Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Fight to the finish

Welcome to Yorkshire in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day seventeen of race five, from Western Australia to New Zealand.

With four of the podium contenders racing within six miles of each other and another team in the vicinity opting to go into Stealth Mode, the closing stages of race five are set to culminate in a nail-biting climax.

Welcome to Yorkshire is currently trailing the front runner, Gold Coast Australia, by less than a hundred miles and with four teams jostling for the second and third spots the racing will be intense right up to the line.

Rupert Dean said he expects his team will be beating to windward for the rest of the race and with so many yachts in close proximity, the final few hundred miles are set to be 'very tense indeed' on Welcome to Yorkshire.

'Every evolution, trim check, reef, sail change and decision when to tack will be crucial in what is shaping up to be, even by Clipper Race standards, a classic close finish,' Rupert said.

Just two miles behind Welcome to Yorkshire, Stuart Jackson said his De Lage Landen crew has been spurred on to fight for 'every fraction of a knot' by sightings of the English team and Derry-Londonderry.

Stuart said that racing in close quarters for a podium position is keeping his team motivated to keep battling after a tough couple of weeks. 'The crew has been working hard in order to make the most of the changing winds as we get closer to Tauranga,' he said.

With the position reports reaching the Dutch team around meal times, Stuart said a 'weird silence' falls upon the saloon when he checks the latest standings. 'I have never seen so many of the crew so tense about miles lost or gained. It really is going to be a nail-biting finish,' he said.

Tensions are also rising on Derry-Londonderry and skipper, Mark Light, compares the intense beat to the finish to game of chess as the teams react to each wind shift.

'After over 3,500 miles across thee Southern Ocean, this is turning out to be a fantastic race to the finish and it is fascinating to watch every little gain or loss,' Mark said.

With so many teams racing in close quarters, Derry-Londonderry’s crew is constantly in a state of readiness to change a sail, tack or trim and react to whatever is necessary to keep up the momentum.

'That said, this is ocean racing so there is one other main contributing factor that could yet change proceedings…Mother Nature!' Mark said.

Gold Coast Australia continues to hold the lead after adapting from sailing in a storm to drifting along in less than five knots of wind in just six hours resulting in numerous sail changes.

However, the light and fluky conditions are prompting skipper, Richard Hewson, to look over his shoulder as he watches the other yachts catch up at every position report.

'The worst possible scenario is that we will be stuck in a wind hole while the other yachts sail to the east and around us. With only 100 miles left to East Cape and only 250 miles left to the finish our tactical options are quite limited,' Richard said.

'We are very constrained in our ability to chase winds or sail around weather systems and have almost changed our racing mode and strategy from offshore to inshore as we approach the finish,' he added, noting that he was being forced to go against his usual rule of sailing where the wind is to sail the direct line to the finish. The team’s efforts are further hampered by the southerly flowing current.

Although the light winds have hindered progress the team lapped up the first glimpse of sunshine in quite some time. 'The blue sky and sunshine enabled the boat and personal equipment to be dried out. When I came back on deck at mid-morning, I was amazed to find what appeared to be a Chinese laundry completely covering all deck space available that was not taken up by crew absorbing sunshine for the first time in many days,' Richard said.

Today the Race Committee announced that it had penalised Gold Coast Australia one point for equipment damage. While recognising that ocean racing is an extreme sport and acknowledging that the massive loads placed on the yachts by the force of the wind and waves inevitably will cause some damage, the rules of the Clipper Race are designed to promote good seamanship, conservative sailing and equipment preservation. Each of the teams has a certain budget to cover avoidable equipment damage.

Race Director, Joff Bailey, explained, 'While some teams have incurred no costs for avoidable damage while still racing competitively, several are very close to the limit and Gold Coast Australia has exceeded theirs. The team has therefore been penalised one point and the penalty will be applied immediately.'

Currently 99 miles behind Gold Coast Australia, just six miles separate Visit Finland from second place, and Olly Osborne’s team is doing everything possible to get further up the leader board.

'With only a couple of days to run it really is a sprint for the line now, and with so many experienced teams in the battle for the podium, every mile counts,' Olly said.

'Rather frustratingly we have dropped away from the leaders again and despite our best efforts we don't seem to be able to close the gap,' he added.

'We are now in the South Pacific proper, and today our surroundings are changing to reflect our position. We’ve got blue skies for the first time in many days and a fairly consistent breeze so a good chance to dry some gear out and we are making good progress,' Olly said.

New York is the latest team to go into Stealth Mode as they close in on Tauranga. Gareth Glover and his team’s position will not be revealed until 0600 UTC tomorrow, hiding their tactics for a 24-hour period from the rest of the fleet and race followers. However, as the team continues to struggle with a ripped mainsail, Gareth fears that a top-three spot is slipping out of his grasp.

'The rip in our mainsail has opened back up and is now over 1.5 metres long. After all the hard work in the wind and sea we were unable to repair it fully. This time it looks like we cannot repair it at sea and have been sailing under headsail alone,' he said.

Gareth said, 'We are not a team to say we can’t do something but this time we might have been beaten. There will other races for us to win and we’re all looking forward to a rest and sharing stories with the other teams over a beer hopefully very soon.'

As anticipated by skipper, Ben Bowley, yesterday, the team on board Singapore spent last night and the early hours of this morning under engine as the wind faded on their north easterly course towards Tauranga. With the wind set to grace them again, the team is looking forward to a fast run up to Cape Reinga, the north western tip of New Zealand’s North Island, over the coming days.

'Throughout the day we have seen the cloud base lower, the wind slowly veer and increase, combined with persistent drizzle, all signs of a weak approaching warm front. We are not complaining however as a little ‘mizzle’ (misty drizzle) is a small price to pay for the inevitable backing of the wind round to the west,' Ben said.

'Presently we are trying a new sail configuration that sacrifices a little speed for increased pointing and this is working well for our VMG [velocity made good]. I shall not say too much but it involves getting a very flat, de-powered main and the Yankee 3. This should work for us so long as the seas do not build up to quickly, by the look of the forecast though I think we shall be down to 2 reefs before sunset,' he added.

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital at the start of Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
Karl Monaghan/onEdition

As Edinburgh Inspiring Capital leaves behind the Southern Ocean current and crosses the Chatham Rise past the Cook Strait to enter the South Pacific Ocean, the team is experiencing what skipper, Gordon Reid, describes as 'a day of Champagne sailing'. However, he admits that he is missing the 'fury and excitement' of the Southern Ocean.

'We feel a little bit disappointed that the strong winds forecast have not materialised. But for now we have 25 to 30 knots on a fine reach, we are once more closing on the fleet at a fierce rate, the sun is shining and the crew is cracking on with the boat jobs.

'We will soon be out of the Roaring Forties, and they have certainly roared on this race. The forecast is for strong north westerlies as we approach the East Cape, so we may yet have a last blast on this truly awesome adventure in the world’s longest yacht race,' he added.

On board Qingdao, frustrations continue for Ian Conchie and his team as they experience stubbornly light winds.

While the team waits for the winds to arrive crew member Mark Burkes, 46, reports that the wildlife has been a highlight on this race.

'We’ve had sun, blue skies and a plethora of wildlife. We must have seen 30 albatross today alone, each of them the size of a turkey, gliding serenely above the ocean, circling us as if to check out these strange visitors to their domain. Then there are the seals and dolphins. We really have felt like we are approaching a land of milk and honey, lush with life and energy,' he said.

Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer, has reported sailing close to the coastline and the team will be taking heed of warnings from meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2002, Simon Rowell, 'to keep a close ear on the coastal forecasts as you go round the various headlands,' Geraldton Western Australia’s crew continues to work hard as they maintain eighth position on the race towards Tauranga.

As the teams continue to close in on the finish line, the race management team has arrived in Tauranga to prepare for the fleet’s arrival in New Zealand for the first time in the history of the Clipper Race. The ten weary crews will be greeted by stunning beaches and scenery when they arrive in the Bay of Plenty famed for its white sands, beautiful climate and wide range of activities on offer.

As the race team arrived in Tauranga yesterday, 50 Little Blue Penguins were released back into the wild after being caught up in the MV Rena incident, when the cargo ship ran aground spilling oil into the bay. After an extensive clean up operation, the area is now open returning to normal as one of New Zealand’s top holiday destinations.

The current ETA for Gold Coast Australia at Tauranga Bridge Marina is Thursday morning local time (tomorrow evening UTC).

Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 22 November
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 222nm
2 Welcome to Yorkshire - 315nm (+93nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 318nm(+95nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 319nm (+97nm)
5 Visit Finland - 321nm (+99nm)
6 New York - 335nm (+113nm) Stealth Mode until 0600
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 466nm (+244nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia - 502nm (+280nm)
9 Qingdao - 687nm (+465nm)
10 Singapore - 1537nm (Position at 0600) Retired

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