Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet prepare for heavy conditions

Derry-Londonderry at the start of Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race is on the tenth day of leg four, from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, New Zealand.

The ten competing teams are bracing themselves for a violent storm south east of Tasmania.

'Once started, there is no way to stop it, you can’t just switch it off or change the channel and there’s no pause button,' Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, said this morning in anticipation of the approaching heavy weather.

At sea self reliance is vital and all the teams are making sure they are as prepared as possible for what lies ahead. 'There’s no breakdown vehicle to drive by and offer assistance, so we are totally reliant on our own efforts, resources, resilience, skills and experience,' Mark said.

'Anybody who goes to sea will relate to what we are all feeling and will know what needs to be done so are preparing, sorting, stowing, briefing and waiting for the battle to commence,' he added.

This morning Derry-Londonderry started the Ocean Sprint for race five, crossing 150 degrees east at 0732.44 UTC. The fastest team between 150 and 154 degrees east will be awarded a bonus point irrespective of their relative position within the fleet. Under the race rules, skippers have to inform the Race Office when they start and finish the time trial within three hours to be eligible to win the point.

'This is pure and simply nature at its most powerful, demonstrating that whatever she [Mother Nature] wants to happen will take place and all we can do is deal with it,' he said. 'Part of the beauty of this vast wilderness of ocean is that she can throw anything at you, at any time, whenever she feels like it,' he added.

Mark said that he had received all the weather warnings and updates, satellite images and advice, so now it was up to him and his team to prepare for the 'inevitable onslaught'.

Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition

As Gold Coast Australia made the most of what skipper Richard Hewson described as 'near perfect sailing conditions' earlier this morning, a surprise airborne visit was paid by fellow crew member and Tasmanian Gina Gourlay who will join leg five of the race in Gold Coast.

Gina flew out from Cambridge Airport near Hobart in Tasmania to find her fellow team mates in the middle of the Southern Ocean approximately 180 miles offshore.

'Gina's plane flew a few circles around us and we made contact on VHF radio and had a bit of a chat and shared greetings. Gina is very excited to be joining Gold Coast Australia when we arrive in the Gold Coast on 14 December, and I was very happy to hear that everybody is well in Tasmania. The plane stayed just long enough to take a few photos before it headed back, so a big thank you to Gina for making such an effort and giving us such a big surprise,' Richard said.

Richard reports that after Gina’s visit the weather began to worsen and the team has now turned its attention to preparations for the high winds. The Tasmanian skipper is using his local knowledge and has full confidence in his Clipper 68’s performance in heavy weather. 'I have all faith that Gold Coast Australia will weather the storm with ease provided we look after her and sail with a conservative sail plan,' he said.

Meteorologist Simon Rowell had some relatively good news for the fleet this morning. Earlier forecasts for winds up to 90 knots in the area had been downgraded to more 'normal levels' of 60 knots. 'It's still not going to be an awful lot of fun, but I think that the gust peaks the teams will get won't be as extreme as they were looking to be yesterday,' Simon said.

A lack of wind yesterday saw New York clinging on to second place, but overnight the team was back in the game almost doubling its gain on front runners Gold Coast Australia. This morning New York is heading north to avoid the worst high winds.

'Knowing we will lose miles and maybe a place by heading north, the safety of the crew and yacht comes first over racing. We are following the recommendation to pass north of 46 degrees south and stay there until we receive further information from [meteorologist] Simon Rowell that it has passed. Already the winds are building more than forecast and we are now under a second reef and Yankee 3 with the storm staysail hanked on just in case,' skipper, Gareth Glover, said.

The crew on board New York has become well-versed in the extremes of ocean racing and has been busy getting ready for the high winds by storing kit bags, sorting clothes out for the weather, and switching to their rough weather menu.

As the weather worsens skipper of De Lage Landen, Stuart Jackson reports that in such conditions it is 'comforting to know that there is another yacht nearby' as they communicate with close neighbours Derry-Londonderry and prepare for the brutal weather ahead.

'It's been an afternoon of stowing everything that can move and battening down the hatches in preparation for the low coming through. We are already experiencing wind around 40 knots and are still expecting a fair amount more, especially with the clouds in the frontal system,' he said.

On Visit Finland the team has been reminded how quickly situations can develop in the wild conditions after the Yankee 2 headsail was dragged under the boat during a drop. Six piston hanks attaching the sail to the forestay were torn off and skipper, Olly Osborne, reports that he had to hove-to [a technique whereby the counteracting forces of the action of the rudder and the sails is used to prevent forward motion] in order for the foredeck team to retrieve the sail from under the boat.

'Apart from a slightly blue tint, the Yankee emerged in one piece much to our relief. This was a good shake down for the weather ahead and it serves as a good reminder of just how quickly things can develop at sea,' Olly said.

Now sailing under storm sails in sixth place, Olly said his crew had 'lashed down pretty much everything except the kitchen sink!'

'It is now a process of waiting for the approaching weather, and the mood on board is one of caution but confidence in our boat and in each other,' he said.

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

In seventh place behind Visit Finland, Gordon Reid and his team on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital have already been experiencing some extreme conditions.

Gordon reports that just after 0100 UTC the team’s barometer dropped five millibars in around two hours and 'the sea started to boil with rage'. That marked the start of a testing night for the team as they faced five hours of 'wave after wave of ferocious rain, gusts of over 50 knots, waves crashing over the bow and waves like runaway trains crashing into the side of the boat with an almighty ‘boom’!'

When changing from a Yankee headsail to the storm jib, Gordon said his team was dealing with 54 knots of wind. 'It was lively to say the least as we surfed the monster waves mid evolution with horizontal freezing rain making it almost impossible to see the bow of the boat. The crew did a brilliant job of wrestling the sail down as I luffed up [pointed the bow of the boat into the wind to de-power the sails] to make sure the sail stayed onboard,' Gordon said.

Getting battered by such conditions pushes the crews to their limits and is extremely physically demanding. 'There’s no need for a circuits session at the gym, just helm the Purple Beastie for five hours. It's a whole new exercise regime especially when it's a Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale. What a ride, what a rush!' he said.

Gordon said that the front had passed with the winds easing back temporarily to a more manageable 40 to 45 knots. 'For now we’re sailing north east as fast as we can to get further away from the low before it passes south of us,' he added.

Geraldton Western Australia is snapping at Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s heels, and just six miles separate the two teams.

Welcome to Yorkshire in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition

Currently in fifth place, Welcome to Yorkshire is the latest team to declare that it has started the Ocean Sprint. Skipper Rupert Dean reported that he reached the start point at 150 degrees east at 0922.26 UTC this morning as they start to feel the power of the approaching depression.

'As the low approaches us from the south east, the winds are really picking up. We have already worked our way down the sail changes to a treble-reefed main, staysail and Yankee 3, and we know there is much more to come,' Rupert said.

'Right now we are pushing directly east to give reasonable progress towards our destination, whilst not venturing too far south into the predicted area of strongest winds.

'At times like these, the balance between racing hard whilst ensuring the safety of the vessel and crew, shifts its emphasis to the latter,' he said.

'The success, position-wise, of each boat as this storm passes will be down to the skills of the crew, skipper and strategy adopted. Some will go for a high risk strategy, racing hard towards the finish but encountering potentially greater winds and damage.

'Others may radically divert their route, adding miles to be sailed to avoid the worst winds, or stopping their vessels altogether to ride them out hove-to. Neither strategy is wrong of course, providing all arrive safely at the finish. It all boils down to decisions the skippers will take and their willingness to accept different levels of risk,' Rupert added.

For the two boats which have currently suspended racing to put into ports in Tasmania and Victoria, racing is off the cards until they have dealt with their respective mechanical and medical issues.

On Singapore 'cabin fever' is setting in, according to skipper Ben Bowley, as they make their way towards Queenscliff at the mouth of Port Philip Bay where they will be able to pick up the specialist tools required to undertake a repair on their steering system.

'The monotony of not racing and having to moderate the boat's speed is proving a little frustrating for all. We are literally itching to get the steering fixed and underway again,' Ben said.

'It will be fantastic to feel Singapore start to hum again as the speed returns to our more usual 9 to 11 knots. At present it feels like we are driving down a motorway stuck in third gear which means lots of effort and not much in the way of results!' he added.

Ben said the main thing occupying his team’s minds at the moment is timing their arrival at Port Philip with slack water. Their progress is being hampered by the wind being almost directly astern and the team is making its way towards the pit stop in a series of short gybes.

'Now our minds are focused on how we can be best prepared, mentally and physically for showing our true colours in Race 6,' Ben added.

The team on Qingdao has also suspended racing to seek medical assistance for crew member Jo Sandford, 56, who sustained a shoulder injury and bruising around the coccyx after falling on deck and has been confined to her bunk. Skipper Ian Conchie made the judicious decision to divert to Hobart yesterday, and despite their northerly position his team has not escaped the ferocious weather experiencing gusts of 50 knots as they make their way to Tasmania.

Ian has reported to the Race Office that he expects to arrive in Hobart at midnight local time (1300 UTC). Upon arrival, an ambulance will be waiting to take Jo to hospital for treatment and the Qingdao will return to the race course to resume racing.

'As we approached Tasmania the wind dropped last night extending our ETA so we all prayed for wind. This morning our prayers were answered but with too much wind!' he said. Now the team is sailing under their storm jib having being tested getting the Yankee 3 down in strong winds with waves breaking over the foredeck,' he said.

Ian said his team’s thoughts are with the rest of the fleet as they prepare to face even stronger winds further south.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 15 November
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1555nm
2 New York - 1597nm (+42nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 1622nm (+68nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 1635nm (+80nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1646nm (+91nm)
6 Visit Finland - 1675nm (+120nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1750nm (+196nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia - 1756nm (+202nm position at 0800)
9 Qingdao - 1808nm (+253nm)
10 Singapore - 2217nm (+662nm position at 0600)

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