Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the fourth day of race ten from Oakland, California to Panama.
Singapore - 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
'All that was missing from today was the champagne for breakfast, rosé for lunch and an ice cold G&T for sundowners!'
Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, is not alone in declaring the last 24 hours one of the best days’ racing the teams have had in a long time.
'We have had a spectacular day of near perfect sailing conditions today with steady winds and clear blue skies. The temperature was perfect and the sea state ideal allowing all to be reminded of how wonderful a day can be at sea when Mother Nature is not conspiring to make life tricky!' he adds.
Rupert Dean, Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, concurs: 'All this seems such an incredible difference from the hard-core cold, wet, windy and rough conditions of Leg 6,' he says. 'Then we were focussed on survival, with the safety of the crew and the vessel taking as high a priority as the racing itself.'
Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, says simply, 'Today has truly been a magnificent day on the water.'
As layers are shed and bodies and souls warmed by the sun, the lack of energy sapping, cold, wet weather and pounding seas means the crews can focus fully on the racing which remains remarkably close as the yachts head south past Mexico.
For Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, whose crew is pushing hard and determined to show they have what it takes, it may well be a case of less haste, more speed.
'Unfortunately this morning we've had a massive wrap of the kite,' explains skipper, Flavio Zamboni. 'In fact the thing managed to wrap around itself, the forestay, the inner forestay and the pole up-haul! It took us a while to sort out the mess but in the end we managed to take it down with only minor damage. At that stage I tried to be smart and asked the crew to put the heavy one up in the meantime without hoisting the headsail first. As a result, we nearly wrapped that, too. Because of all of the above we ended up sailing under main only for a few hours which, of course, has benefited the competition.
'The crew of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is trying really hard, anyway, and we're looking forward to the days to come!' he concludes.
The boats are so close there is only six miles between Qingdao in fifth and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital in eighth place. The team representing Scotland’s capital city has been racing the furthest offshore and is the most southerly of the yachts.
Visit Finland emerged from Stealth Mode at the midnight position update and there’s an edge of disappointment in Olly Osborne’s report this morning.
'Our time in Stealth Mode proved to be very varied with the breezes being light in the most part, although towards the end of the period we have had some great speeds. Clearly emerging in third is disappointing but, with such small distances between the boats, the leaders are still far from being out of reach,' he comments.
'We worked very hard to put the boat in the right place tactically during the last 24 hours and headed towards a more inshore position, although the combination of gybe angles led us to pursue a course that was not necessarily the shortest. As always the least miles sailed is often best, and I think we covered a few more than we really needed to.
'However there is a great sense of focus on board and we are making great speeds. The quality of the sailing is second to none, and the leaders are well within our sights. So for the meantime the vibe is good on board, and we will continue to hunt down the lost miles.'
Now ten miles behind leader, De Lage Landen, Visit Finland has slipped to fourth as they gybe offshore again.
Stuart Jackson and his team have been able to keep their rivals in visual range, saying, 'We were joined in company by Visit Finland today who have been just astern of us for most of the day.
'What a great couple of days’ sailing we have been having. Luckily the wind has stayed with us and has not been quite as light as the weather forecasts seemed to show. With the weather that is forecast it looks like we will continue to gybe our way down the Mexican coast.'
One of the rules of the Clipper Race prohibits the teams from receiving outside help with their weather routing. As the yachts are identical, carry the same sail wardrobe and the crews are as evenly matched as possible, this makes for a level playing field and thrilling match racing. So every day meteorologist, Simon Rowell, winning skipper in Clipper 2002, sends the latest wind and weather data to the yachts. The big question on every boat is, how long will the wind last as we get further south?
At least another week, is today’s forecast as Simon explains, 'You're firmly in the flow off the east Pacific high. As you get further south there are a few areas of more consistent breeze, and in the longer term, in about five to seven days’ time, a fairly large low is forecast to move through the Gulf of Mexico, which may well give you decent northerlies funnelling across the Central American isthmus east of about 100 degrees west.'
'This race is how people dream ocean racing could be, blue sky, pleasant winds, dolphins and whales,' says Richard Hewson as his team moves into second place.
'Yesterday evening we gybed away from the rest of the fleet to make some ground to the south with the aim of staying in the belt of wind that is funnelling offshore. Around breakfast time we gybed back towards the shore and it was a nice surprise to see another yacht on the horizon at breakfast and I spoke to Sparky [Mark Light] on Derry-Londonderry who had come in from the offshore group of yachts and was ten miles behind, an indication of how close the fleet is at this point of time.
'The wind eased throughout the day and we changed to our lightweight spinnaker and appeared to make some good ground on the rest of the fleet. It was light wind sailing at its best as the crew made the most of the sunshine and nature, enjoying the performance of dolphins swimming past.
'At sunset the wind picked back up and we are now sailing along on port gybe towards the rhumb line and the island of Guadalupe with the rest of the fleet to our north. We now have some fantastic wind which should stay with us throughout the night and hopefully give us some more miles on the rest of the fleet.'
Welcome to Yorkshire is sticking like glue to the Australian yacht, Rupert remarking on the difference between this and the last race.
'How times have changed! These days the focus is on constant and careful trimming of the spinnaker and measured movements of the helm, in order to keep our racing home moving as fast as possible. With the wind from the north north west pushing us exactly in the direction we wish to go, focus is on which gybe is the best to be on. There's little to choose between them, explaining the wide longitudinal spread of the fleet at present.'
Racing under medium weight spinnaker, Rupert adds, 'Sea conditions are slight and predictable, making moving around above and below decks easy.'
Qingdao, maintaining their fifth position, have crossed paths again with Singapore and now have another team in their sights.
Ian Conchie says, 'We headed towards the coast last night before gybing out this morning and heading south again. The crew are now getting used to flying the kite and we have been making good progress all day.
'This race looks like it will be a close one as the fleet is still close together as we run down the coast, with both inshore and offshore routes seeming to offer the same speed at the moment. The interesting part will come when we get further south and the wind drops. In the mean time we continue to chase our old friends Welcome to Yorkshire who have been sailing very deep downwind all race so far.'
Meanwhile, the crew of Singapore – lack of champagne and G&T aside – have been having a near-perfect day in the Pacific Ocean.
'Our evolutions today have been near textbook and the crew have been doing a fine job of keeping the boat moving in the right direction and speed all day long. I am almost holding my breath waiting for Lady Luck to throw a spanner in the works and ruin what has been a stunning race so far. I'm sure it shall come in about 48 hours’ time when the wind starts to leave us as we approach the tropics once again. Fingers crossed that we have made it through the Scoring Gate by then!
'It's good to see the fleet still so tight as we cross gybes back and forth. There are definitely times when inshore is seeing a little better pressure and others when those who have stayed a bit further out are making good gains. Our tactic of striving down the middle of the fleet seems to be working out well, giving us options to hedge our bets depending how the rest of the fleet is getting on. Our only problem now is that someone seems to have placed the island of Guadalupe directly where we want to go. Presently we have not decided which side to pass but I'm sure over the next few hours the wind will shift slightly making the decision for us.
'Today has been one of our best at sea for a long time and we hope to have a couple more the same before the sweatiness starts!'
The Scoring Gate is still 600 miles away. In this race the gate is narrow at just 50 miles wide, which means the yachts will have to come close together to funnel through it. But it is not compulsory, so the teams can choose to go for the bonus points or bypass it altogether in favour of attempting to achieve a higher finishing position in the race.
In the meantime the decisions are which kite to fly, which gybe to be on and whether to leave the island of Guadalupe to port or starboard. But, while the temptation might be to relax into the fabulous conditions, concentration is absolutely key to not falling behind in this race.
'We have made good progress over the last 24 hours flying our faithful medium weight spinnaker ‘Jack’ (the Ripper). Conditions have been superb; we have had between 12 to 15 knots of true wind coming from the north north west,' reports Mark Light from on board Derry-Londonderry.
'This, together with a favourable Californian current of about three-quarters of a knot, has given us a perfectly flat sea and therefore great downwind spinnaker sailing conditions. Everybody on the boat has had the chance to helm and received coaching to stand us in good stead for the future. For some it is the very first time helming under spinnaker, so, different from our first dark night at sea, the crew are now motivated, slightly more experienced and feeling more confident about downwind sailing.
'Given the fact that this is going to be a very close fought race and any small lapse of concentration can cause a major hassle there is a certain amount of pressure associated with helming a Clipper 68 under spinnaker. All the crew have done exceptionally well and shown great levels of concentration which in turn has shown in our race position.
'We initially ignored the temptation to head inshore with most of the fleet and are now sailing in a constant band of pressure, therefore giving us a good steady flow of wind pushing us down towards Mexico. I am happy that we are in a fairly good position to make the most of our conditions knowing full well that before long the wind will begin to desert us in the coming days.'
Juan Coetzer, skipper of Geraldton Western Australia, just ahead of Derry-Londonderry, is also happy with the progress of the crew who joined the boat in Oakland for the USA coast to coast leg of the race.
He says, 'Perfect sailing conditions today: downwind, sunshine, dolphins and the crew are beginning to peel off the thermal layers. The new crew have experienced their first kite peel, from the medium to the lightweight kite, and completed a successful gybe. The good news is that we have picked up Singapore on AIS, and this morning they were 19 miles away, and now, just ten miles. The maintenance regime still carries on with daily checks and services. Just before the medium kite drop, we spotted a small rip in the medium, so now it’s repaired again ready to go.'
They are trucking along nicely on New York, too, after the sail repair team got to work on an old rip in one of the spinnakers yesterday, quickly getting it back into service.
'We are heading south under full mail and have been peeling from one kite to the next most of the day as the wind came and went,' reports Gareth Glover, whose crew have dug out shorts and t-shirts from the bottom of their bags as the weather warms up.
'We have Singapore on our starboard and Qingdao on our port and Gold Coast Australia around 10nm in front of us so we still have a group of yachts together racing offshore. We did not take the gamble of heading into shore too much and hope our middle of the road tactic will pay off for us until we get further to the south where going inshore may pay.'
The first teams are expected to reach Panama between 9 and 10 May.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 17 April 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 De Lage Landen - 2,644nm
2 Gold Coast Australia - 2,649nm (+6nm DTL**)
3 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,652nm (+8nm)
4 Visit Finland - 2,654nm (+10nm)
5 Qingdao - 2,661nm (+17nm)
6 Singapore - 2,664nm (+20nm)
7 New York - 2,666nm (+23nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,667nm (+23nm)
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,678nm (+34nm)
10 Derry-Londonderry - 2,680nm (+37nm) Position at 0600 17 April
*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