Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day eighteen of race eight from Singapore to Qingdao. The Race Committee has approved De Lage Landen’s request for seven hours’ redress after the team responded to Gold Coast Australia’s call for assistance during the medevac of two of their crew. De Lage Landen will have seven hours deducted from their overall elapsed time for the race to give them their final position.
For Geraldton Western Australia, this means that they will have to beat the Dutch team by seven hours in order to win the race, and with just over 100 miles to go to the finish line and the 68-foot yachts matched mile for mile, it will be a near impossible feat.
However the WA team is determined to take line honours and, as they close in on the finish line in Fushan Bay, Juan Coetzer tells the race office, 'Harder, faster, quicker is our war cry. We're neck and neck with De Lage Landen, pushing hard to try to have a second place and finish with line honours this race.
'In the afternoon we put up the medium weight kite and took off like a rocket. Averaging speeds of ten to eleven knots over the last 24 hours has been well appreciated. Sailing in visibility of a mile at times is pretty stressful. In these situations I have a crew member permanently in the nav station watching the radar and Sea Pro for any possible scenarios.'
One of those scenarios arose in the early hours of the morning when a tanker came barging past the team.
'We called him up on the VHF repeatedly and he did not respond. We even used our spotlight, shining it directly on our sails and even straight at them. They even responded by flashing their light back at us. Unfortunately the ship was to leeward of us and we had no escape. Then he decided to come within two boat lengths of us and push us upwind. Sadly you cannot fly a kite up wind. So the only thing we could do was blow the kite sheets and ease the main out all the way. It was a narrow escape. The tanker carried on his course, not budging for any other ships, and forced several other ships to take evasive action.'
De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, remarks that his team can afford not to push quite so hard in the wake of the Race Committee’s decision.
'We are now just keen to finish the race safely and with the boat in good repair as we still have our seven hours of redress to be applied to our finish time,' he says.
'Everyone is now extremely excited to be on the final approach to Qingdao. It’s been another day of extreme contrasts, from the sunshine and flat seas of yesterday which was a welcome relief from the previous storm, we now have rain and a decent breeze helping us along at around eleven knots.'
The second podium battle is playing out between Singapore and Gold Coast Australia, who emerged from Stealth Mode at 0600 to demonstrate in spectacular fashion that in ocean racing nothing is a done deal until the finish line is crossed.
'Under the cover of fog and the camouflage of thousands of Chinese fishing vessels blocking our AIS Gold Coast Australia has achieved the unimaginable and regained the 40nm needed to overtake Singapore to put us in the running for a podium position,' reports skipper, Richard Hewson.
'Yesterday afternoon I was surprised to hear the VHF radio crackle into life as Singapore was trying to call Geraldton Western Australia. I got on the radio and when Ben Bowley, the skipper of Singapore, heard we were on the war path you could hear the concern in his voice. Either that or he was very tired after being awake for the past week dealing with the plethora of fishing boats! Shortly after the wind veered another 20 degrees, allowing us to hoist our spinnaker for the reach towards the East China Sea virtual mark. It was at this point of time, knowing we now had excellent speed compared to the leading boats we decided to enter into Stealth Mode and make a silent approach.'
Dodging the massive fishing fleet through the night, changing down from spinnaker to Yankee 1 to give them more manoeuvrability before switching up again to heavyweight kite, the team slalomed their way through the boats.
'The next morning the density of fishing boats had diminished leaving us with only the pitch black before dawn and the odd rogue merchant ship to deal with. As the sun rose so did the AIS picture of Singapore from the clutter of thousands of other AIS signals on our radar.
'As the wind backed again, the spinnaker went below and the Yankee 1 was re-hoisted. To our amazement we were now sailing through a sea that was yellow – the Yellow Sea. Who would have thought that a sea could be the colour of its name, though not surprising considering all of the densely populated countries that surround it.'
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For the crew of Singapore, thoughts are turning to the arrival in China’s Sailing City in the next 24 hours but the focus remains firmly on getting there in a podium position.
'It's been a tough 24 hours aboard Singapore,' reports Ben. 'Last night we had another enormous fishing fleet to fight our way through before we were able to bear away round the virtual mark, hoist the kite and start our final run in toward Qingdao. The wind left us completely once we were clear and we sat wallowing around for another couple of hours whilst we heard Geraldton Western Australia getting fainter and fainter on the VHF. Our hopes of a second place were dashed in those two hours of languishing in yet another wind hole.
'Our main focus now is ensuring best speed to the finish to stop Gold Coast Australia sneaking up on us whilst they are in Stealth Mode. This is much easier said than done giving the conditions we are working under now. We have very twitchy wind that one moment favours a heavy kite on a reach and the next will only accept a Yankee 1 with apparent angles varying from 100 to 60 degrees and speeds between 12 and 20 knots of true. Combine this with the freezing drizzle that has limited visibility to less than a mile and the fact that we are essentially running along a major shipping lane and we are really earning those arrival beers!
'We really feel that we have earned a podium this race as we have rarely been out of the top four from the start. If events conspire against us and prevent us from getting what we deserve then I think I may just cry!'
Another skipper who may well feel on the point of being reduced to tears of frustration by the fickle winds is the man in charge of Qingdao, Ian Conchie.
'The home port curse has bitten again,' he says. 'After a great night’s sailing at around ten knots this morning the wind started to muck us around. We have used the lightweight and the Yankee 1 trying to keep us moving and for a while we managed quite well but now we have a wind speed of less than three knots – and that is from the roll of the boat! And just to finish the picture we have had rain all morning and fog starting to build.
'The frustration is starting to show on everyone, myself included. No matter what we have tried this race the wind gods have not been kind. We can only hope that the same is true for our rivals Welcome to Yorkshire and that the wind fills in soon.'
At least one thing is going the Qingdao crew’s way – Welcome to Yorkshire has had some of the same treatment according to skipper Rupert Dean.
'The wind has switched off much further south than forecasted and 15 hours earlier, too. This finds us bobbing around trying every trick we know to keep our 'Pink Lady' moving.
'We had been enjoying 'magic carpet' reaching conditions across the East China Sea over the past 24 hours. Positive current and smooth seas have made for rapid progress (10 knots SOG) and a better motion, enabling all aboard to catch up on much needed sleep. The focus for us now is to win back miles from the boats ahead, aiming to leap a place or two in the final push for Qingdao.
'The Welcome to Yorkshire navigation team of James Bruegger, Jim Stamp, Steve Reid, Les Hartley and myself have been studying the GRIB files to see what the weather has in store and have devised a plan to help us realise our aim. Two periods of calm weather appear to lie ahead, followed by headwinds settling in from the north. The latter, coming from where we want to go, will be particularly cold, so we are keen to avoid them!'
Derry-Londonderry and Visit Finland are also locked in battle as they race up through the Yellow Sea between China and South Korea.
'It is turning into a real sprint for the finish as the reaching conditions in the Yellow Sea make for great boat speeds. With many of the boats using their Stealth Mode, the tactics are hotting up again and it is now much less about beating into heavy conditions, and more about straight line boat speed,' explains Visit Finland’s skipper, Olly Osborne.
'I was surprised to see that the Yellow Sea does indeed have a yellow tinge to it, and the temperature is still reasonably manageable for the deck watches. We had considered breaking into a shorter watch system for this stage of the race but I don't think it will be necessary now.
'The crew are keen to trim and tweak all the speed possible out of the sail plan, and with our old rivals Derry-Londonderry hot on our heels we will have to work hard to maintain the fifth place during the final phase of what has been a very challenging tactical race,' he concludes.
Six miles ahead on the yacht representing the UK City of Culture 2013, skipper Mark Light reports the team has made good progress in the last 24 hours, despite having to negotiate the 'all too familiar gargantuan sized fishing fleet and plenty of commercial ships.'
Mark continues, 'The winds were a little fluky but by the early hours had steadied and strengthened to 15 knots true. Through the night the wind also veered around from east north easterly to south easterly and our heavy weight kite was prepared on deck. We hoisted it after breakfast and improved boat speed by two knots.
'The wind is beginning to decrease now so we are preparing to peel to our medium weight kite, ‘Jack’ (the ripper), to maintain our boat speeds towards the finish.'
In the overall race standings there are just six points between the fourth and ninth placed teams so every single point you can gain over your rivals is vital. And that is what the New York crew is focusing on now. Having started this race in fourth place overall, they were determined to finish in the top three.
'We have had some of the best racing for the last few days, being able to make good speed towards the waypoint. We are disappointed at this stage that the leaders are getting away from us again after sailing some good miles in the last 24 hours and in this late stage of the race it looks likely we will not catch them,' concedes skipper, Gareth Glover.
'We now just have to hold off Edinburgh Inspiring Capital who are close by, and make best possible speed to get into Qingdao and the great welcome that is getting ready for us all. The crew are busy getting meal plans for the next race ready and working on the stopover plans for cleaning and maintenance.'
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Meanwhile, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, 14 miles behind them as they race to the north east of Shanghai, is making good speed, despite the less than straight line course through the fishing fleets.
'They are everywhere, at several points last night in particular, the horizon in every direction was littered with bright lights from fishing boats,' describes Gordon Reid. 'As the breeze filled in we were sailing on fast beam reach at 12 knots as we carefully navigated through the hordes of Chinese trawlers, some coming close enough to see the men working on deck under the bright lights and even the captain in the wheel house looked at us with bewilderment as if to say, what are you crazy yachtsmen doing out here?
'The wind increased steadily throughout the day, initially veering and just as it was looking good for a spinnaker run, not an easy option given the sheer density of other vessels and the associated reduced manoeuvrability – it sometimes takes a wee bit longer to gybe one of these bad boys under spinnaker especially at night – luckily the wind backed and we were able to truck on under maximum white sails with the wind just forward of the beam.
'We are still determined to improve our position in the final run to the finish line now just over 200 miles away.'
The first yachts are likely to reach the finish line in the next 24 hours, the early hours of the morning in China, and will be welcomed to Qingdao in spectacular fashion. Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 21 February Boat DTF*
1 Geraldton Western Australia 108nm
2 De Lage Landen 110nm (+3nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 140nm (+32nm)
4 Gold Coast Australia 140nm (+32nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry 197nm (+90nm)
6 Visit Finland 203nm (+96nm) Stealth Mode: position at 0600UTC
7 New York 228nm (+121nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 242nm (+135nm)
9 Qingdao 374nm (+267nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 414nm (+307nm) Stealth Mode: position at 0000UTC
*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