Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the nineteenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. Despite their exhaustion and huge volumes of water over the deck, soaking boats and crews, in this morning’s reports from the skippers there is a distinct sense that the teams are very much enjoying the current sailing conditions as they eat up the miles in their race across the Pacific.
De Lage Landen - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
'Another great day for the De Lage Landen crew!' Stuart Jackson enthuses. 'What beautiful conditions we've had today. For the last couple of days we have been blessed with fair winds and calm seas. As we are closing in on the back of the fleet we had to make a tactical decision to sail further south than we would need. The reason for racing more miles at lower speeds is a local phenomenon we have been eyeballing for a couple of days. The two highs that are going to merge will create a very confused wind pattern which we are trying to avoid over the next 24 hours. This decision will cost us some miles but, looking at the weather forecast, we do believe it will pay off.
'Apart from that we are very satisfied to have some boats in our proximity to race again!'
As well as the physical aspect of racing a 68-foot yacht, where every task requires teamwork and simply moving about the boat on an angle requires a great deal of energy, the mental challenge should not be underestimated.
Already the teams have spent 19 days at sea, with the prospect of another ten or more to go, and for the last three days they have been on the same tack, running with pretty much the same sail plan, save for a reef being put in or taken out. In addition the sun has only made two appearances since the ten yachts left China almost three weeks ago and the constant soaking is as much a mental drain as a physical one.
To maintain focus in these conditions is a huge challenge and the crews will be setting themselves targets and records to break for each watch in order to help retain concentration. There are few other sports where such an extended period of total attention is required.
Each measure of progress is greeted with great pleasure, as Ben Bowley, on Singapore explains.
'Another 15 degrees of longitude, another hour forward with the clocks!' he reports. 'By the time you are reading this report we shall also have broken the 2,000nm barrier. This will be a very good thing as mentally, I think all of us are starting to be affected by ‘Groundhog Day’ syndrome! We have been fetching along at speed in exactly the same direction with the same sail plan for three days now. It seems that the fleet is experiencing the same conditions as our lead/deficit over our competitors has remained frustratingly matched for the last 24 hours.
'The sun did make a brief appearance today and reminded us of how pleasant a few rays of golden warmth can be after days of staring at overcast skies. We are waiting now for conditions to change and see how Gold Coast Australia fares when we inevitably require full mainsails again. With a lead of just 72nm there is every chance on us getting the jump on them if any part of their repairs is not up to the job. For now though they seem to be making excellent progress and once again I commend Richard and his crew for making good in the face of adversity; if they would just slow down a little I could pass over this praise personally to one and all!'
There’s no sign of deceleration from the Australian entry at the moment and, says Richard Hewson, their mast track repair is holding well.
'Gold Coast Australia is now almost at full power and charging towards San Francisco Bay. Not only are we almost back to full race potential having fixed most of the damage that occurred over the week of storms, but our electronics have also dried out and are all working again; I can now type on the keyboard and press all the keys. It’s the little luxuries in a long race such as this that can bring so much happiness.
'As the wind began to veer and weaken in strength Sean Fuller went up the mast today to make some modifications to our hoisting system and we were also able to shake the final reef out of the sail, giving us a bit of extra speed. The boat is now nicely powered up and we are making some great mileage towards the finish.
'The seas at the moment are unusually flat, resulting in some excellent speeds. Being so far out in the ocean with consistent 20 to 30 knots of wind for the last few days you would expect quite a swell and the sea to build up, however sea and swell are under one metre. I presume this is because of our close proximity to the centre of the high pressure system. Either way it is fantastic sailing and makes excellent conditions for the less experienced helms to have a drive without the danger of being smashed or rounded up by a big wave.
'As one crew member said, Gold Coast Australia is so balanced at the moment you hardly need to touch the helm, and if you had a light auto helm or wind vane you would quite happily set the helm and the crew could all go to bed!'
While the teams match each other mile for mile today’s reports provide an insight into all the other tasks that are required to keep an ocean racing campaign on track. Top of the list: emptying the bilges.
'The wind we have been having for the last couple of days has been great, helping us maintain a 9 -10 knot boat speed in the direction of San Francisco Bay. Sadly the sea state is not helping, as every once in a while a rogue wave will hit the boat and drench the crew on deck and find ways of getting below into the bilges,' explains Juan Coetzer on Geraldton Western Australia.
'The daily task of keeping the boat dry below is not an easy one. The bilges get checked every hour and emptied, but the volumes of water sometimes coming over the deck are immense. During happy hour all of the crew get stuck in, helping empty out all the water from the bilges. A chain gang has been formed and the crew have become rather good at this operation. Thirty-six buckets later we are all done. This is also a good time for both watches to socialize with one another and catch up on the day’s updates.'
New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover, describes how the quartermasters and victuallers have their work cut out for them.
'On a long crossing like this one you are always managing your resources on board. How much gas are we using? How much water are we making or how much fuel do we have in the tanks? Are the crew eating too much or too little? So as well as racing the yacht we also need to think about these things… there is more to racing a yacht than just sailing fast towards your next port!
'We are hoping that this weather system we are in is going to carry us for a few more days. When you’re making good time it sometimes feels like you’re only days away, not weeks. You lose all track of time on a yacht; you know when you have to get up for watch and when you can rest; you know when you’re on mother duties and what jobs need to be done for the day. Time can move very fast, or very slow when there is no wind. The days feel like they’re moving fast – but for how long?'
In their downtime the New York crew members have been talking about what they are going to do when they reach Oakland. Luckily they have their own tour guide on board in the shape of San Francisco resident, Lisa Perkin, who has been helping them formulate their plans.
The main resource concerning Derry-Londonderry’s crew is water. Fresh water is vital for survival and all of the yachts are fitted with water makers which desalinate sea water to make it drinkable. This is in addition to the tanks that hold 800 litres of fresh water which are filled before each race.
Mark Light, skipper of the Northern Ireland entry, says, 'On board our water rationing is going well. When we left Qingdao we couldn't fix our water maker in time so we took on an extra 1,000 litres of fresh water in five-gallon (18.9-litre) bottles – 50 of them! As you can imagine storage was a bit of a logistical challenge and the extra weight was on all our minds. We quickly set in place some procedures which would carry us through to Oakland.
'Each crew member on board is allowed 1.5 litres of water per day as a personal allowance (for drinking, cleaning teeth and washing) and also two hot drinks per day, all precisely administered by the mothers for the day. We have measured and documented exactly how much water each meal takes to prepare and this is strictly adhered to. Bear in mind that most of our food on board is freeze dried, pasta or rice based, and we have powdered milk, porridge for breakfast and bake bread every day.
'We wash all kitchen utensils in sea water, clean using only sea water and wash hands in sea water followed by hand sanitizer. There are strictly no freshwater showers allowed at all, no spare water for laundry and no room for extra rations – not even for the skipper!'
All this, while not affecting their performance in any way, does have one less than pleasant side effect.
Mark adds, 'So far we are all healthy and in good spirits, if a little colourful in odour! So, when the LegenDerry crew get in make sure you give us a wide berth, applaud from a distance and believe us when we say we are looking forward to a nice, warm shower!'
With the approaching weather front the teams are working out how best to negotiate the next 24 hours.
'Another day of fast fine reaching has given us another very respectable daily run and I think we have had our fastest week on record so far,' says Olly Osborne. 'The weather picture will be changing over the next couple of days and the forerunners of the fleet may be able to stay in the belt of southerlies for longer, leaving the back markers the option of gybing first.'
The Visit Finland skipper adds, 'As always we will get what we get and it is surprising to see the fleet still so closely packed after 20 days at sea. So with the date line firmly behind us and the northern hemisphere officially in spring time, things are looking good for a fast run toward the finish.'
'The sun made a rare appearance today, bathing Welcome to Yorkshire in beautiful sunshine as she continues to speed away on a beam reach,' reports Rupert Dean. 'Daily runs have continued to be high, enabling us to whittle down the miles to Oakland and reduce the deficit on boats ahead. Hopefully this will continue for at least the next 24 hours and beyond, for the cold front to the west is due to catch us in a day’s time. Conditions then will become less settled, but hopefully not to the detriment of the magnificent sailing conditions currently enjoyed. Certainly from the GRIBS it looks like the wind will veer a little behind us, which is what one would expect as we approach the apex of this colossal high.
'Providing current speeds are maintained, our 'pink lady' should break the 2,000 miles to go barrier tomorrow, marking another milestone in this epic race and a cause for celebration for the crew.'
Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie, is hoping his team’s position to the north of the pack will be beneficial when the front comes through.
'Another fast 24 hours of reaching! The pace of the last few days has been relentless with 30 knots apparent wind giving great conditions, but it has also been frustrating knowing that we are pushing as hard as we can and still sometimes we lose a few miles to the boats around us. Hopefully our northerly route will pay dividends soon,' he says.
Having been able to sort out most of the maintenance jobs thrown up by the storms of several days ago, they still have one niggle they haven’t been able to fix yet.
'The most annoying problem is in our electronics,' explains Ian. 'We still haven't managed to find what sets off navigation alarms regularly and we need some calmer conditions to trace the system through the boat.'
There has been no substantial change in the relative positions of the chasing pack in the last 24 hours as the miles count down and, while Qingdao’s tacticians hope their northerly position will be the beneficial one, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, like De Lage Landen, is hoping theirs to the south will be the one that pays off.
'All day yesterday and last night there was no sign of the winds easing and we continued to make excellent progress towards the race finish, still very much in contention for a place on the podium,' Gordon Reid reports.
'This afternoon the winds eased slightly and the sea moderated, allowing us to increase our sail area for the first time in several days, giving us the opportunity to inspect and service the sail where required.
'The approaching high pressure system will bring a change in wind strength and direction. Ensuring we are positioned to take full advantage and avoid its centre will hopefully be what we need to get us past the yachts just a stone’s throw ahead.
'With just over 2,000 miles still to race, this is the time when we really need to dig a little deeper, maintain the high level of focus, look after all of our equipment and keep the faith for the Purple Beastie on the podium.'
Positions at 1200 UTC, Friday 23 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,887nm
2 Singapore - 1,958nm (+71nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2,071nm (+184nm)
4 New York - 2,084nm (+197nm)
5 Qingdao - 2,095nm (+208nm)
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,103nm (+216nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,109nm (+222nm)
8 Visit Finland - 2,140nm (+253nm)
9 De Lage Landen - 2,160nm (+273nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,170nm (+283nm)
*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