The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-2012 offshore racing teams have at one time or another faced the same dilemma: sail a greater distance in the hope you’ll get more favourable wind or sail the most direct route and take the risk of becoming more or less becalmed.
Singapore and De Lage Landen set sail for Madeira on the first leg of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
This question and the decisions taken are behind today’s shake up at the top of the race one leader board as Gold Coast Australia, which was at the head of the fleet 24 hours ago, plumps for the first option, while Visit Finland is sticking to the rhumb line in their quest to be the first to fly a yellow winner’s pennant in Clipper 11-12.
'Who would have thought that yesterday morning we were smashing into 25 knots of wind with rain and not a glimpse of sun and this morning we are sailing downwind with 20 knots behind us in glorious sunshine... it’s almost as good as being on the Gold Coast of Australia!' says skipper, Richard Hewson.
'Yesterday the tactical decision was made to gybe east towards land in a direction away from Madeira and head towards the Portuguese coast towards a developing wind belt between two pressure systems. The benefit of this is also to pick up stronger currents flowing south down the Portuguese coast.
'During the evening the decision was made to change from the heavy weight spinnaker to the medium weight. Alas, during the change some extensive chafing was noticed on the spinnaker halyards. After hoisting the medium spinnaker on the starboard halyard, the crew worked hard to re-splice cover onto the port halyard to prevent further chafing.
'At 0400 the wind backed to the north northwest and co-incidentally it was change of watch time and a perfect time to gybe back onto starboard and resume our course for Madeira.
'At the moment we are just off Lisbon on the west coast of Portugal and making good speed towards our destination. We will not know if our decision to cover the extra miles and head inshore has paid off until this morning’s, or even this evening’s sched (a sched is communication between the race fleet and the race office to notify them of our position). My guess is that at the moment the rest of the fleet are a lot further west to and closer Madeira as the crow flies. We will have to wait and see if our ‘flyer’ has paid off.'
Have a look at the wind forecast on the race viewer, clicking through the next 12, 24 and 36 hours to see whether you think Gold Coast Australia’s tactic is the correct one. The arrows show the direction and strength of the forecast wind.
Visit Finland is back in the lead and the team’s navigator, Tomi Lintonen, also remarks on the difference in the conditions they now have. 'What a contrast to the previous couple of nights!' he says. 'Now we know that racing can sometimes feel luxurious. For a while it seemed that we would not be able to see the half-moon or the stars due to a band of clouds closing in from the west but after midnight we were treated to a friendly sight of hundreds (sorry, just hundreds, not millions) of stars. We were fortunate to have enough breeze to keep the lightweight spinnaker up all through the night - and it aided our fine ship in eating up the miles separating us from the pleasures of Madeira.'
New York is maintaining pressure on Visit Finland and Gold Coast Australia and they, too, are enjoying the respite from the battering of the last two days.
Gareth Glover, skipper of the US entry, says, 'The sea is still rolling a bit in the swells that the storm churned up and with the kite up, the helm and the trimmers were doing their best to squeeze out some low single digit knots. Talk turned to where the boats that sped down the coast were. They seem to have gained some distance but perhaps not that much towards the finish.
'The breeze was slightly better by evening and the crew settled down for a starry night of helming and trimming. Scorpio was just setting as the 10pm watch came on and Sirius appearing in the east was bright enough to throw a reflecting stream on the gentle seas... The dreads of last night seem so far away.'
The podium places in this race are all there for the taking and Derry-Londonderry, Singapore and Welcome to Yorkshire are all in with a chance of claiming one – and they’re all working hard to get there.
Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry, reports a night full of headsail changes. 'We have gone from a beautiful sail with our medium weight spinnaker to poled-out Yankee 2, to windseeker and now to Yankee 1 as the breeze is now building from the west northwest.
'My crew are very proficient at most evolutions and are showing great confidence even at this early stage. I do give my watch leaders and assistants lots of responsibility and they have responded with lots of intelligent and pro-active answers. I'm no Einstein but my theory is: Crew Responsibility + Coaching + Confidence = (Fast Boat + Happy Boat) x Extra Sleep! I was never good at maths but I’m liking simultaneous equations more and more!'
While Mark has discovered a new skill for maths, on Welcome to Yorkshire it’s gymnastics, according to skipper, Rupert Dean.
'Our lives have been transformed from being thrown around at 20 degrees to trying to coax life into lifeless sails on a flat deck - very difficult when the residual wind is overcome by confused, sloppy seas from the day before,' he tells the race office this morning.
'Moving around the boat in these conditions is every bit as much of a challenge as in rough weather. For with lack of wind to induce a constant angle of heel, the boat moves unpredictably in the sloppy seas, making us all stumble around like drunken men. Some can cope with this better than others. Keith Pickering, for example, has found a unique way of getting across the boat quickly, which involves unannounced backflips.
His latent gift for gymnastics was spotted when doing a back-flip across the deck, which impressed us all. No harm done, fortunately, but it does demonstrate the point that working on boats has its hazards. Needless to say, all on Welcome to Yorkshire send their condolences to Russell Sandbach on Geraldton Western Australia. It could have happened to anyone.'
'It’s been a calmer night in many ways for the crew on Geraldton Western Australia,' says Juan Coetzer, skipper of the Western Australian yacht. 'After our pit stop in Vigo we have enjoyed lighter winds on our journey south west to re-join the fleet. Below decks things are back to normal with everyone catching up on a bit of rest and adapting to our new watches following Russell’s, hopefully brief, departure. He's planning to re-join us with Madeira cake and beer!'
He’ll be heartened by all the messages of support on the Clipper Race Facebook page!
Reports from across the fleet this morning have an air of relief about them – none more so than from Singapore, whose skipper, Ben Bowley says, 'We have seen a marked improvement in the weather and therefore the general mood aboard Singapore. The sun has been out, people are dry, the boat is stable and things can finally get clean and tidy. I feel that part of the joy of yachting is pulling through the really rough times when one really is at one's wits end and emerging the other side with a greater appreciation of life's simple pleasures. Such things as dry, clean clothes we tend to take for granted in everyday life whereas on a yacht they can be the greatest of luxuries. Having these deprivations at sea tends to change one’s attitude to life when back ashore.
'In terms of our sailing performance over the last 24 hours, we started off very well, managing to hoist our heavy kite early in the day yesterday. The conditions were not ideal as there was a failing wind combined with a confused heavy sea, throwing the boat violently from side to side as if she were a child's toy in the bath, hence the choice of the heavy, more robust spinnaker. We were able to hold the kite well through the day until around mid-afternoon the halyard parted approximately ten metres from the top. The kite was recovered with no further damage and the Yankee 2 swiftly raised and poled out to allow us to still make good progress downwind.
'This is how we have been running for the last 12 hours, slowly, almost dead down wind, whilst we endeavour to put more chafe protection on the forward inboard end of the spreaders. Chafe is going to become the bane of our lives on these yachts with a lot of areas yet to be discovered the hard way and protected against.
The wind has just backed round and come forward of the beam so currently Rotary watch are rigging for a change to the Yankee 1. Hopefully a day of close reaching toward Madeira in light, flat conditions will give the guys a chance to have a taste of how life aboard is to work for extended periods. Thermals and underwear are to be washed today, as are bodies, as we have finally dug out the solar showers purchased pre-departure. Hopefully we can finish the chafe protection on the spreaders before the wind comes aft again requiring the kite.'
Chafing – where a rope rubs constantly against a piece of the metal rigging and wears through if you don’t pick it up quickly enough – is also on the minds of the team on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
Skipper, Gordon Reid, writes this morning, 'The old saying that ‘chafe is the enemy’ was proven to be correct following our previous night flying towards Madeira. The crew are proving to be quite skilled at recognising as well as resolving any potential problems before they become problems and spent a large part of the day whipping lines and applying chafe protection to every surface of the boat that might give us a problem.
'They are all now in the solutions business... ‘No problems, only solutions’. Sometimes solutions arrive without problems, it's great to watch! The standard and quality of the workmanship was very impressive and they whipped and spliced their way around the entire race yacht.
'Whilst all of this activity was underway we continued to tease every knot out of the yacht under spinnaker in sometimes light and fickle winds. Our patience paid out as the wind backed and filled once again we were rocking along under conventional headsails. The crew have found their inner tigers and want to roar!'
While, at the back of the fleet, Qingdao’s dragon may not be roaring, the fire in her belly is not extinguished either. There are still more than 38,000 miles and 14 more races in Clipper 11-12 and, as is often said, it is a marathon not a sprint. Skills learned in difficult times will stand the team in good stead for the rest of their campaign.
Ian Conchie, skipper of Qingdao, says, 'It’s been a quiet-ish night; no reefing, no rain, no shipping. For once the only excitement we had was a broken strop on a spinnaker sheet! And a toast related fire alarm - all causing me interrupted sleep but no major drama. It’s been a good 24 hours as we have kept the boat moving in pretty much the same direction, just praying for more wind to speed us on our way! If the forecast is right the wind should start to veer today and build to speed us down for the final push to Madeira!'
The first yachts are expected to arrive at Quinta do Lorde Marina on Tuesday 9 August.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website