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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet approach half way point

by Heather Ewing on 21 Mar 2012
Gold Coast Australia - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 Clipper Race/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the sixteenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California.

Question: How can you be out in front leading the ten ocean racing yachts as they race across the Pacific Ocean yet still be a whole day behind the team at the back of the fleet?

Answer: Be the first to cross the International Date Line as you race east towards the finish line.

That’s the position in which the Gold Coast Australia crew currently finds themselves. Having crossed the International Date Line their clocks are wound back by a whole 24 hours and 1710 local time on Tuesday 20 March, the moment they crossed the line, became 1710 on Monday 19 March.

The one constant is UTC – Coordinated Universal Time, otherwise known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or zulu – which was 0510 UTC on Tuesday 20 March.

The team continues to battle to windward under storm sails making surprisingly good speed, according to skipper, Richard Hewson, who notes, 'Today is actually yesterday. We passed a major milestone as we sailed across the Date Line 180 degrees east and west. As we pass this meridian today becomes yesterday, and it’s about as close as most of us will come to Dr Who or Michael J Fox and going Back to the Future. This major milestone was celebrated with a few cans of assorted beer, a few cheers and a short speech.

'Some good news is that with the reduced water over the deck over the last couple of days the boat has slightly dried out down below and our electrical equipment is now once again showing signs of life. I have managed to get all electrical devices working again with the exception of the two keyboards.

'With our mainsail still flaked away on our boom, and only our tri-sail set due to the strong winds, Singapore has been gradually eating away at our lead. Their speed advantage will hopefully be obliterated as soon as the weather enables us to hoist our mainsail and trial our magical solution. We will continue to fight for victory and history has proven we have the discipline and endurance to sail fast until the finish. Gold Coast Australia will not stop until we are under the Golden Gate Bridge.'

Singapore is set to join Gold Coast Australia in Groundhog Day within the next few hours as they continue to close the gap on the leading yacht.

'We've had rather excellent wind for the last 24 hours that has kept our VMG (Velocity Made Good) around ten knots without throwing us about too badly,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley. 'As we move ahead of the front, three reefs and a staysail is plenty enough to allow swift progress without straining gear and bodies too severely. We are mindful of the fact that there is still more than an Atlantic crossing's worth of miles left to sail and that we need to keep our slightly tired sails within their limitations!

'It is nice to see that we are eroding slowly but surely into Gold Coast Australia’s lead; a worryingly large amount of Schadenfreude abounds aboard the big red bus presently. There but for the grace of Neptune go any of us, we have certainly experienced our share of opportunities missed due to equipment failure. Hard work, good communication and good humour are helping us to put in the consistent levels of performance that have now put us in an excellent position to gain the lead of the fleet. The half way mark is in sight and once we cross the Date Line I think the crew will start to see that there is finish line over the horizon somewhere! Come on Singas!'

While Singapore’s crew are working their excellent position and Gold Coast Australia’s gets set to test their 'miracle solution' for their damaged mast track, there are eight more yachts snapping at their heels and, approaching the half-way point in this race, there is still all to play for. Not least another bonus point in the Ocean Sprint still to come.

Derry-Londonderry, Qingdao, New York and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital have just 54 miles between them in terms of distance to the finish line under the Golden Gate Bridge, and Derry-Londonderry has been putting in consistently strong 12-hour runs.

'Upwind once more, we are flying along under deep reefed main, staysail and now our storm jib,' reports skipper, Mark Light. 'Wind speeds are 30 to 35 knots over the deck and the sea state has built to very rough: four to five-metre swells. Although these conditions are somewhat uncomfortable we are making great ground towards the west coast of the United States. We have consistent boat speeds of ten knots and are making very good VMG towards our destination.

'News of damage and injuries to other boats and crews keeps our own minds fully focussed on the job in hand and keeping everybody safe and secure. Yes, we are racing across the largest ocean on the planet and competing with nine other Clipper 68s and we all know that equipment damage and injuries are inevitable, especially in an environment as harsh as this. But we are also professional skippers in charge of very powerful sailing vessels and responsible for our racing crews. The comprehensive pre-race Clipper Training programme is paying dividends now and it is very re-assuring to know that we are all operating to very high standards of safety and seamanship.'

It’s still a little uncomfortable on board New York, but at least they are making good ground says skipper, Gareth Glover.

'The wind has built back to around 30 knots and we are able to free off the wind a little and make good VMG to our waypoint. We are pushing to get back the lost miles from last week. The sea state is still throwing us around and we still have large waves rolling down the deck and coming in below decks so, after a day of drying out, New York and crew are back to being wet and spending lots of time pumping out all the water that makes its way below.'


On board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skipper Gordon Reid says of the conditions, 'There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, we can't just pull over and call our mummies to come take us home because we don't want to play anymore!

'As we cross the North Pacific in the middle of winter, crews are pushed to the limits of their physical and mental endurance and on this race we will learn a few things about ourselves and remember this experience in all its awesome, crazy glory for the rest of our lives.'

The learning never stops on board a Clipper 68 race yacht and for the crews, many of whom have more miles under their belt than the average sailor will chalk up in their log book in a lifetime of sailing, racing across the Pacific presents the perfect opportunity to take their education even further, with some astro-navigation.

'Last night just as we did battle with the elements, we were treated to a sky full of bright shining stars,' explains Gordon. 'Some of the crew have been taking sights of the various heavenly bodies, (sun, moon, stars and planets) for their Ocean Yachtmaster ticket. We had an excellent clear view of Venus, the planet of love, and Arcturus and managed to pick out a number of constellations quite clearly merely by the old Mk 1 Eyeball.'

For the crew of Qingdao it has been a very busy 24 hours where they have had another demonstration, if one were needed, that salt water and delicate electronics are not a match made in heaven, despite Venus’s current ascendance in the skies.

'We have gremlins in our electrics; our instruments are showing a few bugs with alarms going off due to a bad connection, we think, and one of our bilge pumps isn’t working. We believe these are all just connection problems due to the pounding our home has been taking but we need to wait for calmer conditions before we can start tracing the faults,' explains Ian Conchie, the skipper of the Chinese entry.

'We spent last night under storm jib, staysail and three reefs and it gave us some good speed. This morning we dropped the storm jib and hoisted the Number 3 Yankee to boost our speed but this didn't last long as the wind picked up again. So we are back to storm jib but we are still truckin’ along in the right direction. The sea state has got very confused making working on decks and helming interesting as waves crash over the boat from various directions making for a wet roller coaster ride!'

By contrast, De Lage Landen has had, 'a blissfully uneventful 24 hours where we have been able to enjoy some great sailing,' skipper, Stuart Jackson, tells the Race Office this morning.

'The wind has veered further found allowing us to make our desired course with a more favourable wind angle, so we have had a reprieve from the incessant crashing. We are also making great speed which has cheered everyone up as it has been a rather slow first half to the leg with a lot of upwind work. By the looks of things we are due to have similar conditions for the next few days so it will be good to knock some decent miles off our distance to finish.

'We are also back up to a full complement of crew as everyone is now over their illnesses and with a bit of sunshine the spirits have definitely been lifted. We are now thinking up what sort of ceremony we shall have to celebrate crossing the International Date Line!'

The sense of relief in Stuart’s report is echoed in Rupert Dean’s as Welcome to Yorkshire also race in a southerly position within the fleet.

'The strong southerly winds, due to arrive with the passing of an extended cold front from a low to the north west interfacing with winds from the high to the north east, have turned out to be nowhere near as strong as originally predicted. Instead we have fantastic reaching conditions in 30 knots true and, are currently barrelling along under a deep reefed main, staysail and Yankee 3. To be able to make fast progress in the direction we want to go is a fantastic feeling for all on board. Even more so as we punch through the 3,000-miles-to-go milestone and approach the half-way mark in this epic race.

'We'll be celebrating that with assistant watch leader, Matt Cornall's birthday tomorrow. With the International Date Line just ahead, this is truly turning out to be a memorable time for all in the fleet. The crew on Welcome to Yorkshire are working well together as a team. Whilst we have cause to celebrate these amazing milestones, recognising how far we have come since we left Southampton, we do so recognising that 3,000 miles of hard ocean racing lies ahead before our arrival in Oakland. Therefore we cannot afford to relax and let our guard down. The tri-sail still remains firmly lashed to the mast in readiness for future gales and our focus remains on winning miles over our competitors in a safe and seamanlike manner.'


Away up to the north of the fleet, Geraldton Western Australia is making ground after their inspired decision to sneak in and snaffle the final Scoring Gate point.

'In the last 24 hours we have been cracking along at ten knots average, making up on some miles lost by heading over to the Scoring Gate,' says skipper, Juan Coetzer. 'Today during happy hour, we dropped the main sail and hoisted the tri-sail, so we could do some work on the main. The battens have been popping out when the sail flogs. A batten half out could potentially wear a hole through the sail, so it was a job worth doing. The tri-sail is down again, the mainsail hoisted and we are back up to racing speed, hoping to get back into the top five.'

Meteorologist Simon Rowell provides weather data to the fleet each morning. Today he explains that the weather should be much more settled and consistent, saying, 'The east Pacific high seems to be fairly steady for the next couple of days, and this should keep the worst of the fronts away from you.'

And that settled pattern is something they are looking forward to on Visit Finland, says Olly Osborne.

'The miles are clocking up as we approach the International Date Line and our thoughts are turning to how to tackle the more established weather patterns in the second half of the journey. Being one of the first boats to tack as the belt of southerlies filled in has put us further north than the others and we had a close duel with the Geraldton Western Australia team for the final Scoring Gate point last night.'

The skipper of the Finnish team adds, 'In the end the Australian team beat us to it by only a couple of hours but I think the early tack was a good move overall and we have seen some gains on the fleet.'

Now at almost the half-way point in the longest of the 15 races that make up Clipper 11-12, the first yachts are expected to arrive in Oakland, California between 1 and 7 April. They will be berthed at Jack London Square and hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show.

Positions at 1200 UTC, Tuesday 20 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2,598nm
2 Singapore - 2,671nm (+73nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2,794nm (+195nm)
4 Qingdao - 2,806nm (+207nm)
5 New York - 2,818nm (+219nm)
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,842nm (+243nm) Position at 1100 UTC
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,848nm (+249nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,857nm (+258nm)
9 Visit Finland - 2,864nm (+266nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 2,904nm (+306nm)

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

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

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