The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet are two hundred miles to the north east of the Great Barrier Reef on the day after Christmas and are reveling in the more settled conditions, including sunshine, blue skies, flat seas and some serious spinnaker flying.
Visit Finland races past Surfers Paradise at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
'Looks like St Stephen’s Day, or Boxing Day, may be a day of champagne sailing!' notes Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid.
'As we make our way north the fleet are all still in close proximity and there is regular VHF chat and banter between the skippers, the view is towards making as much north as possible to avoid Tropical Cyclone Grant. With a bit of luck and fair winds we may yet get on top of it, otherwise it might get messy again!'
In fact Tropical Cyclone Grant has been downgraded for the time being to a Tropical Depression but is still likely to bring winds of up to 40 knots to the fleet, according to meteorologist Simon Rowell, who sends the daily weather files to the teams and provides some analysis. Winning skipper of a previous edition of the Clipper Race, Simon says the winds will possibly gust up to 40 per cent higher when the remains of the cyclone cross the fleet’s path in a few days’ time.
In the meantime the conditions could not be better, according to Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson.
'As the rest of the Australian offshore fleet lines up for the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and are expecting 25 knots from the south east, Gold Coast Australia could not have more perfect sailing conditions at the moment as we sail on a broad reach in bright sunshine past the Great Barrier Reef,' says the Tasmanian yachtsman, whose sister will be on the start line for the traditional Boxing Day race from Sydney Harbour.
'Christmas was a fantastic day and today, in Boxing Day tradition we are eating the mounds of leftovers and getting rid of Christmas wrappings. The cheer of Christmas however still remains, and today will be a far better day to celebrate the festive season as the sun is out and the winds are fine and we are surrounded by wildlife.'
'I was truly impressed with the size and quality of our Christmas supper last night,' reports Ben Bowley from on board Singapore. Singapore is a nation of food lovers and the team is flying the flag for gastronomes.
Anyone who has seen the galley of a Clipper 68 will appreciate the skills of the mother watches in turning out Christmas feast quite as spectacular as they have been. For those who haven’t, you can just about fit two people in the galley, one at the sink, one at the stove. There is a small propane gas oven with a three-ring hob and a separate oven that is generally used to bake the day’s bread rations. No microwave, no fridge, no freezer. And more often than not it’s tilted at an angle just to add another layer of interest to the task of conjuring up tasty and filling meals for 18 people three times a day.
Ben continues, 'Our ‘Mother Superior’ (Mererid Hunt) completely outdid any of her previous efforts and pulled a full turkey dinner out of the bag. Santa also came to visit and dropped off a couple of presents to myself and the crew. He also had the good grace to give us a little nudge up into third place, the news of which was greeted by cheers and applause all round. The crew have been working very hard since the start of the race to ensure the boat is always in the right gear for the condition.
This means performing lots of evolutions and, with a lot of new crew members this leg, a lot of guidance and explanation was required from the watch leaders and their assistants. Gybing from poled out headsail to poled out headsail is a rather laborious process but well worthwhile for maximising the ground we can cover towards the finish line in the conditions we have been experiencing.'
'Our offshore route seems to have paid off for the moment but now we have to look at where the next weather is coming in from so that we may position ourselves before the wind dies out completely over the coming 24 hours. The great news is that the sun is shining, the seas are flatter and we may get the chance to raise a Christmas toast today with a little glass of fizz! May the festive season eating long continue! (Smoked ham and cauliflower cheese for supper tonight…)'
With Singapore now in second place, De Lage Landen is breathing down their necks.
'What a difference a day makes,' says Stuart Jackson, skipper of the Dutch entry. 'After a great Christmas dinner last night we are now reaching along with the spinnaker up beside New York and with several other boats around which is keeping the racing exciting here.
'We have the leftovers for lunch today in true Boxing Day style. Another big thank you to everyone for all the kind pressies, some of which were only opened today by those who were suffering a little yesterday.'
New York is also enjoying the company, according to Gareth Glover, the man in charge, and he has more bonus points in his sights. 'On this Boxing Day it’s over 35C in the nav area, and after a windy night we are now making good time and heading towards the gate. There are still lots of the Clipper 11-12 yachts around us with De Lage Landen five miles to our east and Singapore to our west.'
'The wind is now dropping as the low goes to the south and we head north trying to work out which side of the rhumb line is going to be better and have more wind over the next few days.
'The race for the Scoring Gate points is going to be close. We are hoping to get some points from this one but there is still more than 500nm to go until we will know.'
Unlike the Scoring Gates in previous stages of Clipper 11-12 where the teams can decide whether they want to go for the bonus points available, the Coral Sea Scoring Gate in Race 7 is a compulsory mark of the course for all of the teams.
There is another group of yachts racing in close proximity, as Rupert Dean, skipper of Welcome to Yorkshire, describes. 'Since sailing north along the western edge of the low pressure situated in the Tasman Sea, the winds have veered from the south to the south south west. Consequently, the Welcome to Yorkshire team has adjusted the sail plan from a poled out Yankee 2 to the heavyweight kite. It's great to be sailing like this again – just what the doctor ordered! It's good to be in fine company too, with Visit Finland just ahead of us on the port bow and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital on the stern.'
Also flying their medium weight spinnaker for Boxing Day is Derry-Londonderry. 'We are greeted today with glorious weather and beautiful sailing conditions and we are gliding along under medium spinnaker with our Derry-Londonderry logo proudly flying for all to see.'
'Given the windy conditions yesterday we enjoyed a nice lunch but had postponed our proper Christmas Day until today. This afternoon we will enjoy a team lunch on deck with music, presents, cards and a nice chilled glass of champagne.'
Visit Finland’s crew still have plenty of Christmas goodies to devour, according to Olly Osborne, the skipper, who tells the Race Office, 'The weather is treating us to a bit of Boxing Day sunshine as we reach along with our heavy weight spinnaker up, making the most of the favourable breeze before it becomes more fluky during the next couple of days. The sea state has calmed overnight and there are a lot more smiles as heads pop up through the companionway to take in the scene.'
It’s a similar story on board Geraldton Western Australia, where, in traditional style, Juan Coetzer and his crew are looking forward to getting through some of the Christmas leftovers.
'Today is Boxing Day, and we are leaving the land of the Boxing Kangaroo behind. As the sun started to appear this morning the sea state and wind began to settle down. At present we have a kite up and full mainsail, sailing north,' he says.
Less traditional than some would have been used to but perhaps more suited to the tropical temperatures, Christmas Day lunch on Qingdao was cold meats and salad, which 'went down a storm' according to skipper, Ian Conchie.
He continues, 'This morning the seas have calmed and we have a kite up so it’s the perfect Boxing Day treat. Unfortunately we have lost a couple of places in the night but with the fleet so close it is all still to play for.'
With 4,000 miles to the finish line in the Singapore Straits plus light and fluky winds and the possibility of further Tropical Cyclones developing, there will be plenty to keep the teams on their toes and race followers entertained before the end of Race 7 and the arrival of the whole fleet at Marina at Keppel Bay, Singapore, on 28 January.
Positions at 1800 UTC, Monday 26 December
1 Gold Coast Australia 3,989nm
2 Singapore 4,007nm (+18nm DTL*)
3 New York 4,009nm (+19nm)
4 De Lage Landen 4,016nm (+27nm)
5 Visit Finland 4,022nm (+32nm)
6 Qingdao 4,022nm (+33nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire 4,025nm (+36nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia 4,034nm (+45nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry 4,041nm (+52nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 4,045nm (+55nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website