Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty second day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. Mother Nature has yet again shown her amazing raw power as boat speed records have been surpassed by many of the ten internationally backed teams as they race across the world’s biggest expanse of water, the Pacific Ocean.
'We have monstrous waves that chase down our boat and then climb up behind us, massive walls of water that break at the crest and then come hurtling down towards the back of the boat,' reveals Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.
'The art is to catch one of these monsters fairly square on and with enough speed to begin the most amazing sleigh ride ever.
'The boat feels like a torpedo being fired from a submarine (which is exactly how the boat feels) as she accelerates rapidly up to a full on surf speed,' explains Mark, as his team continue their game of cat and mouse with New York.
'Speeds up to 25 knots have been achieved today and in the right direction. The feeling on the helm is amazing as the stern is picked up and you stand tall looking down the entire length of the boat and watch as the bow dips at first, then literally takes off and great spumes of water are sprung up from each side of the bow.
'There is always the unmistakable hum and vibration of all things boat related as the velocity increases exponentially. It is vital that the boat is kept completely under control and in a straight line, the slightest twitch on the rudder and the boat will slew off course and either bear away from the wind excessively causing a crash gybe or take off course the other way and head up into wind or worse still, head beam on to a huge following wave.'
Race Director, Joff Bailey, who guided New York around the world during the Clipper 05-06 Race, explains the reason for the conditions currently experienced by the fleet.
'The strong favourable winds created by a relatively static high pressure system and a fast moving
low pressure system look set to propel all of the teams rapidly towards Oakland over the next five days with the leaders finishing this weekend.
'As the teams get within the 100 miles of the finish the winds will be more southerly in direction and drop below 10-15 knots which will still allow them to make good progress on a starboard tack reach,' continues Joff.
'The North American land mass and the associated thermal effects will make the winds over the last few miles unpredictable which will make the leaders look over their shoulders for the last few miles.'
Racing across the Pacific Ocean, sees the crews conquer a staggering 6,000 miles during close to a month spent at sea, a truly unique experience for a group of intrepid adventurers who come from all walks of life.
Students, doctors, mechanics, shop assistants and chief executives are among the everyday people taking on the challenge of a lifetime and currently face waves as big as buildings.
'Only the chosen few can handle the helm in conditions such as these and those crew members rarely come off disappointed!'
Meanwhile on board current occupiers of second place, Singapore, skipper and crew members are relishing the intense conditions.
'As was expected, last night and today have seen a wide range of conditions and a few different sail plans,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley.
'The front has left, in its wake, quite a mixture of large seas and changeable wind strengths and directions. For the most part (where possible) we have been sailing under poled out Yankee 3 and have had a variety of reefs in the mainsail.
'Our hard work has been rewarded with some truly awesome surfs, at one point today topping out at a new boat record of 24.5 knots. You don't get those sorts of speeds on a 32 ton yacht easily and currently only our best helms are being allowed to wrestle with the ‘Big Red Bus'’ wheel of fortune,' continues Ben.
'Get it right and everyone will be grinning from ear to ear at the end of yet another epic surf; get it wrong and you could end up with a broken pole and the boat on her beam ends. As usual, the stress element comes from knowing how hard to push in the conditions.'
With approximately 1,250 miles still to race the Singaporean entry won’t have given up hope of reeling in Gold Coast Australia, who currently lead the fleet and boast a 93 mile advantage on Singapore. However they must also keep a vigilant eye on the chasing pack behind them.
'We have taken a slightly more conservative sail plan for most of the day in a bid to finish the race with all our sails and deck equipment in one piece. It is hard to stand one's ground in this scenario when we have the likes of Derry-Londonderry slowly clawing into our lead over them. I hope that by sailing smart, we can extend our lead over them in the coming few days as shifting winds help to mix up the fleet a little.'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital crew in Qingdao ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland, San Francisco Bay - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - onEdition ©
Planning a surge up the race standings is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, currently the most southerly positioned boat in the fleet.
'After several days of power reaching, the wind eventually veered and for a short time the sun was shining, first we increased sail, then poled out as the wind veered and we enjoyed a spot of sunshine sailing and a chance to dry out a bit,' says skipper, Gordon Reid.
'However no sooner had we settled into some nice downwind sailing, than the wind started to build as the barometer dropped even further, all day the wind has been steadily increasing and the sea is boiling once more.'
The Scottish entry has decided to play its tactical card and will enter Stealth Mode at 1200 UTC today.
Stealth Mode hides the team’s position on the Race Viewer and will not be sent to rest of the fleet for 24 hours. During the current race teams have the opportunity to use Stealth Mode twice, and are able to use both back to back hiding their position for 48 hours. This is an opportunity Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has taken up and their position will not be published until 1200 UTC 28 March, however the Race Office continues to monitor their position every hour.
'We are currently sailing downwind with a generous sail plan making a VMG (Velocity Made Good) of 11 knots plus, hitting 14, 16, 18 and 20 knots every few minutes as we catch the surf. The apparent wind is in the high twenties and sometimes well over 30 on the gusts, the ‘Purple Beastie’ is certainly a lively ride today.'
Current leaders, Gold Coast Australia, has experienced an eventful 24 hours as skipper, Richard Hewson explains in his 0600 report to the Race Office.
'The day started with a secondary front bringing more wind than the first and a change of direction to the west. It also bought with it a myriad of problems that would take Gold Coast Australia most of the morning to sort out.
'As the wind shifted we set up to pole out the Yankee 2 using our repaired ‘small pole’, however, unknown to us at the time the pole track had been damaged earlier in the race when we had a round up prior to Japan. This resulted in us being unable to hoist the pole to its usual height. Annelise Nelson headed up the mast with screw driver and hammer to straighten things out, and by sunrise we were almost ready to pole out the headsail. As the wind continued to veer it also increased in intensity. Not only was the wind increasing but the swell and sea were rising as fast as the barometer was dropping. After putting in a quick gybe, Gold Coast Australia had its second problem for the morning - reefing the mainsail,' continues Richard.
While we had experimented with our new system putting reefs in and shaking reefs out while the wind was moderate, we had not yet trialled the system in over 30 knots of wind. Sean Fuller went up the mast to try to resolve the issue but was unsuccessful, and consequently we were unable to keep some of the cars in the track in the desired fashion. We were able to reef by utilising our emergency drop system and a complicated array of lines that go up the back of the mast to support the luff of the sail and this seems to be working well.
'Our current sail configuration may allow the boats behind to sail slightly faster and make some miles on us through the night however in these conditions and especially at this stage of the race, I would rather play the conservative option. As the wind continues to veer we are able to still maintain course with good speed and at this rate we are predicted to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge before the end of the month.'
Also planning a conservative plan during the extreme conditions is Visit Finland’s skipper Olly Osborne.
'It looks like the sleigh ride is just getting going with a vast low pressure ridge passing north of us, providing some really exiting downwind sailing. The helms have had their work cut out as we surf down the faces of the following swell, clocking up peak speeds into the mid-twenties.
'The boat begins to behave differently and often the sails will momentarily flap as we accelerate faster than the wind following us,' says Olly.
'The roaring and vibration of the hull as it planes down a wave face is unmistakeable and on deck great plumes of water are pushed aside by the bow.
'All very exciting stuff really, and it makes the ETA for Oakland look good on the chart plotter too, but there is also an air of tension on board as the gear creaks and groans under tremendous load, and it is hard to relax or sleep at all when the helms can become easily disorientated in the moonless darkness.
'It's all about choosing the right sail plan, and not pushing too hard but still staying in touch with the fleet. Damage to the mainsail or pole track at this stage could seriously reduce our options, so I think in the short term it pays to be more conservative.'
After 22 days of ocean racing the Clipper 11-12 fleet is still extremely tightly bunched with only 350 miles separating tenth from first. Hoping to improve on their current fifth place is Ian Conchie and the crew of the Chinese entry, Qingdao.
'Another fast action day on board Qingdao; last night we dropped the spinnaker just after sunset due to the sea state and poor visibility and an hour later we were glad we had, as the wind picked up to 30 knots again,' explains Ian.
'This has given us some great downwind sailing under white sails and with the return of the large ocean rollers some great surfing. The top speed for today was just over 24 knots but this is still well short of our record of 28.6 knots we hit off the northern coast of Japan.
'We also had to keep checking our running repairs with the steering requiring some more attention today, everyone is now hoping this breeze continues to blast us all the way to the finish!' signs off Ian.
After great progress over the last 12 hours, De Lage Landen won’t rule out making further progress up the leader board.
'As the low pressure system is passing north of us, we are experiencing strong winds and big waves,' reports skipper, Stuart Jackson.
'With a steady 35 knots of wind coming from behind us we get treated to some of the most amazing surfs. Top speeds for this leg have been broken today at several occasions.
'A lot of fun on deck and below deck as we are literally gliding over those long ocean waves, the next couple of days will be quite testing for the crew as everyone will have to dig even deeper to keep racing in this rough weather,' says Stuart.
'The vision of Oakland is already making some people delirious as we lose them into daydreaming during dark and cold night watches.'
Hoping to hold off any late surge from the Dutch entry is the crew of Welcome to Yorkshire, skippered by Rupert Dean, who is currently pondering his team’s next move in the race to Oakland.
'It’s one of those questions racing skippers continually ask themselves at sea. ‘Do we keep it up or change down to a more conservative sail plan?’ The former is a high risk high speed option that can both reap rewards or end in tears, the latter is safer but will only gain you miles if competitors take the former and it doesn't work out.
'Yesterday we were making very good speed indeed under heavyweight kite, running deep downwind in a confused sea. Helming our 'Pink Lady' was quite a challenge as the waves slew her round on her quarter, sometimes collapsing the kite behind the main. Coming up on the wind ensured a steadier course, but directed us swiftly towards the 42 degrees north barrier imposed by the Race Office. It’s also dramatically increased the apparent wind to a perilous level for the integrity of the kite,' says Rupert, with his team currently in sixth just three miles behind Qingdao.
'As darkness approached I made the difficult decision to 'end the fun' and take our precious spinnaker down. With no moon around to assist the helms and with the wind forecast to increase later on, it was better to call 'the drop' on the watch change, when there were plenty of bodies about to receive it and set the boat up for a goose wing under white sails. What a good decision it turned out to be, for ten minutes later the wind increased dramatically to a solid Force 8 from the west! Since then Welcome to Yorkshire has been flying along, alternating between a goose wing and a broad reach, surfing at speeds up to 23 knots down enormous waves.
'Although cold, this is hardcore sailing at its best, easily rivalling anything one would experience on the Southern Ocean. It's a real privilege to be out here, experiencing nature at her most raw and beautiful. Sail fast and safe everyone. Cherish these memories forever.'
Meanwhile, looking to crawl miles back from Derry-Londonderry during their game of cat and mouse is New York, skippered by Gareth Glover.
'Well after the last report we decide to put up are medium weight kite for a few hours and maybe pull in the last few miles on Derry-Londonderry, all was going well until the guy snap in the beak of the pole sending the pole skywards and forwards and the into two pieces, we now have only one working pole for the last 1,400 miles on this race.
'As the guy snap the kite came down in one piece and after an hour of sorting out the mess the Yankee 2 was up and then pole out just in time for the wind to build to over 25 knots from less than 10,' explains Gareth.
'The wind has built to gusts of over 50 knots and wind speeds well into the 40s with this is also a building sea state and we have had some very large waves crashing over us which set some of the crew’s life jackets off.
'All this is making a very tough race for the crew and very little sleep for me, only the best can helm in these wind conditions and when you’re running deep downwind a wave can throw the yacht into a gybe and cause a massive amount of damage. So as always we need to manage racing and what the crew and yacht can handle, at this point of the race some of the crew are like the walking dead after three weeks of little sleep, cold wet and need of a shower. The question from some of the crew is now ‘are we there yet?’,' continues Gareth.
'And to Derry-Londonderry, we are coming for you. But we must remember there are six other yachts after us...'
Over on board Geraldton Western Australia, skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports of an impressive 24 hours of racing.
'Great day sailing yesterday, poled out Yankee 2, staysail and full main. The sun even made a warm appearance until the dark of the night came and the wind began to build.
'By midnight our sail plan was greatly reduced to a wee poled out storm staysail and three reefs in the main, surfing along at 10 knots - some time hitting a short surf of 20 knots. Today we had a monstrous wave come over the deck, filling up the cock pit and pouring down below into the navigation. Sadly this resulted in our brand new mouse, for the navigation computer drowning. Oh well, time for the sponge and bucket again.'
Positions at 1200 UTC, Monday 26 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1126nm*
2 Singapore - 1219nm (+93nm**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 1311nm (+186nm)
4 New York - 1322nm (+197nm)
5 Qingdao - 1353nm (+227nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1356nm (+230nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1369nm (+243nm)
8 De Lage Landen - 1406nm (+281nm)
9 Visit Finland - 1415nm (+290nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 1501nm (+375nm)
*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
by Heather Ewing
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12:53 PM Mon 26 Mar 2012GMT
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