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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - De Lage Landen medevac

by Heather Ewing on 11 Mar 2012
De Lage Landen crew in Qingdao ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland, San Francisco Bay - 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 sixth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. De Lage Landen, one of the ten 68-foot yachts competing, has diverted towards Japan to medevac an injured crew member.

Cath James, 41, from Whitney, England, injured her back when she was thrown from her bunk in the rough conditions the yachts are currently experiencing in the north west Pacific Ocean.

De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, is in contact with the Clipper Race Office and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in Falmouth, UK, and Japan to manage the medical evacuation.

The Japanese Coast Guard asked De Lage Landen to head towards Hachijo Shima, an island around 150 miles south of Yokahama, where they plan to transfer the casualty by RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to a Coast Guard cutter from where she will be airlifted by helicopter and flown to Tokyo to receive hospital treatment.

Further updates will be posted on the official race website.

The conditions have presented all of the teams with a tough challenge over the last 24 hours and there are likely to be knocks and bruises amongst the crews across the fleet – something to be expected in such an extreme sport.

However safety is always the priority and the teams’ ability to keep a competitive focus, preserve kit and look after crew morale is already being tested.

'This is the third day enduring these conditions and hopefully the last as things should settle down a little by tomorrow,' reports Mark Light, whose Derry-Londonderry team emerged from their 48-hour period in Stealth Mode at 1200 UTC today.

'We have average winds of up to 40 knots now and gusts just short of 50, waves are up to eight metres in height and the boat is under strain now with tremendous loads being transferred through lines, deck gear and sails.

'About 0100 local time this morning we heard a loud bang followed by lots of flogging. Our working staysail sheet had snapped like a piece of string and the staysail became something of a wild, flailing banshee full of aggression. This resulted in some swift action on deck to prevent the sail from flogging itself to bits.

'I turned the boat downwind to try to prevent damage and the foredeck crew secured the sail with the lazy sheet. Another sheet was passed up from below, secured to the sail, fed through the car and taken up on its winch. A quick inspection of the sail showed no obvious signs of damage so we powered up and surged on. The whole episode took less than ten minutes but could have been so much worse with wild sheets and sail temporarily out of control.'

Mark adds, 'Luckily no injuries, no damage and we live to fight another day!'

The entry representing the UK City of Culture 2013 is now in third place and one of the teams which have chosen the most southerly route and who appear to have so far found the best wind and current combination to speed them towards their northern Californian destination.

Just ahead of them in second place, Singapore has been racing under a reduced sail plan through what skipper Ben Bowley describes as 'mountainous seas.'

'Occasionally a wave the size of two double decker buses will curl and break right over the boat's beam when the helm is unable to bear off in time.

'The sheer volume and weight of water that bursts onto the deck is quite staggering at times! This morning we further reduced sail as the wind backed and built; removing the staysail due to gusts in excess of 50 knots true. Now we are reaching to the east under three-reefed main and storm jib alone.

'This is still plenty enough sail to get the ‘Big Red Bus’ moving continually at over ten knots right where we want to go. Tactically the next few days shall be interesting to watch as we see when boats will begin to make their turns to the north east. Careful planning is required to ensure that we will be on the correct side of the developing weather and give ourselves a smooth fast ride up to the Scoring Gate.

'This task is made a little trickier on Singapore now as the violent motion and deluges of water coming below have killed our navigation PC. Planning the next part of the route has to be done in a slightly more antiquated manner now and the paper charts are getting more than their usual 12-hour plots drawn on them.

'The seascape outside is quite spectacular though and for all the hardships we are facing presently, this is reward: facing nature in its rawest form, surviving unscathed and having these scenes and memories etched indelibly on our brains for the rest of our days.'

As Ben mentions, the decision on which route to take is one all of the teams will be pondering right now as the next weather system develops. Will they be able to ride it to the north without crossing the course limit at 42 degrees north? Or will they choose to sail to the south but risk lighter airs?

Until then, though, they have the remnants of the current system to deal with, which they hope won’t force them too far off course.


And Gold Coast Australia has been 'smashing along with three reefs in the mainsail, storm jib and staysail trying not to fall too far to the south as we pass the islands to the South East of Japan,' according to skipper, Richard Hewson.

'This morning the wind had a lot more west in it and we were making some great speeds of up to 20 knots surfing down waves. As the day has worn on however the wind has shifted back to the north, and we have consequently had to sail tighter angles meaning a lot more heel on the boat, less speed, and uncomfortable living conditions.

'Helmsman Dan Aspinall recently saw a fish fly past his face as a wave crashed over the deck – a good example of how much water we are getting over the deck at the moment.

'Hopefully by the evening the wind will have begun to moderate and by morning we should have good winds again. Our biggest problem at the moment is that we are sailing at about the same speed as the low pressure system is moving, so it is staying with us for longer than usual. If we were going downwind this would be perfect, however with the wind blowing from its current direction at 30 to 40 knots it may result in exciting sailing, but it is very uncomfortable and very hard work.'

Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne, is also eagerly awaiting calmer conditions, as he reports, 'The weather is still showing no signs of relenting as we are tracking east almost as fast as the weather system but speeds are good none the less and we are currently passing through the volcanic island chain in the Nanpo Shoto region to the south of Japan.

'The prevailing current which runs north eastward is causing a confused sea state which keeps the helmsmen busy trying to stop the boat slamming hard into wave troughs, but the small sails are easy to handle and the conditions should moderate over the next day or so.'

In the meantime Welcome to Yorkshire’s crew are also finding things hard going.

'The very physical sailing conditions continue, with the boat charging along mostly on treble reefed main and staysail, with apparent wind speeds gusting over 40 knots,' reports skipper, Rupert Dean.

'Heavy weather like this tends to find weaknesses on any boat and we've had one or two issues to sort out, losing us some miles on the opposition.

'Last night our staysail halyard blew where it enters the mast 60 feet above the deck. Normally this wouldn't be a problem as we have two available however, somehow the spare had got trapped inside the deck light guard fitting and in the high winds it was impossible to shake out. A trip up the mast was required but at night in huge and confused waves this wasn't really a safe option so we decided to hoist the storm jib for a few hours in its place.'

Rupert adds, 'Sailing under mainsail and storm jib results in less speed, but gave the boat and crew a welcome respite from the violent slamming of the past two days. A chance to sort out a few things, get some quality sleep and re-energise before the next morning. The winds were still too full on at daybreak, but at 1100 hours local time, Jim Stamp bravely scaled the mast in gale force conditions to free the trapped halyard. Since then we've been making good progress with both staysail and storm jib together.'

Hot on the English boat’s heels is the Chinese entry and Qingdao’s skipper says, 'Lots of hard work yesterday and through the night we managed to close back up to Welcome to Yorkshire in fourth place with only one mile between us and second.'

Ian Conchie comments, 'This was excellent news for everyone on board given the hard conditions that we have been fighting through.

'Unfortunately our luck started to change. First one of the crew lost their footing in when a large wave hit the boat resulting in her sliding across the boat and receiving a nasty bump on the head.

'Then a Yankee sheet and then a staysail sheet broke which meant we had to lower the sails and repair them which cost us time and valuable distance. Now we have to focus on making up the distance we lost and climb the leader board again!'

Geraldton Western Australia’s crew were flattened by a stomach bug yesterday and now it appears something similar has struck the team on the American yacht as well.

'Just like Geraldton Western Australia we have had a stomach bug on board and have lost six crew so far, including some round the worlders and both our watch leaders,' reports New York skipper, Gareth Glover.

'It seems it is a 24 hour bug and the mixed weather and sea state is making it harder for them to feel better. Some of the waves hitting the yachts have been setting off the rest of the crew’s life jackets at the helm as they continue to work hard and keep us racing.'

Commenting on their position in the fleet Gareth adds, 'Our tactic of heading east early and trying to pick up wind round the back of this low is currently not paying off. We now have good winds of 30 knots from the north making helming easier and giving us better speed towards our waypoint but the yachts that went further north and picked up the currents have benefited from this decision.

'These are going to be some of the hardest conditions the crew have ever raced in and they are going to have to dig very deep and see what they’re made of as they cross the Pacific Ocean.'

Geraldton Western Australia skipper, Juan Coetzer, agrees saying, 'The last three days riding the ‘Black Snake’ (Kuroshio Current) has been tough work.

'I have been finding myself on the helm quite regularly ploughing through monstrous waves, stinging rain and gale force winds. We have opted to go south around the islands, making good speed for deeper water, and hopefully hooking into the front that’s just whizzing by.'


Describing the challenge of what the crews have been facing on board for the last few days, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital skipper, Gordon Reid, says, 'You wake up for watch, wrestle into your wet foul weather gear, climb your way on deck and Boom! Take a wave straight in the face. The yacht still needs to be raced and the sails plan adjusted, so comes the time when you need to dig a little deeper, overcome your fears, keep your focus, feed you hunger for adventure and man right up and do what it takes.

'To give you an appreciation of the fun we are having, the sea state is rough to very rough, with some waves over six metres. The current causes the waves to build steeply so they are more like walls of water and as the ‘Purple Beastie’ falls off the wall of water we nose dive straight into the next wave. The warm sea comes rushing down the deck washing the crew to their knees, the cockpit is constantly full of water and runs down the companionway steps like a waterfall, then we crash head on into the next wave with an almighty BOOM. The entire rig vibrates and anything that is not secured below flies from one side to the other.

'Every muscle in your body is constantly under tension; this is like Ironman super circuits! With all that said and done, what an adrenaline rush you get from surfing the ‘Purple Beastie’ off one giant wave after another and feeling the raw power of the ocean as Mother Nature shows you who is clearly in charge!'

Positions at 1500 UTC, Saturday 10 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 4,451nm
2 Singapore - 4,484nm (+33nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 4,511nm (+60nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia - 4,514nm (+63nm)
5 New York - 4,519nm (+68nm)
6 Visit Finland - 4,542nm (+91nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4,552nm (+101nm)
8 Qingdao - 4,560nm (+109nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4,574nm (+123nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 4,602nm (+151nm)

*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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