Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day nine of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao. The ten-strong fleet of ocean racing yachts have had a mixed 24 hours sailing as they continue to spar against the unpredictable monsoon weather in the South China Sea.
Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race Fleet
Today sees Geraldton Western Australia slip from the lead after securing three points as the first to cross the Scoring Gate. With only two miles separating them from the front runners, skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports that the team has been keeping a close eye on the forecast in a bid to glean back the advantage.
'Our weather Guru, Simon Rowell, has kindly given the fleet the latest current direction information. This is great as we were trying to use the current to our advantage, and it is rather hard to find the right current without it. There are like street signs saying to exit left in two miles to take the north westerly current. The instruments we have are our water speed impeller and GPS. If the GPS speed measures more than the water speed, you have current with you, and that is a good thing.
'It is beginning to get a little colder in the evenings as crew are starting to wear their full set of Henri Lloyd gear, trying to keep warm and dry,' Juan adds.
All the yachts competing in the Clipper Race are identical and receive the same daily weather reports to ensure that each boat is equal and that no one has a head start. It’s the ultimate long distance match race and the winners are those who keep their focus the longest.
On board De Lage Landen, skipper, Stuart Jackson, reports that the Dutch entry is jockeying for position with rivals Gold Coast Australia. As the teams race neck and neck, Stuart hopes that their tactics pay off.
'The last 24 hours has been spent sailing in company with Gold Coast Australia so it has been great to chat to another boat and gives us someone to monitor our performance against. We have now tacked north, which was a little earlier than planned but the wind shift dictated this. We are hoping to get east enough to pick up the current off the Philippines and hopefully we will keep reasonable wind to take us up to Taiwan.
'We have some celebrating to do tonight as it is Honour's (Schram de Jong) Birthday today, so we have some party games planned and a cake has been baked. With any luck we might also find a bottle of something bubbly to share with Neptune.'
After a busy night of sail changes on their north east course, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is also in close company with its fellow competitors. Determined to make gains on the rest of the fleet, Skipper Gordon Reid says, 'With the next yachts firmly in our sights we truck on, squeezing every bit of speed we can out of our beloved ‘Purple Beastie’ and as always keeping the faith.
'During the night we encountered a lot of commercial shipping, with one refusing to abide by the IRPCS and allow us to stand on despite agreeing to alter course when I requested a larger CPA via VHF, he came within 500 metres as I put the ‘Purple Beastie’ in irons briefly to slow her right down and allow the 30,000 ton cargo ship travelling at 15 knots to pass at a safe distance. Another interesting feature is the large number of fishing boats, who display no lights at all until you are within 100 metres or closer then switch on all sorts of mad combinations, including red, green and yellow flashing lights, one even had a blue flashing light!
Also negotiating the challenging conditions and busy waters of the South China Sea is team New York.
'As we head east the more shipping and fishing boats we see, in the night again we had a few fishing boats to go round and this morning we ran over some nets with no fishing boats in sight. Luckily we just sailed over them as it was too late when we saw them, there was just a line of very small floats about the size of a small bottle of Coke, skipper,' Gareth Glover, reports.
'This morning also saw the wind drop to below 10 knots for a few hours so the crew drop out are reefs back to full main. The crashing of the bow up and down is not helping with the crew's sleeping and it’s still over 30 degrees below, we still have fans running in the heat below decks and full oil skins on deck so there is a big change in temp from being on deck to below.'
'Life on Welcome to Yorkshire is pretty upbeat at present,' reports skipper, Rupert Dean. 'We’re enjoying some great upwind sailing (is that possible?), despite the high temperatures and humidity below decks. What's more we've gained miles on many in the fleet. With the constant sail changes, bashing, crashing and living at an angle of 20 degrees, it's certainly a very physical existence on board. Particularly so last night, for we were sailing in gusts of 40 knots apparent, with a treble reefed main, staysail and Yankee 3.
'We've found the masters of merchant ships generally professional and compliant, but less can be said about some of the fishing boats in this area. After tacking onto port this morning we were chased by one kamikaze captain, who appeared hell-bent on collision. So much so, that we had to reach off for a few minutes to outpace him, at the expense of some hard won windward ground,' Rupert continues.
'To say that I was not amused would be an understatement although, on reflection, the dude was probably just extremely curious about seeing a yacht in the area, or herding us away from his nets. It's quite a jungle out here!'
Gold Coast Australia has had a demanding but exciting 24 hours as they battle for supremacy in joint first place with De Lage Landen. Skipper Richard Hewson reflects on the challenges of life at sea for the skipper and crew on board an ocean racing yacht.
'The ever changing conditions that consist of clouds, wind, sea, swell, current etc. make it very hard for the crew who have little racing or sailing experience to get a feel for the boat and to work out the best way to trim and steer. The hardest job for a skipper is to transfer his skills to the crew and teach them as much as possible but there is just so much to teach and learn and learning becomes a lot harder when levels of fatigue are increased due to rough conditions. Imagine giving a physics, maths, geography, meteorology and PE lesson all in one to a class full of sleepy students. The crew are doing a fantastic job and remain devoted to racing the boat hard and learning as much as possible in these challenging conditions.
'I admire the level of knowledge the crew have built up in such a short amount of time and their thirst for knowledge and just wish that I was a better teacher. Who would have thought teaching skills could be one of the most valuable assets in a race around the world!'
As the Australian entry sails north towards the start of the Ocean Sprint Gate adjacent to Taiwan, Richard hopes that the team will be greeted by more stable and predictable conditions that will support their tactics further, only time will tell in this drag race to the finish line.
'It's been a busy 24 hours aboard Singapore,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley, 'having spent the day yesterday striking out to the east in a bid to be upwind when the wind veered to the east, the night brought calmer conditions.
'At dawn this morning there were a few ominous looking black clouds directly in our path but no signs of squalls on the radar. Just as we sailed under the first towering black nimbus monstrosity, the heavens opened and we were treated to a proper monsoon deluge of rain. Accompanying this was around 30 knots of wind which had the effect of making helming rather tricky. Having managed to bear away far enough to drop the apparent to a more sensible figure, we set about getting the headsail on the deck quick smart,' Ben continues.
'The guys did a fine job and by the time we had everything back under control the squall was pretty much over. Later that morning having re-hoisted the Yankee 2 the expected shift came through rather suddenly. This has enabled us to tack over to starboard and make a course almost straight to where we need to go. It will be interesting to watch over the coming few scheds whether Geraldton Western Australia and De Lage Landen’s plan of heading north after the gate and not making ground to the east has paid off. I imagine they were hoping for a kick northwards from the current but with such a dramatic shift on the east side of the course, fortunes could be reversed in the space of 24 short hours. Watch this space!'
Feeling the frustration of the stormy conditions is team Qingdao, who have performed a plethora of sail changes in a bid to make up the miles lost.
'A hard 24 hours of sailing! The wind has been changing every ten minutes making it very hard to set the best sail plan. One minute we would have 20 knots then 30 knots. This has involved lots of sail changes to try and keep us moving as fast as we can. Once no sooner had the change finished than we had to start preparing to change back!' Skipper Ian Conchie, reports.
'This morning however we were welcomed by the first blue sky in days and the change to dry out a bit, we also cleared the northern edge of the dangerous ground meaning we should be able to hold a port take for a day or so and make our way east in preparation for the expected easterly winds!'
Derry-Londonderry skipper, Mark Light, agrees, 'After a very good nights progress heading east we now find ourselves almost becalmed heading nowhere fast.
'We had 1 reef, Yankee 2 and staysail since about midnight and then the trouble started when I (skipper) took the helm! I just fancied a bit of helming for a change, absolutely nothing was wrong and I realised there might be a little bit of precipitation around so very cleverly donned my foulie bottoms and breeze jacket. After five minutes on the helm we were flying along quite happily when a blanket covering of grey clouds appeared on the windward horizon and it started to rain lightly at first then a little heavier!
'Suddenly the patch of water in front of the boat darkened and disappeared into proper heavy rain and poor visibility. The wind veered about 80 degrees and strengthened to 38 knots. Basically, we shot off at 11 knots boat speed - in the wrong direction! We tacked over and made the same speed in a cracking direction just north of east (a direction we have been trying to sail for the past week!) Then, as with all squalls, with very little warning the rain stopped, the wind dropped to almost nothing and backed about 100 degrees to give us a best course of north-west and about 2 knots.
So here we are still sat wallowing, drinking tea and eating cheap Singaporean biscuits! Two morals that I take away from all this is to:
1. Always type your skippers’ blog when it is flat (much quicker)
2. Stay off the helm!
On board Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne has also had a busy 24 hours manoeuvring the boat around the variable winds and dodging the localised traffic.
'Today the wind is less consistent and some gains can be made from tacking on the considerable knocks. The winds over the past few days have been quite different to what we have experienced and each team will be trying to manoeuvre themselves into the best spot for the incoming weather.
'We are passing more fishing vessels now, and the night watches are often busy taking bearings and trying to establish where the boats are heading which is not always easy! But the lighter winds are a welcome change and provide a chance to tidy up and get a few jobs done. Life in the galley is easier too, and we have been enjoying some great meals.'
Positions at 1200 UTC, Sunday 12 February
1 De Lage Landen 1376nm* (+0nm**)
2 Gold Coast Australia 1376nm (+0nm)
3 Geraldton Western Australia 1378nm (+2nm)
4 Singapore 1392nm (+16nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry 1420nm (+44nm)
6 New York 1427nm (+51nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 1439nm (+63nm)
8 Visit Finland 1448nm (+72nm)
9 Qingdao 1528nm (+152nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 1544nm (+168nm)
*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