Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Uncomfortable night for teams
by Heather Ewing on 6 Oct 2011
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
Welcome to Yorkshire arrives in Cape Town at the end of Race 3 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
'Gutted, absolutely gutted, that's how we feel on Welcome to Yorkshire at present,' reports a disappointed Rupert Dean this morning.
Explaining the reasons for his dark mood, the skipper of the English entry says, 'We started this race to Geraldton in fine form, got ourselves into a good position over the start line and were in third place at the windward mark. Choosing to goose-wing [setting the main and headsails on opposite sides of the boat] for the short distance to Milnerton buoy, we held our speed well against other boats which chose to fly either spinnakers or to reach under white sails. Unfortunately, after that, things have not gone well.
'Our strategy was to keep well north of Cape Town before turning west then south. This was to avoid the wind holes for which the city is so notorious. My research and grib file information led me to believe that a passage close south of Robben Island would give the clearance required, saving 12 miles over sailing around it to the north and, looking through binoculars at the time, it looked possible. Unfortunately this proved not to be the case and Welcome to Yorkshire has been drifting about ever since, no matter how many tacks, gybes and sail changes between the Yankee 1 and windseeker we have done.
'All credit to local boy, Juan, on Geraldton Western Australia. He played a blinder by hoisting his kite, sailing close inshore and radically north of Robben Island before turning west. Certainly some land sea breezes seem to have helped him on his way, compensating for the large distance sailed, and enabling him to pull out a healthy lead on the fleet.
'Juan and the others who followed him are now long gone, leaving Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Singapore, Derry-Londonderry and us to try and work ourselves out of this mess. As the wind fills in we now need to regroup, keep our positivity and hope for a break. We surely need one!'
Geraldton Western Australia shot ahead of the rest of the pack last night, thanks to the local knowledge of skipper, Juan Coetzer, who lived and worked in Cape Town before moving to the UK to join the Clipper Race.
'I thought my plan was crazy, but it all worked out in the end. I knew about the south-easter building up in the corner of Table Bay, and used it to my advantage,' he says, describing the wind that picks up almost every summer afternoon and curls around Table Mountain from the left as you look at a photo of the Cape Town skyline.
Juan continues, 'The crew has worked extremely hard over the last 14 hours. We have changed from Yankee 1 to number 2 to number 3 and, this morning, back to our Yankee 2. Our main sail has worked just as hard - having two reefs for the evening. We are really pleased with our performance so far.'
Qingdao and De Lage Landen are neck and neck at the 0600 report this morning, close behind Juan and his team.
'We had decided to follow the local advice (thanks Juan) and head north out of Table Bay to try to avoid the worst of the wind shadow from Table Mountain,' says Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese entry. 'However we should have really gone north as Geraldton Western Australia did, as we still got becalmed near Robben Island. With some slick crew work we managed to keep changing sails and keep moving so that we cleared the bay into the stable winds and started heading south.
'As we started our beat south the routines of life on board an ocean racing yacht returned, with mothers preparing dinner and cleaning and maintenance tasks taken in hand. Disappointingly one of our heads (marine toilets) has already failed, despite the crew servicing it in Cape Town but hopefully we will fix this today.'
De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, also pays tribute to Juan’s tactical nous as his team’s healthy start to Race 4 'came to an abrupt end with Table Mountain casting its wind shadow.'
Stuart continues, 'This split the decisions of the fleet with some going north of Robben Island and the others south. The northern boats made some initial gains here, but no-one came close to the local skipper Juan Coetzer, who sailed brilliantly well, clear of the fleet.
'After clearing Robben Island and the wind filling in from the south east, most of our new joiners and several of our existing crew have been battling with sea sickness. The wind is due to drop this morning and they should all start feeling more human again. The first couple of days are always the hardest, getting back into the watch system and life at sea. So hopefully there will be smiles all round tomorrow!'
There’s a bit more sea sickness than they were expecting on Gold Coast Australia as well, the overnight headwinds combined with the big seas and waves, known locally as ‘Cape rollers’ combining to make it a queasy night for some. Further south, and the effect of the prevailing winds over the Agulhas Current, which flows down the east coast of Africa and around the Cape, produces steep, lumpy seas that must be endured for the first 48 hours.
Richard Hewson, skipper of the yacht which is leading the race overall, describes how their excellent start ground to a halt not long afterwards.
'We realised there was more wind to the north of the course and did not want to get stuck under the lee of Table Mountain as we did in the finish,' he says. 'Unfortunately we underestimated the effect of the lee and became becalmed under Robben Island. As the rest of the fleet closed in on us we realised we would have to work hard to get into the wind only 100 metres away. Finally, as Visit Finland was only 100 metres astern of us we got a small puff that moved us into the wind ahead.
'We held our spinnaker until we were far enough out of the lee of Table Mountain to no longer be affected and then changed to the Yankee 1 and staysail. By the time of the 1800 sched, we had one reef and a Yankee 2 and were powering down the coast to the east of Geraldton Western Australia, Qingdao and De Lage Landen, leaving the rest of the fleet becalmed in our wake.
'We have now rounded the infamous Cape of Good Hope and are sailing south along the edge of the Agulhas Bank towards the Roaring Forties’ westerly winds and the team is settling in to on board life once again.'
New York, Singapore and Derry-Londonderry are in the following pack.
'Last night was a very frustrating first night at sea. It was a case of déjà vu as we drifted around aimlessly not more than 10 nautical miles offshore of Cape Town,' reports Ben Bowley, skipper of Singapore.
'The air was so still we could hear the Coldplay concert being played at the stadium! After a reasonable start we made a fairly poor tactical error in deciding to try to sail south of Robben Island. At the time the decision was made the winds looked good and there seemed little chance of being becalmed in the lee of Table Mountain. This was apparently not the case and we watched in horror as the boats that headed north around the island kept moving long enough to get offshore far enough to pick up the gradient wind. Not all the boats that headed that way faired that well though with a few being stuck in another wind hole to the north. The pack already appears to have split in two with those escaping the calms making big gains overnight. We were eventually able to claw our way out to the west and consequently started to move later in the night.
'Even though we are not the best placed boat at the moment, it feels fantastic to be back at sea again. The daily stresses and commitment of life are being shed away mile by mile as we leave the beautiful and vibrant city of Cape Town behind us. This stresses are replaced with ordered routine of day to day life aboard and, positions aside, I for one could not be happier this crisp clear morning. We've got nearly 5,000 miles in which to catch Gold Coast Australia and we have already proved that team Singapore is more than capable of making up places with some hard work and focus.'
The same thing happened to New York, according to skipper, Gareth Glover, who writes, 'After a beat to the first mark we made it round in fifth so after our poor start we were not too far from the leaders. Now the plan was to pass Robben Island to port, which we did, and we sailed into the lee of Table Mountain. Some of the fleet that sailed around Robben Island taking the long route got into the wind first and sailed right past us less than a few miles away.'
But, he says, they have recovered and 'After such hard work in very little, if any, wind we made it out of the lee and sail into good winds.'
While Visit Finland has gone furthest to the west of all of the yachts, Derry-Londonderry is with the mid-fleet pack and an optimistic Mark Light is looking forward to some exciting sailing ahead.
'Now we have all swapped our hire cars and steaks for racing yachts and thermals as we venture south away from the African land mass and into the mighty Southern Ocean... big waves, strong winds, cold temperatures and some pretty spectacular downwind sailing await all the Clipper crews. I have the feeling that this could be a fast trip to Geraldton, Western Australia!' comments the skipper of the yacht representing the UK City of Culture 2013.
Worst affected by the big variations in the local conditions in Table Bay was Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, who found themselves becalmed.
'We were hoping to avoid the enormous wind shadow cast by Table Mountain and we were at one point in second place behind the local boy driving Geraldton Western Australia,' skipper Gordon Reid reports. 'But our luck ran out very quickly as we passed Robben Island and got stuck in a wind hole. We tried virtually every sail we had to keep the Purple Beastie moving with little success and, frustratingly, other boats only a few thousand metres away found some breeze. Eventually we too found it and started moving.
'This morning at first light we are hoisting our lightweight spinnaker and will fly it shy until we get further west and into some nice fresh wind before we turn south towards the Cape of Good Hope. As we leave South Africa behind and head for the Southern Ocean we are all eager and excited to get into some big ocean surf again.'
Positions at 0600 UTC, Thursday 6 October
Boat - DTF*
1 Geraldton Western Australia - 4,719nm
2 Qingdao - 4,731nm (+12nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 4,731nm (+13nm)
4 Gold Coast Australia - 4,739nm (+20nm)
5 New York - 4,763nm (+44nm)
6 Derry-Londonderry - 4,774nm (+55nm)
7 Singapore - 4,775nm (+57nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4,776nm (+57nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4,783nm (+64nm)
10 Visit Finland - 4,789nm (+70nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish. **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found here.
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