Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twelfth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The ten internationally sponsored teams have seen plenty of Mother Nature’s aggression during this sixth leg of racing.
Derry-Londonderry - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
After experiencing a flurry of mixed weather patterns which has seen the fleet race in moderate winds over the past couple of days, the predicted strong winds that they have been waiting for have arrived with a bang.
On board Derry-Londonderry, after a benign day yesterday which saw the team creeping along, skipper Mark Light, reports, 'How different today is!' as the Irish entry move up a place on the leader board.
'We were looking to receive a steady build of wind throughout the day but the wind has built incredibly quickly. Just before breakfast we changed down from Yankee 1 to 2 at 20 knots apparent wind. 30 minutes later we put a reef in the main (24 knots apparent). Another 20 minutes and the Yankee 2 had been dropped (30 knots apparent) then within 15 minutes the second reef was put in the mainsail (35 knots apparent) We have since had wind gusting up to 40 knots apparent and now it has steadied at between 30 to 35 knots! The storm jib is up and flying and the third reef is prepared, crew briefed and ready to go into the main at a moment’s notice!
'Both watches have worked tirelessly carrying out all the evolutions and of course flaking, bagging and stowing the redundant sails down below (no mean feat in Force 8 conditions and constant torrents of water rolling down the decks!) The crew will sleep well during their off watch, as will I.'
In a bid to keep up with the winds, Geraldton Western Australia has performed a plethora of sail changes and the team has advanced two places in the fleet.
Skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports, 'This morning we went through our entire sail wardrobe in one watch. We were sailing with Yankee 1, staysail and full main, and now we are sailing with storm staysail, staysail and a third reef in the main sail.
Juan adds, 'This is it now for the next 36 to 48 hours. Hold on, move carefully and don't let the soup in the galley land up in cupboards and on the ceiling again.'
Overtaken by the Australian entry is Visit Finland, where skipper Olly Osborne reports the team has a renewed focus for the conditions ahead.
'The forecast headwinds have started with some force now, although the sky is fairly bright and we are making good speeds. During the last 24 hours we have enjoyed some great sailing and have made the most our southerly position to skirt round the worst of an area of light winds which seemed to affect the northerly boats.
'It has been an important boost for morale to see the gains being made, and although we are in ninth position it has given the crew the focus they need to get through the next battering from the elements during the next few days.'
Also making up miles on their southerly advantage is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. Skipper Gordon Reid reports that after a brief period of respite, the wind has quickly filled and as they set up for a run at the Scoring Gate, hope that their position on the current will take them all the way.
'The winds are now blowing over 30 knots with some gusts over 40; we have been reducing sail throughout the night and have just put in the third reef. Our next move is to go to for the storm jib, the seas are building, soon enough we will feel the fury once again as the intensity of the gusts is increasing, we hope to stay on the fringes of the low for as long as possible but are very mindful of the risks involved as we play Russian Roulette with the Low pressure systems. If we time our moves right we will continue to fly but get it wrong and we will take a beating.
Gordon adds, 'Today we keep pushing hard, it's all about to get very lively. So keep watching!'
Maintaining their position in the middle of the fleet is Qingdao. On board, skipper, Ian Conchie, explains that the hard conditions has enforced the team’s to race under a safer stratagem.
'After all our preparations we were expecting the wind to build through the morning however Mother Nature was not following the same timetable! About 0400 local time we were sailing along in 15 knots under full main Yankee 1 and staysail and making good speed when the wind started to build. So we changed to our Yankee 2 then in the next two hours we couldn't change sails fast enough. As soon as we put a reef in, we needed another one and so on. We ended up with storm jib, 3 reefs and a staysail and we stuck with that until after lunch when we even had to drop the stay as the wind picked up even more.
'We have now managed to get the boat back in order and even managed to flake the Yankee 1 down below which is not easy.
'Our small sail plan is keeping us nice and stable but not that fast so we are hoping that everyone else is doing the same but when the weather gets to this level safety has to take priority not speed.'
As the weather continues to test the fleet, keeping a competitive focus, preserving kit and looking after crew morale will be a constant challenge. In the last 24 hours this has been the case for Welcome to Yorkshire, Gold Coast Australia, and New York, who have all had to make repairs to useful equipment on board.
Skipper of the English entry, Rupert Dean, reports, 'Already the barometer on Welcome to Yorkshire has started to fall steadily, the wind has increased to 30 knots apparent, keeping the crew busy as they tuck in reefs and effect sail changes to smaller sails. Judging from the Gribs we look to be in for a nasty and protracted period of headwinds, which will test the mettle of all on board. Sound preparation, therefore, the team to revisit contingencies and comprehensively check all is in order before the onslaught begins.
'For Jim Stamp, this included a successful 20-foot climb up the mast this morning to repair two broken mainsail sliders, ably assisted by Ann Finch, Les Hartley and Matt Cornall, who held him in a stable position using fore and aft deck lines. Yet another example of how important teamwork is on the powerful Clipper 68s.
As the wind and sea state builds over the next few days, Rupert and his team are all too aware that teamwork and seamanship will vital. He adds, 'This crew have bonded well, look out for each other and are ready for this next challenge. Bring it on, but let's not have too much wind please!'
Sailing under a reduced sail wardrobe is New York.
Skipper Gareth Glover, reports, 'Sitting in a wind hole overnight in less than five knots of wind for over 12 hours, the wind started to build around first light.
'As we knew in a few hours the wind would build we changed down from our Yankee 1 to the Yankee 2 and first reef in the main. As the wind rose we changed to our Yankee 3 and second reef. Whist putting in reef 2, reefs 1 and 3 broke and the mainsail was flying around in 30 knots of wind and a hefty sea state that had built.
'As soon as we got reef 2 in, the wind was at 40 knots, so down came the sails. The winds now were hitting 45 knots plus and we had to run downwind to drop the Yankee 3 and staysail which took some time.
'We are now under main only and have huge seas crashing over the boat. The crew are going to be in for a wild night that’s for sure but they are loving all the hard work and weather. All are dry-ish and happily eating Shepherd’s Pie, just what you need after few hours’ work on the deck.
Gareth adds, 'After a great start to this race the fortunes of New York have turned round but for the time being but we race onwards.
Also feeling effects of the intense weather system is Gold Coast Australia, skippered by Richard Hewson.
'The predicted wind this afternoon was 17 to 25 knots we began to see 30-35 knots and changed down from our Yankee 3 to storm jib. With the wind expected to increase even more tonight to an expected 40 knots I decided to set the trysail early.
'As we were preparing to drop the three reefed mainsail tragedy struck as the mainsail track ripped off the mast at the second set of spreaders. The cause is unexplainable as it was only blowing 30 knots at the time. Luckily we had the trysail all ready to go, and we now have it set below the broken track and maintaining good speeds towards the Scoring Gate.
'On deck and below Gold Coast Australia is now fully prepared for the storm. Flying our storm sails which is the minimum amount of sail area we could possibly put up before going to bare poles means we are expecting some pretty extreme weather. On deck everything is lashed down, as it is below deck where everything has been secured and packed away so it cannot fly around if we get knocked by a big wave.'
Continuing to keep a firm grasp on their place on the leader board is Singapore. Skipper Ben Bowley explains that the team is keen to hold on to their podium position and is working hard to stay in the running for some extra Scoring Gate points.
'As swiftly as the wind got turned off yesterday, it was turned back on this morning! We went from full sail to three reefs and the staysail in the space of half an hour. The seas have really started to build now and as night approaches and we start to see 45 knots over the deck, the staysail is coming down and the storm jib hoisted.
'This low is set to deepen over the coming 24 hours and give us a decent slap in the chops but we are determined to try and stay one step ahead of the weather. We may sacrifice a little height and speed over the next 24 hours but we need to ensure the boat remains in one piece and the crew are rested for what could prove to be several days of slogging hard to windward. With 350 miles to the Scoring Gate we are desperate to grab two points but not at the expense of trashing the boat, our sails or the crew. There is still around 3,500 miles to run in this marathon leg and we want to be on the podium at the end of it. I am happy with our position in the fleet as last night we were able to get a bit more height in the bag by tacking over to starboard and still making good ground.'
Ocean racing is thirsty work and the mother watches will serve an almost a constant stream of drinks and the ten teams will slurp their way through 244,000 tea bags while they are at sea. Well on their way to beating that record, Ben describes how keeping the teams hydrated is also easing the cold conditions.
'The cold has become quite numbing at times and so far we have gulped our way through around 600 tea bags, not bad for 13 people in 12 days! Time to knuckle down, take a ‘Timmy tough pill’ and hold on for the ride that Neptune is about to serve us.'
In need of a ‘Tommy tough pill’ is De Lage Landen who continues to be struck by bad luck, as the team grapple with the strong winds.
Skipper Stuart Jackson, reports, 'We are all in storm mode now, so we have been preparing the boat for the windy weather coming in. We have been reducing sail plan and stowing everything away, both on deck and below decks.
'Unfortunately we seem to have been struck by a bug with several crew finding themselves incapacitated for around 24 hours.
'So much for a down wind leg, as it's looking like we'll have headwinds for at least the next three days, not a prospect that many people are looking forward to.'
The fleet is expected to arrive in Oakland, California between 1-7 April, where it will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Jack London Square. Oakland is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Friday 16 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,317nm
2 Singapore - 3,414nm (+97nm**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 3,444nm (+127nm)
4 New York - 3,449nm (+132nm)
5 Qingdao - 3,454nm (+137nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,481nm (+164nm)
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,494nm (+177nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,498nm (+181nm)
9 Visit Finland - 3,507nm (+190nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 3,666nm (+349nm)
*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