Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Slow progress in light conditions

Gold Coast Australia - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.

Gold Coast Australia, the first team to commence the Ocean Sprint, has reported slow progress in light, fluky winds as the massive high pressure system lingers over the fleet.

Richard Hewson and his team crossed the start point at 90 degrees east at 1348 UTC yesterday. They have yet to reach the finish at 95 degrees east, at which point their elapsed time for covering the distance will be calculated.

'This Ocean Sprint is more of a crawl as the lingering high pressure system slowly overtakes our position bringing with it light shifty winds from the west,' he said.

Richard reports that his team hoisted their lightweight spinnaker at first light but as the wind had dropped they have struggled to keep it filled.

'Not only are the lighter winds slowing down our progress, but we are also making a 1000-mile detour around the high pressure system to ensure we are not becalmed for the next week,' he explained.

However, the high pressure system is bringing with it some welcome rays of sunshine and warmth. 'The lighter winds have bought with them warmer weather and even the odd glimpse of sunshine, which is being thoroughly enjoyed by the crew,' Richard said.

The fastest team to cover the distance between 90 and 95 degrees east will receive a bonus point, and with the contest judged on elapsed time rather than position relative to the rest of the fleet, any of the ten teams is in with a chance of securing the extra point.

On De Lage Landen, skipper Stuart Jackson reports that his team has also encountered the lighter winds as they approach the start of the Ocean Sprint.

'This massive high will deal its cards to all the teams, but it remains to be seen how each will play its hand,' Stuart said.

Stuart said he suspects this will be one of the most tactically interesting races of the year-long series around the world.

'We placed our bets so as to protect our position relative to the eight teams behind us, and will be working hard to maintain the best possible speeds under tricky conditions as we traverse the high pressure zone,' he said.

New York has opted to go into Stealth Mode, and the team’s position will not be reported until midnight tonight. Meanwhile, skipper Gareth Glover reports a setback after his one functioning spinnaker pole bent after shooting forward when the guy line securing it slipped.

'As we were already working with only one pole, after the incident we were down to none. We sent a quick email back to the Race Office this morning and were granted permission to make one good pole from our two broken poles,' he said.

'So our saloon has been turned into a workshop with our medium weight kite on one side that the team of repairers has already put in over 20 hours of work into and still has another ten hours to do before we can re-hoist. Then we’ve got the two eight-metre poles in there which run from the bow to the stern as it was too dark to cut and re-drill them overnight,' Gareth explained.

He added that New York will have a new pole and kite back in working order in the next 12 hours in time for when the high pressure system passes. 'Then we’ll be back into full racing mode and making our way to Geraldton and, hopefully, a top three finish,' Gareth said.

Geraldton Western Australia and Qingdao are in a close duel for fifth place, and are currently neck-to neck with the same distance to the finish.

Juan Coetzer on Geraldton Western Australia reports that it has been 'a tough day at the office' with very little wind. He said his team had struggled to log any distance in any direction as they ghosted along under their kite.

'There were times when the breeze would fill and the helm would follow it, but unfortunately it sometimes took us on a heading back to Cape Town,' Juan said.

'The next tactical dilemma is trying to work out how we are going to play the Ocean Sprint, in relation to making a good course towards our home port,' he added.

Qingdao - The Clipper Race fleet left Jack London Square in Oakland on 14 April to start Race 10, to Panama - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Abner Kingman/onEdition

On Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie is relieved to report that he his team has had a 'quiet 24 hours' after their recent dramas including a major kite wrap and an incident when a crew member descending from the rig crashed into the skipper on deck.

'We pushed as far east as we could in the dying breeze under the spinnaker yesterday and spent the night trying to keep the boat moving under full main and Yankee 1,' Ian said.

'This did mean constant changes of course and trim to try and maximise our speed. Our course varied hugely and when the helm lost concentration we even ended up heading west, if only briefly,' he said.

As the wind started to fill in from the north this morning, Ian said he had been mulling when to start heading north for the finish line in Geraldton. Over the next days it will become clear how long each skipper is going to wait before making the crucial turn, and they will all be watching each other closely to see who is going to strike out for the finish line first.

Ben Bowley on Singapore said he had decided to take the Great Circle route from their current position to Geraldton.

Upon closer inspection of their damaged heavyweight spinnaker, affectionately known as Sticky Vicky due to the amount of repair tape used in previous repairs, substantial damage to the reinforced areas of the sail has been identified. 'This is rather bad news as the sewing machine aboard is likely to turn its nose up at having to stitch through five or more layers of heavy fabric,' Ben said.

On a more positive note, Ben reports that his lightweight is almost ready for a trial hoist when conditions permit and the medium weight is now only in two pieces rather than five.

This is good news for Ben as he said he is sure that the final stages of the race will require some kind of downwind sail for the run up the west coast of Australia.

For the moment, the Singapore team is relived that to be sailing upwind as they skirt the edge of the high pressure system despite the more difficult living conditions, as on that point of sail they are not handicapped by their lack of functioning spinnakers.

'We will have some more tricky routing decisions to make in a few days based on watching the trends in the forecasts but at least it should start to get warmer,' Ben said.

Gordon Reid reports a 'frustrating and challenging' 24 hours on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital in unstable conditions.

'The wind has started to play a little bit with us, one moment it's gusting up to 30 knots the next it dies off completely but as dawn broke here on the wild Southern Ocean, the wind has started to settle and we are making good progress towards Geraldton,' he said.

'Over the next few days there are some significant tactical decisions to be made by the all of the teams as they tackle the high that threatens to stall the final push towards the finish line,' he added.

'There are only a few options, each having advantages and disadvantages in speed and progress. Only a strong nerve and time will tell who has made the right call,' Gordon said.

Like all the skippers, Gordon is keeping a very close eye on the weather, and closely studying the information compiled by meteorologist Simon Rowell and distributed to the fleet on a daily basis.

'Although we are currently in the upwind scenario and heeling at 25 degrees, as the wind comes round, we should not only improve our course and speed, but it will also be more comfortable for those down below moving around and preparing food,' Gordon said.

'As we start to flatten out a bit, more jobs can be undertaken en route allowing us to make the most of Western Australia when we arrive. For now the Purple Beastie continues to ride the ocean waves in what is becoming a fascinating battle to the finish line,' he added.

Derry-Londonderry races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Bruce Sutherland/onEdition

Derry-Londonderry has chosen to don the invisibility shield for 24 hours, a tactic which each team can employ once in each race, and will remain in Stealth Mode until midnight tonight. Only then will it emerge whether Mark Light and his team have gained or suffered due to their northerly position.

On Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne reports that yesterday was the first time during this race that the sea was not streaked with white caps and the familiar rolling swell.

The calm conditions presented an opportunity to carry out some checks under the boat.

'Two crew members put on wetsuits and got in the water to inspect the propeller and steering gear. Not many people can say that they have been swimming in the forties!' Olly said.

Olly is considering tactics as his team deals with the lighter conditions and struggles to keep their 40-tonne Clipper 68 moving. 'With the worst of the high pressure now over the fleet, the competition is hotting up again as the boats toward the back of the fleet work themselves into a stronger northerly position,' he added.

'So as the coming weather takes a lighter appearance, we will have to get back into some more tactical sailing, although I doubt that we have seen the last of the wrath of the Southern Ocean,' Olly said.

From this weekend, Discovery has confirmed that it will start screening Against the Tide, the television series about Clipper 09-10, on Discovery, Discovery HD and their +1 counterparts with the first episode scheduled to go out tomorrow (Sunday 23 October) at 6pm.

Discovery World across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) has also been screening the series on Tuesday evenings (times may vary in different territories) and today (Saturday 22 October) the whole series is being screened back-to-back on Discovery World throughout EMEA from 0835 to 1355 BST. Check local schedules for further information.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 22 October
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,517nm
2 De Lage Landen - 1,575nm (+57nm DTL**)
3 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,699nm (+170nm)
4 New York - 1,699nm (+182nm) Stealth Mode until 0000
5 Qingdao - 1,727nm (+210nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,727nm (+210nm)
7 Singapore - 1,767nm (+250nm) position at 0600
8 Visit Finland - 1,859nm (+342nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,938nm (+421nm) position at 0600
10 Derry-Londonderry - 1,969nm (+452nm) Stealth Mode until 0000

*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