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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Major repairs at sea

by Heather Ewing on 12 Oct 2011
Visit Finland races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.

Visit Finland and Derry-Londonderry are considering how to repair their badly damaged mainsails after piercing large holes in them with their spinnaker poles in strong downwind conditions.

Repairing the mainsail on a Clipper 68 is a major job, even when moored alongside as it involves manhandling the 111 square-metre sail that weighs in excess of 150 kilos into a position where repairs can be done. Carrying out a repair at sea in the absence of a sail loft is yet more demanding still, as the whole operation has to be undertaken on a rolling boat with a limited area in which to accommodate the vast sail during repairs.

It is a challenge facing both crews today and they will be keen to perform a repair as soon as possible so that they can sail under a full main again and avoid losing any more ground to their opponents.

On Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne is keen to get his mainsail back in action and is mulling over the options as they have already slipped down into ninth place.

'With no option other than to carry two reefs at the moment, Visit Finland will suffer very poor boat speeds in these lighter airs. This is already reflected on the race viewer I am sure, so the thought in everyone minds is how to find a reliable way of repairing a 1.5-metre tear in the mainsail,' skipper, Olly Osborne, said.

'The surest way to carry out the work in dry conditions would of course be to take the main down below and rig our small storm trysail in its place to provide some stability while the work is carried out. However, although the more reliable idea, this option would mean almost stopping the boat altogether for several hours and would mean accepting that we will no longer be really competing in this race,' Olly said.

The other option being considered is to attempt the repair on deck with half the main still up, which would be a lot quicker and would not involve shoving the monster of a sail down the companionway. With this in mind, Olly and his team are hoping that the weather remains settled for a few hours to give them a chance to carry out the repair.

'But with just under 4,000 miles ahead, whatever we do needs to be durable enough to withstand the rigours of the Southern Ocean for quite a long time,' he said.


Derry-Londonderry sustained their mainsail damage when running deep downwind with a full mainsail and poled-out Yankee 2 surfing at up to 16 knots.

Around midnight there was a loud bang and the spinnaker pole broke itself free from the mast ripping a long section of track that attached to the mast with it, according to Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light.

'The pole, then only secured at the outboard end by the flailing Yankee sheets, started moving around wildly like a banshee. This was bad but worse was to follow as within 60 seconds the inboard end of the pole complete with car and the jagged edge of mast track managed to punch an ugly hole right through the mainsail,' Mark reports.

Mark said his team managed to remove the pole from the holed mainsail and secure it to the deck, reef the main to protect the damaged section and hoist the staysail all 'whilst hurtling down waves with speeds constantly in excess of 10 knots. 'It was no mean feat but I guess it’s just another day in this Southern Ocean office,' he added.

Gold Coast Australia has consolidated their lead overnight and skipper, Richard Hewson, reports that the temperature continues to drop as they head south.

'This morning the temperature on deck dropped as low as seven degrees Celsius making for chilly conditions. Our three-watch system has now been reduced even more as each watch sends crew below on a rotational basis to warm up. This ensures nobody will suffer frostbite or hypothermia in such cold conditions and makes life in the southern ocean a lot more bearable,' Richard said.

'Warm porridge and hot tea for breakfast has never been so amazing,' he added.

Despite sailing across one the most remote ocean on the planet, Gold Coast Australia are spotting plenty of birds including albatross, which are synonymous with the desolate South Ocean, and smaller cape petrels. 'The bird life down here is just amazing, and hundreds of cape petrel birds constantly surround the boat in massive flocks as they migrate south for the summer,' Richard said.

Although he expects to encounter bigger waves as they dive deeper south into the Southern Ocean, they are surfing at great speeds already and, for one 'lucky' crew member, the thrill of surfing must have felt especially thrilling from her vantage point at 81-feet.

'While our bowman Lisa Blair was up the mast repairing a halyard we surfed up to 20 knots,' Richard reports.


On De Lage Landen, Stuart Jackson’s team has also resorted to the hot porridge to stave off the effects of the cold.

'Thermals, gloves, and even doubled-up head gear are now the name of the game. The weather has now turned bitterly cold, and the crew is in full battle regalia, with on-watch crew alternating 'warm-up breaks', nipping below for some brief respite from the damp, penetrating cold on deck,' he said.

Stuart and his team on De Lage Landen are bracing themselves for some heavy weather. 'Another low is rapidly approaching and should pass slightly to the south of us, potentially giving us the strongest winds of our leg so far,' he said.

'This is likely to make for a busy afternoon of changing down to smaller sails as the wind increases. As they say, if you are thinking about a sail change - do it!' he added.

Behind De Lage Landen, Qingdao is continuing to push south east in an attempt to stay in good wind.

'The big decision now is how to deal with the next weather system that is due to follow this one. Strangely the next system looks to be going a lot further north than the current system. This means we either have to head north so it passes south of us or face headwinds,' skipper, Ian Conchie, said.

Ian added that his team is focusing on looking after their boat, conscious of the risk of damage after hearing of tales from across the fleet.

'Daily checks are made of all the deck equipment, lines are checked for signs of chafe and any faults are fixed as best we can. We still have well over 3,000 miles to go and the team that preserves their equipment well should do well,' he said.

Aware of the strict regulations for vessels entering Australia, Ian’s crew is eating up all the food stuffs that cannot be taken into the country. Honey is one example, so for now honey is the order of the day on the Qingdao porridge rather than golden syrup.

Following a day of drama on Singapore, after an accidental gybe resulted in significant damage, Ben Bowley and his team are focused on heading south before the high pressure system catches up with them.

'Fickle winds and lumpy seas have been the story aboard Singapore for the last 24 hours. It is almost as if the Southern Ocean has a sense of humour (and a bad one at that) as every time we put up the Yankee 1, we start to see the apparent wind get up to the high 20s again. So down it comes and up goes the Yankee 2 only for the wind to die away to less than 12 knots again 20 minutes later,' Ben said.

'This is combined with the confused sea-state caused by several complex weather systems interacting to make for frustrating sailing,' Ben added.

'We’ve now hoisted the spinnaker and hope we can hold it for long enough to erode some of Welcome to Yorkshire’s large lead, as we desperately need to beat them this race to keep ourselves in a good overall position so they are our next target over the next few days,' Ben said.

On Welcome to Yorkshire, Rupert Dean and his crew are feeling upbeat after the wind backed to the south east allowing them to sail on a more controllable beam reach.

'After our horrendous start in Cape Town a week ago, we've managed to claw ourselves back to within four miles of the early leader, Geraldton Western Australia,' he said.

'We've also emerged from the strong downwind conditions relatively damage free compared with other boats in the fleet, save one of our spinnaker pole butt hoist cars [which attaches the pole fitting to the mast track], which decided to spill its ball bearings over the deck,' he said.


On Geraldton Western Australia, Juan Coetzer and his crew are focused on staying in the wind that has been helping them to log triple-digit 12-hour runs.

'So as the wind angles change we try to maintain best course towards the Scoring Gate. Go too far north and you slow down, go south and it’s cold and pretty windy, he said.

Juan added that his crew can now perform most evolutions on deck independently. 'This proves how much they have already learnt by this stage in the race and is a testament to their efforts,' he said.

On New York, currently in fourth place, Gareth Glover said his team is discovering why the Roaring Forties got their name as system after system comes through with strong winds and big seas.

'Since the pressure systems are moving quite fast, it makes navigation decisions that much tougher. As the run for the Scoring Gate heats up, we sticking close to the lead boats and hopefully pass them as we get closer,' Gareth said.

With the leading boats now around 800 miles from the Scoring Gate for race four, the battle is underway to claim the extra points on offer. The first, second and third teams to cross the imaginary line between 40 degrees south and 55 east and 45 south 55 east will be awarded three, two and one points respectively.

The New York team is also starting to feel the chill as they head south. 'The water temperature has dropped to about 11 degrees Celsius, so all the cold weather gear is beginning to make an appearance. We are still having issues with a temperamental generator, so use of electricity is very frugal, but other than that all is well on the good ship New York,' Gareth said.


On Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Gordon Reid and his crew were greeted with another 'awesome Southern Ocean sunrise' at dawn.

The team continues to mount a charge from behind and Gordon notes that they are now within striking distance of the boats in front, the closest of which are the two teams sailing under reefed mains following recent damage.

'In life the harder you work, the greater your success and in ocean racing the same is true,' Gordon said.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Wednesday 12 October
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,565nm
2 De Lage Landen - 3,652nm (+50nm DTL**)
3 Qingdao - 3,669nm (+77nm)
4 New York - 3,679nm (+87nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,703nm (+110nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,703nm (+116nm)
7 Singapore - 3,794nm (+164nm)
8 Derry-Londonderry - 3,812nm (+206nm)
9 Visit Finland - 3,819nm (+208nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,843nm (+226nm)

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

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

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