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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet closes in on Oakland

by Heather Ewing on 29 Mar 2012
Gold Coast Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race www.smileclick.co.nz/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty fourth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. Gold Coast Australia has set the time to beat for the chasing pack of 68-foot ocean racing yachts competing in Leg 6, as the first team to cross the second Ocean Sprint gate at longitude 136 degrees west.

The Australian entry passed the gate at 08:53:55 UTC, completing the sprint in 25 hours 53 minutes and 42 seconds.

On board, skipper Richard Hewson reports, 'I am very proud of my team and their efforts, this is a fantastic run averaging over eleven knots for the entire duration of the sprint.'

In competitive spirit Richard adds, 'I believe that this time will be hard to beat and wish other yachts fair winds and the best of luck for the sprint.'

As the team waits with bated breath to see if their efforts will pay off and earn them the extra bonus point on offer, Richard explains how the strong and variable winds that have assisted their front running advantage, remain a challenge for life below deck.

'The sea and swell remain very confused making life below difficult and life in the galley an experience in itself. In these conditions it seems a helping hand is always required as demonstrated today while preparing lunch. The boat lurched and rolled over excessively, throwing the rice from the rice cooker into the lockers while also managing to spray chef Babs Yendell from head to toe. Assistant chef Gina Gourlay also got a pasting by the tomato puree as it flew across the galley. Thankfully some of the contents were still able to be scraped up and eaten for a very tasty lunch.'

He adds, 'Amazingly the sun came out today and we also had more blue sky than we have seen since China. Last night, and also tonight, we can actually see the stars and the moon that make up the universe around us, giving us some comfort that we are approaching the end of an incredible set of weather systems and an incredible race.'

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours Singapore, New York, Derry-Londonderry, Welcome to Yorkshire and Qingdao have entered the Ocean Sprint zone.

Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley , reports, 'Less than 800 miles to go and by God, we're ready to get there! The huge downwind surfing conditions we have had over the last three days have been exhilarating and very good for VMG (Velocity Made Good), but not so good for my blood pressure.

'Keeping just the right balance between control and speed requires continual adjustments to the sail plan and things can get quite hairy when you get caught off guard. The crew have been working like dogs but with the finish line almost in sight, they are ready for the final push that is required for us to maintain second place.

'The relentless mountainous seas and shifting winds have also taken their toll on some of our sails. Our Yankee 3 is in quite a sorry state requiring yet more patches and replaced hanks. Poling out headsails is an ideal alternative to flying a kite when conditions are unsuitable for spinnaker work. However, the margins for error are narrow. The rolling seas and opposing forces of the main on one side and the headsail on the other conspire to throw the boat horribly off balance from time to time and it is up the helm to catch her again and for the mothers to stop dinner decorating the galley.'

The tight racing shows how closely matched the teams are in the final phase of the race to Oakland, and New York continues its cat and mouse chase with rivals Derry-Londonderry.


Skipper Gareth Glover, explains, 'We still find ourselves chasing down Derry-Londonderry and trying to fend off the other yachts. With less than 1,000 miles to go and the possibility of some light winds ahead we will hopefully make up the miles, but if we do come across light airs I am sure this will open the door for the other yachts to catch up and over take us. There is something about the light winds and we never seem to do well until the wind is over 15 knots to get us going.'

The American entry entered Stealth Mode at 0600 UTC and will remain under the cloak of invisibility for the next 24 hours.

Gareth adds, 'We hope this will give us the edge over Derry-Londonderry and take us into third which in the last part of this race is still a possibility.'

With an average of 20 miles separating the two teams in the last 24 hours, the heat is on to take the podium position in the final push towards Oakland.

'Another day in the North Pacific Ocean and another 250 miles closer to the finish line and New York is still there behind us and chasing hard,' skipper, Mark Light, reports.

'The gap between us is very stable with them gaining a mile or two and then us making it back. This morning I heard the sound I was dreading: the VHF crackled into life and I could hear a very broken transmission from New York skipper Gareth Glover meaning that they were mighty close to us! Great to chat Gaz, but again, no offence meant at all, but could you just leave us alone?

'We are sailing in pretty much the same wind and therefore the boats are so evenly matched it may well come down to a small error or misjudgement. It is great to be ahead but to have another boat so close behind and for so long makes me nervous, we just can’t shake them off! Psychologically, it is better to be chasing down a boat than feel like the hunted but right now we are in the proverbial driving seat and fully aim to stay there. One thing's for certain it is sure to go right down to the wire, maybe even in the final few hours. As it stands, we would settle for finishing third by boat lengths if we had to, but whatever the final result I will be straight round to congratulate Gareth and his team on some fantastic racing even if he has caused me more stress and sleepless nights than I care to mention in the last week!'

Mark taunts, 'Keep up the good work Gaz and I’ll be waiting on the dockside to welcome you in!'

Hot on the heels of the Northern Ireland entry is Welcome to Yorkshire, where skipper Rupert Dean reports the team has had a testing 24 hours.

'Welcome to Yorkshire has just gybed onto starboard as the wind has backed from the west north west to the west south west. At present we're flying full main and poled out Yankee 2, trucking along nicely, ten degrees off the course we want to go so, therefore, on the making gybe. As the fleet becomes ever more competitive in all racing disciplines, choosing the exact time of your gybes becomes increasingly important. This we discovered to our cost yesterday, in terms of conceded miles, when we held onto what turned out to be a slightly 'dog gybe' for far too long. Hopefully we're doing better this time.'

Rupert continues, 'With the wind backing south of west, temperatures have risen somewhat, making life more comfortable for all. It's still cold and damp though and, I suspect, our thermals will be staying on until arrival in Oakland. Today we saw a large shark swimming in the opposite direction to the boat, leading one of the crew to remark, 'If you don't freeze to death out here when falling overboard, you get eaten instead!' Dark humour indeed, but a reflection after so many weeks away at sea that we are all looking forward to a shore side break. In the meantime, Welcome to Yorkshire has passed the 1,000 miles to go mark and is preparing for another period of strong winds later tonight. As always the safety of the boat and each other is at the forefront of our minds. Roll on San Francisco Bay!'

Despite news from meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2002, Simon Rowell, that the cell of high pressure that was forecast to form and slow down the pace should stay south of the fleet, in the last 24 hours, the teams that have taken a more southerly course have been greeted by these lighter airs and have used the calmer conditions to carry out essential tasks on board.


Geraldton Western Australia skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports, 'It has been a pleasant day on the water with flat, downwind sailing. The westerly breeze is a wee bit warmer than the northerly icy chill we have been experiencing. Thick base layers were coming off and the crew were spoilt with showers once again and some maintenance has been carried out today as the foredeck life raft braces were leaking. So we stripped it all apart, cleaned it up, and re-sealed it.

'Hopefully this will lessen the water seeping down below into the ‘ghetto’, and the dark bilges beyond. I had a trip up the mast to inspect our floodlight and steaming light. Great result, at night we can now see what we are doing, when doing such complicated evolutions such as poled out head sail gybes.'

On board De Lage Laden, skipper Stuart Jackson, agrees, 'In the last 24 hours the weather has given us a little bit of a breather. We had a nice and steady wind that allowed us to increase our sail plan to one reef in the mainsail. The sea state was has also become much more regular which has given us the chance to fly a poled out headsail. After the damage we experienced in the Southern Ocean, there was some kind of fear of using that kind of sail plan, however the conditions were ideal to get back on that horse.

'Today was also a special day as we crossed the 1,000 mile distance to finish mark. We had a little celebration and looked back on the first part of the race when we were 200 miles behind the whole fleet. Twenty-four days after we left Qingdao, we have almost made it across the famous North Pacific.'

On board Chinese entry Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie reports that the team is in a far from celebratory mood as they battle with the lighter airs and temperamental sea state.

'After several days of fast sailing in strong winds the conditions changed today making for slightly more frustrating sailing! The wind has been up and down all day so every time we thought we were getting into kite flying territory the wind or sea state changed to stop us. We have still managed to average ten knots for most of the day but this feels slow compared to the last few days.

'The sea state changes remarkably quickly from a rough confused sea, where flying the kite can be very tricky as the boat gets pushed around by the waves with the occasional side swipe dumping large amounts of water over the crew, to a large rolling sea which normally signals the arrival of strong winds. But, as we have found today, not always!'

Ian adds, 'We have used the time to run through some maintenance check lists and carry out some repair work on our sails. We changed the reefing line that broke yesterday and had to change eight hanks on our hard working Yankee 3 which has been up for days. We are now focused for the final push to try and get in as soon as we can.'


Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is also using the lighter winds to their advantage in preparation for their stay in Oakland.
Skipper Gordon Reid, explains, 'The wind continued to blow hard last night with frequent strong gusts well up above 30 knots. As the wind backed it eased for a time early this morning and is now building from the west south west, our progress slowed for a time but we are now speeding along at over eleven knots again. Today has provided us the opportunity to shake out all reefs and increase the headsails, recently gybing onto a starboard tack as we make good use of the approaching weather system.

'With the sea state being a lot flatter than it has been for a while, we have started work on some of the boat jobs in advance of our arrival in Oakland. With a full maintenance programme and corporate commitments we aim to make the most of the time we have over the next few days, which will hopefully free us up when we finish the race to take some much needed downtime and recharge before the next race starts.'

The Scottish entry currently occupies eighth place after emerging from Stealth Mode at 1200 UTC today, and Gordon adds, 'The off watch are cracking on with the boat jobs whilst the on watch team focuses solidly on making the ‘Purple Beastie’ go as fast as possible up the rankings and on towards the finish line.'

The yachts will be berthed in Jack London Square, Oakland and the first boats are expected to begin arriving this weekend. Updated ETAs will be posted on the official race website and you can follow the teams' progress on Facebook and Twitter. They will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show.

Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 28 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 619nm
2 Singapore - 734nm (+114nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 827nm (+207nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 882nm (+263nm)
5 New York - 883nm (+264nm)
6 Qingdao - 898nm (+279nm)
7 De Lage Landen - 927nm (+308nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 942nm (+323nm)
9Visit Finland - 945nm (+326nm)
10Geraldton Western Australia - 1,074nm (+455nm)

*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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