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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Devastating blow for Geraldton

by Heather Ewing on 2 Apr 2012
Geraldton Western Australia 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 twenty eighth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. As the yachts continue to arrive thick and fast in Oakland, California, the Pacific Ocean has dealt a devastating blow to Geraldton Western Australia.

A particularly deep and nasty low pressure system passing across their route, approximately 400 miles from the finish line in San Francisco Bay, whipped up the ocean and a huge wave crashed over the back of the boat, wiping out their steering column and injuring four crew members.

The US Coast Guard has dispatched a vessel with a deck helipad to rendezvous with Geraldton Western Australia. They plan to transfer an on board paramedic to the yacht in order to assess the injuries before deciding whether to airlift them to the Coast Guard vessel and then to shore for medical treatment. Earlier a C-130 aircraft dropped additional medical supplies to the yacht, including oxygen for one of the crew.

Mark Burkes, 47, who was on the helm at the time of the incident, sustained a back injury but is not believed to be as badly hurt as originally thought and has been taken off the casualty list. Jane Hitchens, 50, a doctor, has suspected broken ribs and is being treated with oxygen. Nik Brbora, 29, a software engineer who lives in London, has a suspected pelvic strain, and Max Wilson, 62, a farmer from Queensland, Australia, also has suspected broken ribs. All of the crewmembers’ families have been informed.

Describing the moment the wave hit the yacht, Juan Coetzer, the South African skipper of the Geraldton Western Australia yacht explained, 'We were racing along in 40-60 knot gusts. The sea was alive with rage. We were making good speed, sailing with the third reef in the main, surfing at 15-20 knots. Then at our watch change, just before the sun came up, a monstrous foaming swell broke over our stern. Mark Burkes was on the helm at the time. The water had so much force in it that it pushed Mark into the helm, snapping the pedestal clean off. We had no steering and crew were falling all over the boat.

'Quickly we got the emergency steering in place. Then the third reef blew, so the storm jib went up and we pulled down the remains of our main sail, tidied up the boat and the treated the wounded. In the afternoon a US Coast Guard plane flew by and dropped us some extra supplies.'

Geraldton Western Australia is continuing to make good progress towards San Francisco Bay and is now approximately 300 miles from port.

While the rescue mission continues in the Pacific Ocean, in Oakland celebrations are underway for the teams who have been arriving throughout the day at the end of their mammoth 6,000-mile race across the world’s largest ocean.


Singapore scored their best result so far in their Clipper 11-12 campaign, finishing second behind Gold Coast Australia.

As they crossed the finish line marked by the Golden Gate Bridge at 1713UTC, the Singapore crew were visibly ecstatic about their second podium place of the competition.

As he and his team arrived in Jack London Square, skipper, Ben Bowley, said, 'It’s been an epic race. It’s by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, certainly all the crew will agree it’s the most challenging thing that they’ve ever done. It’s fantastic to be here.

'We thought that we would do alright in this race, but we wanted to put to bed some of the ghosts we had from the Southern Ocean where we came in last place and we were really pushing for a top five place. A couple of tactical good calls put us in a good position early on, which we maximised later on in the race. So here we are in second – our best result yet. We are ecstatic.'

The crew were welcomed by friends, family and locals. They were ushered straight over to a local restaurant, who kindly hosted a long-awaited American food feast of pizza and beers – a very welcome sight after nearly a month at sea.

Singaporean Sherlyn Chen, a round the world crew member, was visibly relieved to get into port.

The 19-year-old student said, 'I feel a tremendous sense of achievement to be here. It was tough and it’s the hardest leg we have had so far with the biggest weather, with days on days where you didn’t see below 30 knots of wind. But I loved the fast downwind sailing – the fastest I’ve ever sailed.

'I feel very proud. Every single one of us that has been on this leg has done something very few people have done, so it’s truly a great achievement. Seeing the bridge and knowing we are finally here after 6,000 long miles at sea is just fantastic.'


New York’s crew were ecstatic to beat Derry-Londonderry to the finish line, securing their fourth third place finish in Clipper 11-12.

Local girl, San Francisco resident, Lisa Perkin, took the helm to guide the team across the finish line at 1425 UTC (0730 local time).

The sales and marketing specialist said, 'As we approached the finish line, I recognised the centre span structure and its early markers about ten miles out, before we got to the Golden Gate Bridge itself. As we got closer the sky started clearing, the sun came out, we got closer to land and it was just amazing.

'I didn’t want to have huge expectations of the arrival, but when I saw the bridge, I wasn’t as emotional as expected – just really, really happy. I realised that we had completed one of the more difficult crossings in this race and coming under that bridge… I’ve seen it a lot but this time it symbolised having sailed 6,000 miles, so it felt like a huge accomplishment.'

Talking about the conditions he and his team faced during the race from Qingdao, China, skipper Gareth Glover said, 'It was a very tough race and we had some very tough conditions. One night, I looked up and I thought I saw some stars, but then I realised it was a breaking wave about four metres above the deck and it was the phosphorescence twinkling at me. It was a very large wave and it even set off a few of the crew’s life jackets.

'When we saw the Golden Gate Bridge from about ten miles off, the emotions went through the roof. After 6,000 miles on the world’s largest ocean, we are finally here in the US!'


So, too, are the crew of Northern Ireland entry, Derry-Londonderry. The yacht representing the UK City of Culture 2013 had been firmly in third place for much of the race until they experienced some problems with their steering, allowing the American yacht to slip ahead of them.

Crossing the finish line at 2331 UTC (1631 local time) yesterday, skipper Mark Light said, 'We raced very hard in all sorts of weather and, as we got to the end of the race, New York started catching us. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise our third place, but unfortunately we incurred a steering gear failure, which took a bit of time out of us, combined with New York making a really brave move, taking a bit of a flyer and coming out on top of us. Credit to them, but for us, fourth place is a great result after racing the way we have.

'We have all sorts of conditions with strong winds for about 90 per cent of the race without any respite and the crew have had to work hard for 28 days solid. This is why it’s such a great achievement to come in, pretty much undamaged, no major injuries and in a pretty good position – so we’re very happy.

'This race is long. We prepared mentally for it in the beginning – it’s all about effort and motivation. At times you almost want to give up, but none of the crew on Derry-Londonderry did; we worked very hard and I’m very proud of all of them and myself.'

A little over eight hours later at 0746 UTC today (0046 local time) Welcome to Yorkshire crossed the iconic finish line to secure fifth place, just two hours ahead of Qingdao, who finished at 0948 UTC (0248 local).

A very relieved skipper of the English entry, Rupert Dean, revealed, 'It’s been an absolutely epic race on Welcome to Yorkshire. It’s been very tactical – we’ve been near the back of the fleet, we’ve been near the front of the fleet and finished in the middle.

'The crew have been absolutely brilliant. It’s been the hardest race so far because it’s been so physical, so wet and so cold continuously the whole way across. There have been a few frightening moments when it’s been so rough, but they have done very well and put the work in.

'We probably had our greatest rush of excitement in view of the Golden Gate Bridge when we hit our highest boat speed of 27.9 knots – what an amazing way to finish!

'Not a lot of people outside of the sailing world realise how bad the North Pacific is especially this time of the year and I am so relieved to get my boat and the crew across safely, but we are proud of our position as well.'


His counterpart on Qingdao, Ian Conchie, echoes the sentiment, commenting, 'The North Pacific has lived up to its expectations. Anyone who thought this would be full of champagne sailing doesn’t realise what the North Pacific in winter can be like. We’ve had a succession of storms and it got to the point where the crew thought nothing of it being 30 knots again. It shows just how much they been through to get the boats in – and get them in safely.

'It’s been really hard on the crew because of the relentless conditions. Everything is wet and trying to keep warm when all your kit is damp takes the strength out of everyone, but luckily we’ve got a really good team and they help each other through it.

'They’ve just crossed an ocean which more than 99 per cent of sailors won’t even ever cross. They haven’t just done it – they’ve done it fast in just 28 days!'

Qingdao crew member, David Hall, has loved this leg of the race, despite the gruelling conditions and bone numbing cold they have faced, and likens racing the yacht in some instances to driving a high performance car.

'We’ve been very lucky,' explains the Hong Kong-based teacher. 'When you look at the length we have travelled and the type of ocean and the type of conditions, we have probably not seen the worst the Pacific can bring on.

'Saying that, it’s been tough. These large waves sometimes make the boat feel like you are driving a Ferrari and other times it feels like you are driving a really bad car. When she is like a Ferrari – when the weather is right, the wave is right and the wind is right – you surf and the boat rises up on top of the wave, powers down the wave and you can be doing 15-30 knots. You feel like you are going really fast and the water starts coming up through the bow. You’ll surf one wave, land, then surf another one and another one. It feels a bit like you are skiing a slope – it must be my favourite part of the race!'

De Lage Landen has just arrived in Jack London Square, Oakland, after crossing the finish line at 1411 UTC (0711 local time). Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Visit Finland are both expected in the next few hours. Reaction from all of the teams will appear on the official race website.


The fleet will be berthed at Jack London Square until 14 April and will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show. Gold Coast Australia will be presented with the Strictly Sail Pacific Clipper Race Cup when the show opens on 9 April.

Positions at 1500 UTC, Sunday 1 April 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - Finished 0316 UTC 31 March
2 Singapore - Finished 1714 UTC 31 March
3 New York - Finished 1425 UTC 31 March
4 Derry-Londonderry - Finished 2331 UTC 31 March
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - Finished 0746 UTC 1 April
6 Qingdao - Finished 0948 UTC 1 April
7 De Lage Landen - Finished 1411 UTC 1 April
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 22nm (+22nm DTL**)
9 Visit Finland - 42nm (+42nm)
10 Visit Finland - 324nm (+324) Position at 1130 UTC

*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website

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