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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Close encounters

by Heather Ewing on 7 Mar 2012
Gold Coast Australia crew in Qingdao ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the second day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. Gold Coast Australia has pulled ahead of the tightly packed fleet. The ten yachts are still roughly in a line running north east to south west as they race through the East China Sea towards the southern tip of Japan and the open Pacific Ocean.

It has been a busy 24 hours for the Australian entry which has experienced a night of sail changes and dodging the East China Sea’s local fishing boats for the second time in this series.

Skipper, Richard Hewson, says, 'Yesterday afternoon the wind veered as predicted and we set our heavyweight spinnaker allowing us to pull away slightly from the rest of the fleet who were at the time still very tightly bunched. After the sun set and at watch change a combination of gusty winds, freezing conditions, fog and a few nervous crew gave us enough reason to drop the spinnaker and run with the Yankee 1 throughout the night.

'This would be a decision we would definitely not regret as throughout the night there were a number of close encounters with unlit nets and vessels that did not show up on radar or AIS. After one such encounter I was called on deck as our speed had significantly decreased and the helmsman was having trouble maintaining course. We discovered that we were trailing a large net or line and had no option but to sail head to wind and try to shake the net off the keel and rudder. After ten minutes and various attempts, which included sailing the 68-foot yacht backwards like a dinghy, we finally managed to shake off the most significant part of the net, though I would not be surprised if there are still remnants under the hull. We will not be able to determine this until the weather further abates.'

Richard adds, 'The manoeuvre of shaking the nets cost us a lot of time, and allowed the other yachts to catch up, though I'm sure they all had their fair share of obstacles last night. Later in the morning as the winds moderated we saw Welcome to Yorkshire sail across our bow with their kite up, a looming sight, seeing the pink yacht sailing under full sail in the mist. As the wind began to abate and the sky cleared slightly we also set our heavyweight spinnaker and have been heading east at good speed ever since.'

'A very fast start to this race sees Derry-Londonderry up into the top four leading boats and flying along under full main and heavyweight spinnaker at average speeds of eleven knots,' reports the Northern Irish entry’s skipper, Mark Light.

'An exciting night found us deep downwind with our Yankee 1 flying. It is against race rules to pole out this large headsail so to gain some more ground downwind we decided to ‘goose-wing’, or sail with the Yankee flying on the opposite side to the mainsail without the use of a pole. This requires a high degree of precision from the helm in order to keep both sails full.'

Commenting on the busy waters that surround China and Japan, Mark adds, 'All was going well until we were greeted with the sight that no yachtsman wants to see, the bow of a huge tanker appearing out of the gloom!

'This monster ship, although close, seemed to be clearing down our starboard side then all of a sudden and to my horror, turned straight towards us! I immediately turned to starboard sharply, heading up into wind and pulling our Yankee across to the correct side to take serious avoiding action.

'We cleared by 200 to 300 metres then watched as Singapore had to do exactly the same severe manoeuvre clearing by only 100 metres or so. This was way too close for comfort! I learnt after that Gold Coast Australia had to crash tack to avoid the same vessel.'

Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, describes the same heart-stopping incident, saying, 'A combination of freezing fog, fishing boats, large commercial vessels has made navigation a little hazardous. We elected to spend the night under white sails even though the wind was just about ok for the heavy kite. In retrospect this was an excellent idea because having to make sudden course alterations under spinnaker with new inexperienced crew, at night, would have been more stress than I think we could have managed! We set up to hoist the kite at first light today only to find ourselves ensnared in yet another fishing fleet and a huge tanker had decided to make a large course alteration directly toward us. This is the absolute last thing you ever want to see bearing down on you out of the fog: 100,000 tons of steel and oil. We took evasive action and ended up less than 200 metres past his stern. Not the best way to start the day.

'After this we were able to gybe over and finally get the kite hoisted. The rest of the day has been spent constantly tweaking ‘Vicky’ [Sticky Vicky – the crew’s nickname for the spinnaker due to the amount of repair tape she now sports] to get the best possible course and speed out of the boat. We've had some fantastic surfing conditions and the boat has been flying along. The sun had even made a few brief appearances and conditions have been conducive to coaching up some of the new leggers at helming under spinnaker. I'm sure tonight shall bring more nautical dodgems but for now we are happy to be seeing VMG (Velocity Made Good) of generally over ten knots.'


Things have not quite been going to plan on board Welcome to Yorkshire. The team was neck and neck with Gold Coast Australia in the lead at the midnight position report but shortly afterwards ound themselves grappling with what skipper, Rupert Dean, describes as 'the mother of all wraps': the team’s heavyweight spinnaker wrapped around the inner forestay in tricky helming conditions.

Describing the scene, Rupert reports, 'Our precious sail was trapped 80-foot up the rig with no means of getting it down. Chris Leivers and Jim Stamp bravely volunteered to go up to unwrap it, a feat made impossible by the 20 plus knots apparent wind blowing across the sail, big waves and the sheer size and power of the sail. Before returning to the deck, Chris unclipped the double halyard to bring it down with him. At least that would mean two less lines for it to tangle around.

'Thoughts now turned to more extreme measures. Cutting the sail down was one we didn't wish to pursue. Another possibility was to remove the entire inner forestay from the rig, lowering it and the sail together to be unwrapped on deck, again a far from simple operation in a big seaway. In the end we gybed the mainsail, which we needed to do anyway to attain better VMG, and deliberately steered the boat deep downwind, to encourage the kite to unwrap itself with the wind blowing the other way. Mercifully it worked and, with a bit of tugging from the foredeck, the sail at last slid down the stay onto the deck.

'For the Welcome to Yorkshire crew and me this was the worst spinnaker wrap we had ever experienced. Dealing with it was pretty stressful and very tiring. Thankfully the crew, sail and boat are all in one piece, we haven't lost too many miles on the opposition and we are fit to race again.'

Crew taking part in the Clipper Race can sign up to take on the whole 40,000-mile circumnavigation or one or more of the individual legs of the race. The extreme challenge of racing across the planet’s largest ocean is hugely popular and consequently a large number of new crew took their places amongst the teams in Qingdao at the start of the transpacific race. As they find their sea legs and get up to speed this provides an additional challenge for the teams, particularly in heavy weather.

On board New York, skipper Gareth Glover, explains, 'The wind filled in, turned and started to come from our stern. Kite or pole out the head sail was the call, and with a lot of new crew on board we went for a poled out Yankee 2 which worked well, and most of the fleet must have been thinking the same as most were under the same sail plan as we were. They were still in range on AIS but the visibility was still down to only a few miles at best.

'As first light came we decided to go with our heavyweight kite which gives us more boat speed but there is a limit to the crew who can helm in around 20 knots of wind, running deep downwind with the pole far forward. It was going well until the kite clipped the back edge on the rig and ripped down the side. The crew are now working on repairing the kite so we can get it back flying again. It was great to see how the crew who have been on from the start helped the new crew get on with getting it all sorted fast and safely to get us racing again.'

Every facet of life on board an ocean racing yacht requires teamwork and the crew that works best together is very often the team that comes out on top.

As they weave their way through cargo ships and fishing fleets, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid, notes, 'For some of our new joiners it has been a tough few days, given the freezing temperatures and the slightly lumpy sea state. Everyone on the crew now seems to be settling into life on board and we are all looking forward to passing Japan and making our way into some nice deep blue ocean once more.

'With the wind veering slowly towards the north, we gybed across on to a port tack early this morning and now that the wind is a lot more consistent in its direction and speed we are going for a spinnaker hoist. This should set us up nicely for the Sata Misalki mark and allow us to come back on the breeze as it continues to veer. As we approach the next mark it will hopefully start to warm up a little in the Kuroshio (Black Snake) current which flows north from the warmer South China Sea along the south coast of Japan.'

Gordon adds, 'With over 5,000 miles still to go the fleet are very much still in a tight group and regular banter is exchanged between the skippers as we navigate our way south east and onwards.'

Qingdao’s crew have spent the last 24 hours completing a series of sail changes to gain ground on their competitors, mindful of the new hands on board.

Skipper, Ian Conchie, says 'With plenty of wind we spent the night with the Yankee 1 and full main and managed to hold some good speed. I decided not to hoist the kite in the night as the conditions were not ideal for a first kite run with new crew. This may have cost us some distance but it’s a long way to go and we didn't want to risk damage too early on.

'We hoisted the kite just before lunch today and as the fog lifted we could see both Visit Finland and De Lage Landen in the flesh rather than just as targets on the radar system. The fleet is still fairly close; all of us are in VHF range of each other and Skipper FM is full of chat and warnings of ships and fishing boats although, listening to the conversations, it seems that some of the fleet have had more issues than us with the shipping.

'We continue to head towards the southern tip of Japan and if we keep our current speed should round the corner sometime tomorrow. I think the whole fleet is praying for a change of wind when we get there though as currently it is showing a beat up the coast of Japan and, with the memories of the seas off Taiwan still in everyone’s minds, we are hoping for better conditions.'

In the meantime, though, according to Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer, 'It is still a drag race to the first virtual mark, weaving and dodging through fishing fleets, lobster pots, and high speed container ships.

'Last night the new crew on board experienced their first headsail change of this race, from a Yankee 1 to a Yankee 2 and this morning Nik Brbora had to go up the mast to clean our wind indicator as the pollution in China has caked our indicator black and at night you cannot see the reflectors which means we couldn’t use the wind instruments at night.'


De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, reports that his team are glad to be racing after the foggy and snowy departure from Qingdao.

'We got off to a great start and it was good to get going to stave off the very cold conditions that we were experiencing! It was also the first taste of true ocean racing life for our new crew, and old, who are settling down for our long journey to San Francisco.'

'Everyone seems to be finding their feet on board today as the early fatigue of getting back into a watch system wears off,' reports Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne.

As the Finnish team continues to jockey for position Olly adds, 'We have made some good distance since we started yesterday and the whole fleet is still very close. Most boats are in sight of one another and the competition is heating up as we all charge east under our heavyweight spinnakers.'

The fleet is expected to arrive in Oakland in San Francisco Bay between 1 and 7 April. The Race 9 winning team will be presented with the Strictly Sail Pacific Clipper Cup on the opening day of the show, 12 April.

Positions at 1500 UTC, Tuesday 6 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 5,201nm
2 Derry-Londonderry - 5,204nm (+3nm DTL**)
3 Singapore - 5,205nm (+4nm)
4 New York - 5,209nm (+8nm)
5 De Lage Landen - 5,215nm (+14nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 5,217nm (+16nm)
7 Qingdao - 5,218nm (+17nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 5,219nm (+18nm)
9 Visit Finland - 5,219nm (+18nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 5,222nm (+21nm)

*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.

www.clipperroundtheworld.com/" target="_blank">Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website

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