Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue to battle with challenging conditions on day fifteen of race eight from Singapore to Qingdao.
Gold Coast Australia has diverted to Taiwan to evacuate an injured crew member after an attempted helicopter airlift proved impossible due to strong winds and a punishing sea state. Tim Burgess, 31, broke his left leg above the knee while working on a headsail change on the foredeck of the yacht.
Waves up to four metres high and winds of around 30 knots have been providing a gruelling test for the amateur crews of all ten 68-foot yachts.
Skipper, Richard Hewson, explained, 'Unfortunately the helicopter could not effect a successful rescue and so a Taiwan Coast Guard vessel was dispatched. After attempting to come alongside the Coast Guard vessel I made the decision that the transfer would be too dangerous due to the wind, swell and sea state.'
The yacht diverted to Keelung in northern Taiwan where Tim was transferred to a waiting ambulance and taken to hospital.
He was accompanied by Nick Woodward, 55, a round the world crew member from Birmingham, UK, whom Richard decided to medevac as a precaution after he was thrown across the accommodation in the rough seas.
'The force with which Nick hit his head on the lockers beside the bunk was enough to crack the plywood. There are no obvious signs of further injury however he still has a headache so we are evacuating him as a precautionary measure,' explains Richard.
Nick has since been given the all clear and Tim has been admitted for surgery on his leg, which X-rays reveal was broken in two places.
Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, which was just eight miles from Gold Coast Australia when the incident happened, diverted to assist as they have two doctors among their international crew. The Race Office asked them to stay with the Australian yacht while plans for the medevac were put in place but they have now resumed racing.
Richard adds, 'I would like to offer my thanks to De Lage Landen for their support and wish them the best for the rest of the race.'
Describing the conditions the teams were battling when the incident happened during the race to China’s ‘Sailing City’, Stuart Jackson, skipper of De Lage Landen, says, 'We continued to race northwards with winds over 30 knots and water pouring over the decks. The helms now even have a pair of ski goggles to wear when the rain lashes into their faces, to give them an element of protection in the harsh conditions on deck.
'We continued our chase north, closely followed by Gold Coast Australia when we noticed that they had slowed down considerably. We then received a call from them early this morning requesting assistance with a medical emergency on board. We responded immediately and suspended our race to offer whatever assistance we could with communications, or the fact that we have two doctors on board. It became clear that one of their crew had had an accident on the foredeck and they would need to be stabilised pending what was to be a potential helicopter evacuation.
'We remained by their side without hesitation until the helicopter arrived and we were able to assist by coordinating communications with them, the Race Office and the various emergency services involved. Unfortunately a medevac lift was not possible and they would need to go to the nearest port in Taiwan. Again we prepared to follow them in to offer any further help we could.
'The crew on board maintained a watching brief and wish the injured crew member our very best wishes and the speediest of recoveries.'
Singapore’s skipper, Ben Bowley, also provides a graphic account of just how extreme the conditions are in the area.
'At times the yacht has been less of a big red bus and more of a big red submarine. In the early hours of this morning the boat punched through an enormous solid wall of water, stopped dead and then we had the next wave break directly over the boat. The yacht ended up hove-to with the cockpit and snake-pit full to the brim with water. All the on watch (harnessed on at all times in these conditions) ended up fully immersed and floating.
'To give some example of how much water came thundering over the deck, our wooden helming board that normally sits wedged in the aft corner of the cockpit well ended up wedged between the radar post and the pushpit about a foot clear of the deck. So much water came pouring down the companionway that a spare life-jacket in a pocket outside of my cabin inflated. It has taken the best part of four hours to finish getting the water out of the bilges this morning. Luckily no one was hurt and nothing got broken.'
Ben and his crew send their best wishes to Tim and the crew of Gold Coast Australia, adding 'The incident serves as a severe reminder of just how challenging and at times dangerous ocean yacht racing can be in certain conditions. No matter how many safety precautions are taken by skippers and their crews, injury such as this remind us that in any fight between soft flesh and Mother Nature, ultimately the elements will win every time. We wish Tim a swift recovery and hope that he is able to re-join the race further down the track.'
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In the meantime Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia entered Stealth Mode at 1200 UTC. It means none of the rest of the fleet will receive updates on their positions and therefore tactics for the next 24 hours.
'We are still in close company with Geraldton Western Australia who are currently matching us tack for tack,' Ben continues. 'The temperature has also taken a rapid dive into single figures. This combined with the driving rain and spray has made life rather miserable on deck and mother watch is starting to become something of a treat! We anticipate the conditions to moderate over the next 24 hours as we move out of the Japan Current and the seas take on a more organised pattern. Within 48 hours we could even be power reaching with the full main and Yankee 1 again, fingers crossed the weather files are telling the truth!'
There’s a degree more of pessimism about the weather prospects from Juan Coetzer on board Geraldton Western Australia.
'It has been an eventful beat, ramping and slamming over rather large swell,' he reports. 'The crew have done really well, emptying the bilges on a regular basis, using a bucket and sponge. Unfortunately it’s not over yet, as we still have the wind coming from a northerly direction, and Qingdao finish is another 600 miles to the north.'
Visit Finland and Derry-Londonderry are matched in an equally close race for the finish line. Derry-Londonderry’s comms connections are playing up a bit in the conditions so friends and family may find a short break in emails from the boat until normal service is resumed.
Visit Finland’s skipper, Olly Osborne, says, 'The more severe weather is becoming the norm now as we slog our way northward along the Taiwanese coast. The favourable current is a great asset though and we are making good ground, although it does throw up a fairly confused sea as it collides with the prevailing northerly wind. Life on board is going well though despite the constant heel and violent slamming motion of the boat, and spirits are being buoyed up by the exciting match race we are having with the Derry-Londonderry team nearby.
'The wind feels a lot cooler on deck now and the sea is very warm in contrast as the deck is frequently awash with spray which feels like bath water against the chill of the breeze. There is also a high concentration of shipping through the region which keeps us looking out constantly through the hours of darkness which are now moonless. But with most of Taiwan behind us and a spell of better weather on the way spirits are as high as I could wish for, and I have been very impressed by the resilience of the crew.'
The ability of the crew to tap into even greater reserves of stamina and resilience in such an extreme environment is also noted by Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid.
'The swell is building and with some gusts reaching over 40 knots, these are testing times even for the well trained amateur crews of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race,' he tells the Race Office today. 'The challenge is both very physical and to a great extent a mental one, as the crew is forced to overcome any fears, dig a little deeper and do what it takes to keep the boat racing safely.
'This is when your true character comes to the surface as we battle fatigue, being wet all the time and being constantly thrown around both above and below decks as the yacht surges up and off one huge wave after another.
'Helming at night is like driving a 40-ton double decker bus with no brakes on a winding road in the Highlands of Scotland or even a roller coaster track, whilst blind folded and with a high pressure fire hose of salty water pointing right at your face. Every so often you catch a glimpse of a huge white foaming wave coming at you, but by that time it's too late to do anything about it except hold on tight as you drive your bus off a 20-foot cliff and go into free-fall, then BOOM! as she nose dives the next wave!'
Gareth Glover and the New York team have been trying something a little different from the other yachts’ short-tacking up the Taiwanese coast. Having gone further offshore they have been able to come back in on a single tack which has allowed them to edge ahead of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
But, as the wind and sea state built, a few more crew succumbed to sea sickness and Gareth found himself forward of the mast, helping a reduced watch with a headsail change.
'As we were light on crew I went up to help to get the sails down. In this wind you have to pull them down yourself as the wind just pulls them back up and if you let go you have to start again. As I was pulling down the staysail a wave washed over the deck, knocking me from my feet and then I hit the life raft and a few other things on the way down. Luckily my ribs help save me from any injury and I just got a few knocks. The same wave set off two of the crew’s life jackets.
'After starting again we got the sail down. All this reminds us as skippers how hard the crew have to work all the time and it can be too easy just to ask the crew to go and do this. We ended up with just the main up most of the night which slowed us down and stopped us making any good headway north. We now have the staysail back up and are heading back to the north, giving the crew some respite from the yacht pitching and banging around.'
At the other end of the island Welcome to Yorkshire and Qingdao have probably felt the worst of Mother Nature’s rage.
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Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie, says, 'As we closed in on the southern tip of Taiwan yesterday the wind continued to build and the sea state became very rough with steep waves. This forced us to change from full on racing mode to ‘looking after the crew and the boat’ mode. We dropped the stay sail and ran under storm jib and three reefs. The problem with this configuration is that we cannot point very well, meaning that it is very hard to make progress upwind towards the finish.
'This means that our goal of catching the next pack is for the moment on hold and with every passing hour the task gets harder and harder. To try and help the conditions we headed east out into the Philippines Sea during the night. Whilst this has achieved our primary goal of finding better sea conditions it has cost us a lot in terms of distance to finish and our tacking angles are terrible at nearly 160 degrees. We are just doing our best to make ground towards the finish and are waiting for the wind to allow us to hoist the stay sail so we can get going again.
'Our goal now is to try and get in for February 24 so we can celebrate my 40th birthday.'
Reporting winds blowing a steady Force 8 (39 to 46 miles per hour) Rupert Dean explains how he and the crew of Welcome to Yorkshire also went into survival mode overnight.
'With the boat and crew taking such a pounding and winds regularly gusting over 40 knots, we took down our staysail to proceed under treble-reefed main and storm jib alone. Since then, it's regularly hit 50 knots! Trying to go upwind on a Clipper 68 without a staysail results in markedly less speed and pointing ability, reducing VMG (velocity made good) accordingly. This is something no one likes to see, especially under racing conditions. However, in the preceding hours we had already snapped a staysail halyard (one of two) and the sail had clearly been under some stress. Time to preserve the boat and crew for a few hours, until conditions become more clement.
'A phrase used a lot in the fleet at the moment is ‘to finish first, first you must finish’. Here's another: 'sometimes to go fast, first you must go slow’. Ultimately by keeping our staysail in good shape now, we should be quicker into Qingdao for it. Ian Conchie on Qingdao feels the same way. As the current backmarkers in this race, we both know we've had the toughest transit of the Luzon Strait. Our reduced speeds, forced by waves and weather, have given competitors ahead some 'easy' miles on us. But we're not giving up. Once conditions permit, we'll be back up to 100 per cent, chomping at the bit to make good the losses. Watch out ahead!' Positions at 1500 UTC, Saturday 18 February Boat DTF*
1 De Lage Landen 566nm
2 Singapore 606nm (+41nm DTL**) Stealth Mode: position at 1200 UTC
3 Geraldton Western Australia 609nm (+43nm) Stealth Mode: position at 1200 UTC
4 Gold Coast Australia 654nm (+88nm)
5 Visit Finland 655nm (+89nm)
6 Derry-Londonderry 658nm (+92nm)
7 New York 701nm (+135nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 709nm (+143nm)
9 Qingdao 830nm (+265nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 835nm (+269nm)
*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