonderry crew leapt into action and we managed to lower and secure the pole, collapse the spinnaker behind the mainsail so that we could get to spike it and carried a faultless conventional drop before any sail damage occurred. All in all, a great effort,' he added.

In the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race teams are penalised for avoidable sail and equipment damage sustained during the race. Penalty points are awarded for damage to sails and other onboard equipment such as spinnaker poles and deck gear according to the rules set out in the Clipper Sailing Instructions. For example, four points are deducted when a spinnaker needs to be replaced and the points are taken from the team’s overall tally.

Race Director Joff Bailey explains, 'This is an important element of the Clipper Race as it encourages skippers and crews to take care of their boats for the long haul, after all it is a marathon and not a sprint. The rules have been developed over the previous seven Clipper Races and they are aimed at encouraging caution and promoting good seamanship.

'We’ve seen reports of equipment damage from a number of boats overnight and if required penalty points will be awarded to the teams involved after the Cape Town stopover in accordance with the Clipper Sailing Instructions. Following the Rio stopover several teams are very close to having penalty points awarded due the amount of professional sail repair undertaken and the Clipper Race Committee is currently deciding what actions to take but it is looking like no team will be penalised from Race 1 and 2,' Joff said.

Sightings of whales have been reported across the fleet. On New York, round the world crew member Raghu Gopalakrishnan, said high spirits onboard now that the team is making good progress to the Scoring Gate were further lifted by a close encounter with a humpback whale.

'The highlight of the day was a humpback whale breaching clean out of the water about 50 metres off the port side and making the biggest splash I have ever seen. We could see the water mark where it landed for almost a minute!' Raghu reports.

Singapore at the start of Race 3 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
Daniel Zeppe/onEdition

On Singapore, the relief felt when the wind finally filled in was tempered by the knowledge that the boats to the north were getting the same conditions.

'Sunrise brought bad news in terms of new Grib [weather] files showing that the northerly boats had not suffered with light fickle winds for any longer than we had,' skipper Ben Bowley said.

However, the crew of Singapore breathed a heavy sigh of relief when they hoisted their heavily-repaired heavyweight kite, dubbed ‘Sticky Vicky’ due to the amount of spinnaker repair tape that has been used to patch it together.

'After we hoisted her, we held our breath and sheeted on, half expecting her to fill then pop, but so far so good!' Ben said.

Juan Coetzer, skipper on Geraldton Western Australia, reports that his team has also been flying its heavyweight spinnaker. With a distance of 110 miles logged in the last 12 hours, Juan will be relieved to be making good progress towards the port where he lived and worked for many years.

'We had a big wind shift in the early hours of the morning that meant we were heading north east. So down came the spinnaker and up went the Yankee 2 and stay sail, and now we’re power reaching and maintaining a good course,' Juan said.

Although the team on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has had their fair share of drama overnight, they have managed to avoid any costly damage.

'We found the wind and everything was going beautifully until one of the spinnaker sheet snap shackles decided to pop open during a twin pole gybe. We found ourselves screaming downwind with two poles up and the medium weight spinnaker flapping like a good ‘un attached to only one pole.'

The team managed to get the flapping sail down between the two poles and down the forward hatch without sustaining any damage.

'They talk about the luck of the Irish but on this occasion the Scottish yacht was lucky, and we managed to get it down without a scratch on it!,' Gordon said, adding that his crew was waiting for daybreak to climb the mast to inspect the spinnaker sheaves to ensure nothing was damaged.

Qingdao in the Clipper 11-12 Race fleet parade of sail in Rio de Janeiro.
Daniel Zeppe/onEdition

Qingdao continues to chase down De Lage Landen and Visit Finland at the head of the pack with the Chinese team logging the highest 12-hour run of 119 miles. Ian Conchie reports that a morning of downwind sailing under the medium weight spinnaker was interrupted by a snapped halyard.

'We started off by hoisting our medium weight spinnaker as the wind filled and moved to the west giving us a morning of beautiful sailing under the spinnaker in the sunshine. Then our trusty spinnaker halyard broke dropping the kite into the sea. Luckily this happened during our dog watch at lunchtime so the whole crew was on deck to help gather the spinnaker really quickly,' he said.

A switch to the heavyweight proved beneficial as the wind built before another shift forced a change to white sails, Ian reported.

'Then, just to top it all off, the kicker broke but yet again this crew showed how far they have come in that all the day’s problems were dealt with calmly and quickly,' Ian said.

'We continue to hold third position which is boosting crew morale. We know we’ve yet to see the full extent of all the different strategies played out so we wait on each update like kids awaiting exam results!'

Positions at 0900 UTC, Wednesday 14 September
Boat - DTF*
1 De Lage Landen - 2680nm
2 Visit Finland - 2683nm (+3nm DTL**)
3 Qingdao - 2692nm (+12nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2715nm (+35nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry - 2721nm (+41nm)
6 Gold Coast Australia - 2725nm (+45nm)
7 Singapore - 2726nm (+46nm)
8 New York - 2741nm (+61nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2768nm (+88nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 2773nm (+110nm)

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