Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day five of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao. As the ten teams head for the rapidly-approaching Scoring Gate, the wind has picked up and they are preparing for storms ahead.
De Lage Landen leaves Marina at Keppel Bay, Singapore, at the start of Race 8 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
De Lage Landen’s skipper Stuart Jackson says, 'What a beautiful day to be sailing in the South China Sea. Sailing close hauled with around 20 knots of apparent wind is exactly what we needed to prepare ourselves to what we are going to encounter further north, near Taiwan!
'With 350 miles to go to the Scoring Gate we can see that every boat is positioning itself in expectation of the wind shift expected according to the weather forecast.'
Meteorologist and winning skipper of the Clipper Race in 2000, Simon Rowell, has warned the fleet of gales ahead, telling them, 'The intense north east monsoon is bringing gales to the East China Sea. Significant high seas of over six metres can be expected over the gulf of Tonkin with reduced visibility.'
There is double cause for celebration for Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid, who celebrates his birthday today. The team has been rapidly moving up the leader board and is currently in fifth position, and the crew are preparing themselves for the changing weather conditions.
Gordon says, 'Yesterday brought us another day of playing cat and mouse with the New York yacht in some fairly light wind conditions. We decided to continue heading east with a little bit of north in anticipation of the breeze filling in from the east first as forecast.
'Our constant focus on steering in nice straight lines and enforced trim reviews at the top and the bottom of the hour have ensured we stay competitive as we make excellent progress to the north east and onwards towards the next virtual mark.
'Today we are making final preparations for the upwind onslaught; everything that might move is being secured and the crew have all of their wet weather gear carefully stowed to be within easy reach for when it is required – and it will be soon.'
The American entry New York remains in seventh position close to the Scottish and Northern Irish competition. Skipper Gareth Glover says, 'The wind has filled in to 14 knots true and we are now getting much better boat speed towards the gate. We are racing towards it with the other yachts, after losing Edinburgh Inspiring Capital in the night we picked up Derry-Londonderry passing less than five miles ahead of us on the other tack.
'Our overall tactic was to keep to the east side of the track but ended up more in the middle and now some of the other yachts have headed further to the east to pick up good wind and a better course. But you can still go too much to the east and they may find themselves heading to the west to get around to the gate. We are looking to move up the leader board over the next few days and trying and get some points from the Scoring Gate.'
The mood on board Derry-Londonderry is up-beat and the Northern Irish entry has made the most of the wind which has picked up during the last 24 hours.
Skipper Mark Light said, 'Things are going pretty well on Derry-Londonderry. We cleared the island of Pulau-Pulau yesterday morning and since then have been on a port tack heading east in order to set ourselves up for the next stage in this race.
'After the frustration of very light and fickle winds early yesterday the wind filled in, as predicted, and we have been making steady ground ever since. We did have to negotiate our way through a fairly large and well spread fleet of fishing boats all working together trawling in pairs - just don't go between them!'
As the wind picked up Derry-Londonderry decided to follow a more northerly course leaving behind Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit Finland and saw themselves crossing a couple of miles ahead of New York on the opposite tack six hours later.
Mark continues, 'A quick chat on VHF with New York skipper Gareth confirmed we were both clear and on we sailed, heading now in an east north east direction. One last challenge for the night was to avoid a tug that was restricted in its ability to manoeuvre being hampered because it was towing a fairly large barge. Successfully avoided, we carried on past another pair of trawlers with an increasing wind and hopefully a climb up the leader board. A good night's work for our ‘LegenDerry’ crew!'
Meanwhile the situation is more frustrating for Visit Finland and Welcome to Yorkshire.
In his 0600 report to the Race Office Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne, says, 'Today sees us on a port tack making good speeds eastward, although there is little north in the course. The crew have been working very hard to gain the extra places but it is very frustrating to see that we are continuing to fall down the leader board without a reasonable explanation of why. Still the race is young and we will see what the next days have in store for us.'
Despite slipping from fifth to ninth position overnight, skipper of the English entry, Rupert Dean, is positive about what lies ahead.
'It's been a psychologically difficult time on Welcome to Yorkshire. Over the past 12 hours we've seen our position slip down the fleet and when you look at distance to finish figures alone, it's very easy to become despondent. However, more than ever before we are formulating a strategy through considerable research pre-race by our navigation team, then sticking to it and seeing it through.
'Regardless of result, this is far more empowering than basing short term navigational decisions on knee-jerk reactions, based on what others in the fleet may be doing at the time. It certainly generates more buy-in from all on board, which ultimately contributes massively to unity across the team. As a team we believe we are sailing our boat very well. Almost without exception, over the past few days we've both out-pointed and out-dragged other boats in our vicinity. We believe we are a fast boat and when in the same conditions as others around us, sail very well indeed.'
At the back of the ten-strong fleet is Qingdao who headed north early on in the race. Skipper Ian Conchie has been reflecting on his tactics over the last 24 hours.
'Our early decision to head north has not paid off as we hoped it would. We knew it was a tactical gamble but ultimately one that did not work as we hoped. We are now focusing all our efforts to make the purple dragon go as fast as we can to make inroads into the gap to the boats ahead of us. The next tactical decision is when to tack north. At the moment we are continuing to press east but we will have to tack north at some point.
'On the plus point the wind has strengthened so our boat speed has picked up again and we all remain positive about our chances to improve our standing in the fleet. The forecast is for the wind to keep building so we should have good sailing for the next few days.'
Meanwhile the fight for the top spot continues. While Gold Coast Australia remains in first position and De Lage Landen in second, Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia have been neck and neck in the last 24 hours.
Geraldton Western Australia has narrowed in their distance to the Singapore boat after skipper Juan Coetzer saw some good advice paying off.
'A good friend of mine, Ed Green, a former Clipper Race skipper, gave me some advice before the race. He said, ‘If you ever find yourself in a wind hole, put the kite up in order to build up the boat speed, no matter which way you point, just to get her moving again.’
'So yesterday up went the kite and we made huge gains on Singapore. We even did an outside gybe and once we got out of the wind hole, we peeled back to the Yankee 1. By midnight we had overtaken Singapore. The crew have been extremely focused on helming and trim, trying to squeeze out every little ounce of boat speed.'
Despite remaining competitive the Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, only has kind words for the Aussie entry.
'Our languishing in a windless hole yesterday was mercifully short lived. With much concentration and a series of tacks we were eventually able to get the boat moving again with the assistance of the windseeker. Sadly during this time Geraldton Western Australia had managed to close the gap on us to within a few boat lengths. There they remained, never more than a mile away, matching us tack for tack until this morning,' Ben says.
'It was excellent to have a bit of close boat on boat action to keep the focus. Under a full moon-lit sky last night our nautical duel was played out, each trying to squeeze the last bit of height or speed out of our vessels. Congratulations to Juan and his crew for finally getting the better of us!'
With only four miles between the two teams, Singapore tacked away to the north this morning and regained third place, adding to the skipper’s enjoyment of the day.
'Upwind sailing does not get much better than this; clear blue skies and an azure sea, doffing her white caps to us as we hastily scythe through the chop. Oh, and it's hot dogs for lunch. Glorious!' the Singapore skipper concludes in his report.
Frontrunner Gold Coast Australia has been making good ground overnight on the other yachts in the fleet, managing to find more wind. But navigating the seas is not only about wind and weather; there are other obstacles to contend with.
Skipper Richard Hewson says, 'Last night we passed through a large fishing fleet who were trawling in the South China Sea. The trawler captains were quite inquisitive about our yacht and consequently altered course to take a better look. As a result we passed the bow of one of the larger fishing vessels at no more than 500 yards, close enough to see the captain wave at us in his lit up wheel house.
'It was very pleasant to see that he was friendly and his actions of altering course were to take a better look at our 68-foot racing yacht as opposed to warning us off their fishing grounds. Later today our course will take us past a number of reefs and banks which will no doubt attract vast numbers of fishing vessels.'
'We now have just over 300 miles to sail until we reach the Scoring Gate, and we will be working hard to maintain our lead to ensure we reach the gate in first place and win another three points before entering the second phase of the race towards Taiwan. We should have good, predictable wind from now on, at least until Taiwan where, if the low pressure system currently developing in China has anything to do with it, it could be a bit rough.'
The teams are expected to begin arriving in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February.
Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 8 February
1 Gold Coast Australia 1911nm
2 De Lage Landen 1944nm (+32nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 1947nm (+35nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia 1952nm (+41nm)
5 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 1967nm (+56nm)
6 Derry-Londonderry 1980nm (+69nm)
7 New York 1990nm (+78nm)
8 Visit Finland 1996nm (+85nm)
9 Qingdao 2019nm (+107nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 2026nm (+114nm)
*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