Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the fourth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s crew have been racing to close the gap on the rest of the fleet since suspending racing yesterday to medevac an injured crew member.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Alan Stewart is recovering after receiving hospital treatment for a fractured leg while the crew gets back to the business of racing across the Pacific Ocean.
'Once Alan had been safety hoisted on board the Coast Guard ship and onwards to hospital in Kagoshima city, it was time for Edinburgh Inspiring Capital to return to where we had first engaged our engine and from there we killed the donkey and resumed racing,' explains skipper, Gordon Reid.
'On restarting the race the lead boat was almost 60 miles ahead but after some solid focus and hard work overnight we have reduced that gap to 40 miles and continue to ride the Purple Beastie hard as we chase down and continue to catch the fleet.
'From my initial contact with the Falmouth MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) to evacuation took only four hours. The crew all pulled together and did what was required to ensure the safe transfer of Alan to the Japanese Coast Guard. A huge thank you goes to the Falmouth MRCC and the Japanese Coast Guard for their friendly and efficient approach.'
As they rounded the southern tip of Japan at the first waypoint the team representing Scotland’s capital city may well have been able to take advantage of the lessons learned by the teams ahead of them, some of whom had found themselves becalmed and drifting backwards in a back eddy from the powerful Kuroshio current which flows north past Japan.
Derry-Londonderry’s crew could only watch as Singapore, with whom they had been racing closely, sailed off without them as the Northern Ireland yacht came to a grinding halt.
'Late yesterday we rounded the south west tip of Japan in a very good second position,' describes skipper, Mark Light. 'We deliberately rounded fairly close in daylight to cut the corner and hopefully make some miles on the lead boat. Unfortunately for us this route proved fruitless and extremely frustrating as we got caught in some sort of back eddy of adverse current and a small area of light winds.
'We watched helpless as Singapore, who had been only a couple of miles behind us, stayed a mile to the south and sailed off at eight knots! We sat becalmed and actually drifting slightly backwards in the adverse current for about an hour. We even suspected that we had caught something, maybe a fishing net or some old line, under the boat so we lashed our waterproof camera to the boat hook and investigated. The result was some fairly thick weed hanging on to our propeller and P bracket. We managed to move the boat backwards and free the offending article before the wind finally filled in from the north east and we sailed off, now a full nine miles behind Singapore!
'This happens in yacht racing sometimes and we just got a little unlucky – all credit to Ben and his team for avoiding the situation. Now we have to push on to take back some of the miles and do our very best to regain second place. Watch out Ben… we're coming to get ya!'
Singapore’s crew have had their own frustrations according to skipper, Ben Bowley.
'The wind had been chopping and changing in a very fickle manner. Establishing the best tack is far from simple at the moment and the tactics amongst the fleet in the coming two days could be very interesting to watch. Offshore should provide more consistent breeze but according to the current info, the Kuroshio is strongest along the coast. A tack inshore earlier today seemed to be the best move at the time but now I fear we shall have to work hard and lose some ground in a bid to get back offshore and out into the better wind.
'The temperature is noticeably warmer and once again hatches are opened to allow some cool fresh air below decks; unthinkable a few days ago! With luck, the rest of the fleet will be feeling the same fluky conditions and we shall not have lost out too much but I fear we may have been too lulled in by the temptations of up to four knots of beneficial current inshore. The next 24 hours will reveal a lot, I’m sure.'
In the southerly group of five yachts along with Singapore and Derry-Londonderry, New York, De Lage Landen and Visit Finland all have their own stories of becoming becalmed as they rounded the Sata Misaki light.
'We got to the southern tip of Japan and saw most of the fleet sail into a wind hole,' reports New York skipper, Gareth Glover. 'We saw De Lage Landen and Singapore slow down and we were doing the same, so the call was to try and sail round them to the north. As we did this we sailed too close to the tip of the mountainous coast and into that hole while the fleet to the south managed to pick up the new wind and pull away from us.
'As we sailed away from here the wind built and we had to change down to our Yankee 2 and put the first reef in. We were lucky that they were only 20nm away from us and we are now working hard on pulling back the lost miles. We are now sailing into the Pacific Ocean and now looking at the big lows ahead of us for our crossing.'
The teams have all been very closely matched and racing close together in the early stages of this race but a division is beginning to emerge as tacticians pick their route to be in the best position to take advantage of the favourable winds that are forecast in the next two to four days.
Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne, is also looking at the bigger picture and the weather systems developing ahead.
'The conditions are eerily quiet as we strike out into the vast North Pacific and today we are ghosting along with our Yankee 1 and full main up. De Lage Landen and New York are still within sight and the boats are well matched in the light airs, although it is frustrating to be going so slowly this early in the voyage,' he says.
'Nonetheless it is good to be clear of the effects of the land and, with the forecast promising a good reaching breeze over the next few days, it is all about manoeuvring into the best spot to take advantage of it when it arrives.'
'It has been 24 hours of highs and lows for the De Lage Landen team,' skipper Stuart Jackson tells the Race Office this morning.
'Variable wind conditions have seen the blue boat almost becalmed at the tip of Japan and then, thankfully, finding both wind and current to shoot us towards the Pacific Ocean and our long voyage on to San Francisco Bay.
'However we had some early drama this morning when one of our round the world crew members who wishes to remain nameless (John Benyon!) saved the day by assisting our very own Doctor Tom to rescue a wayward small bird who had been carried out to sea and who clearly would not have been able to make its own way back.
'Our heroes enticed the small bird onto the deck from the corner of the main boom with homemade bread that John had baked the night before, before Doctor Tom made a small splint for its damaged wing and John set about making it a personal bird box with a warm sheet and a small water feeder (there goes the box for the oranges and the end of the bilge pump).
'The small bird, which we have now called JB after John's heroic deeds to capture it and bring it safely down onto the deck, is being cared for by each watch and we hope to be able to feed it up and keep it safe, to allow it to reach land of its own accord in the future.'
To the north, a group of four yachts tacked earlier to try to put some distance between themselves and the competition by riding the current. But the options have not been well defined and, explains Gold Coast Australia skipper, Richard Hewson, they could quite easily have made a different decision while they were under the cover of Stealth Mode.
Gold Coast Australia crew in Qingdao ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
'Gold Coast Australia went into Stealth Mode yesterday because of the many different tactics that could be played at this stage of the race. In fact, at the time of going into Stealth Mode I was quite unsure where we were going to go, let alone the rest of the fleet, and since then my decision making process has been a bit like a yo-yo depending on the wind we have had at the time. Should we go east to get to the new wind first? Should we go north with the current? Only time will tell if the tactics we decided to play will pay off.
'Thankfully over the last 24 hours things have settled down. The winds have abated to 12 to 15 knots, the seas have calmed and we have even seen some sunshine. With the warmth of the Kuroshio Current I am even wearing shorts and thermal shirt as opposed to layers of mid layers, neck warmers, beanies and gloves. The calmer conditions allow me to do some training on deck, teaching the new joiners the fine art of how to get the boat going fast and all that we have learnt since the start of the race. Everybody is keen to learn and we have already discovered some natural helmsmen amongst our new crew.'
For Qingdao, a little tactical eavesdropping as they rounded the waypoint allowed them to avoid the dreaded wind hole.
Skipper, Ian Conchie, says, 'As we approached the corner of Japan we were in a four-boat drag race to see who could get round first. As we approached, however, we overheard Derry-Londonderry and Singapore discussing wind holes so we decided to bear away and take a wide outer route to try and miss them. This appeared to work well and we made some good gains. However through the night being further offshore hurt us as we couldn't sail as high as the boats inshore of us and lost some of our hard earned advantage.
'This morning the wind can't seem to make up its mind. The wind speed changing from 13 to 26 knots regularly means lots of sail changes for the crew but we’re trying everything to try and keep our speed up. We are hoping to find some good current closer in to help us up the coast of Japan into the Pacific.'
The fast response of the Geraldton Western Australia crew has helped them stay with the front runners after successfully rounding the Sata Misaki waypoint without slowing down.
'There was a whole group of Clipper Race yachts sailing towards the virtual mark yesterday,' describes skipper, Juan Coetzer. 'Those that went inshore got stuck in wind hole. I saw this happening and so decided to sail deeper than the boats to windward. This did pay off for a time, until the line died on us.
'Quick reactions by the crew; we got the kite up, bore away a little more and powered our way out of the wind hole. Currently we are sailing along Japan's sunrise coast. It’s raining and foggy. We are trying to use the current, called the ‘Black Snake’, to our advantage and so far we have overtaken two boats to our knowledge. On board it is like a game of snakes and ladders: putting the sails up is like rolling the dice and overtaking boats is like going up the ladder towards the end goal!'
The fourth of the group to the north is Welcome to Yorkshire, from where Rupert Dean reports some great racing over the last 24 hours, playing cat and mouse with Qingdao and covering the advances of De Lage Landen and Geraldton Western Australia.
Until they picked the inshore route and got becalmed.
'Backwards we all drifted, sometimes at two knots due to a reverse eddy inshore of the Kuroshio Current, before the wind filled in again enabling us to make progress,' says Rupert. 'As is often the case in light and variable winds, some were blown free sooner than others.
'Since our brief respite, accompanied by a wonderful view of the dramatic Japanese coast, the majority of the fleet has been racing on port tack, in close proximity, sailing slightly south of east. This has taken us out of the cold southerly going eddy into the warm Kuroshio Current and it has been interesting to note how the sea temperature has changed accordingly, rising from 14.6C to a maximum of 18.3C! Certainly the air temperatures on deck have become more pleasant as a result.
'With winds set to generally come from the north east and the Scoring Gate being yes, you guessed it, in that direction, the tactical game is for how long to stay on each tack. Sailing east on port tack gives better Velocity Made Good (VMG) to the gate, but takes one away from the benefits of the Kuroshio current. The opposite happens on starboard. With this in mind, the boats which will come out best at this stage of the race will be the ones who work the angles and VMGs best.'
Rupert concludes, 'Interesting times lie ahead!'
Positions at 0900 UTC, Thursday 8 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 4,914nm
2 Singapore - 4,929nm (+9nm DTL**)
3 Geraldton Western Australia - 4,924nm (+9nm)
4 De Lage Landen - 4,927nm (+13nm)
5 New York - 4,927nm (+13nm)
6 Derry-Londonderry - 4,930nm (+15nm)
7 Qingdao - 4,931nm (+17nm)
8 Visit Finland - 4,932nm (+18nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4,933nm (+19nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4,958nm (+44nm)
*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