Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet continues to be tested
by Heather Ewing on 27 Mar 2012
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty third day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California.
Singapore - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race Steve Holland/onEdition
There’s a good reason Popeye the Sailor has bulging forearms. Just ask Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley.
Typing his report to the Race Office this morning he explains, 'I have just come off an hour on the wheel and my fingers are shaking a little from all the adrenaline pumping through my blood vessels right now.
'We have just reduced sail plan once again as the breeze kicks back in from the north west. For the last few hours while the wind was a moderately steady 35 knots of true, we had been enjoying almost continual speeds over 13 knots and Will Parbury managed a new speed record that should be pretty hard to top: 27.4 knots. Regular forays into the high teens and low 20s have been the order of the day. Unfortunately, gusts of over 50 knots of true were proving too much for even the best helms to handle a double reefed main and Yankee 2. The lactic acid build up in my forearms is testament to that!'
As the leading teams break through the 1,000 miles to go barrier, undoubtedly giving the exhausted sailors a much needed boost, the Pacific Ocean continues to throw her challenges at them.
'As the sun has now set and we see the wind filling in for the night we have opted for a much more conservative sail plan,' continues Ben. 'The reason we had been flying the Yankee 2 in the first place is that this morning we noticed some nasty holes in the Yankee 3 where it had dragged across some broken hanks during setting it goose-winged. It was promptly dropped and our Mother Superior (Mererid) performed some excellent emergency surgery that should get us to Oakland at least.
'Varying wind strengths throughout the afternoon have kept our small crew very busy indeed. We are down two crew members due to injury, which effectively leaves a total of eight people between two watches when you remove the day's mothers from the equation. As a result of this, all but the simplest of operations require both watches. There are some very sleepy heads aboard the big red bus today but we are determined not to let our second place slip this close to the end. Timmy Tough pills all round chaps!'
And maybe a tin or two of spinach.
The distances between the fleet remain close and, looking ahead to this weekend when the first teams are likely to arrive in Oakland, Race Director Joff Bailey predicts a spread of between two and four days between all ten yachts.
The tight racing shows how closely matched these teams are after eight months of their 40,000-mile circumnavigation and it will make this Ocean Sprint an interesting one. All of the teams have the chance to pick up a bonus point for the shortest elapsed time between the longitudes 142 degrees west and 136 degrees west – approximately 275 miles.
Gold Coast Australia, charging downwind in the strong and variable winds and six-metre swell, crossed into the sprint zone at 0700 UTC this morning. As the first team in they will set the time for the chasing pack to beat.
'At times the wind abates to 25 knots and it feels like we are in a big lull and there is no wind at all,' describes skipper, Richard Hewson. 'It would be easy to mistake such a lull as the weather completely abating and it is very tempting to hoist a spinnaker. However, with the barometer falling 1mb every hour for the last day, we know that it is just the calm before another storm and utilise the time of lighter winds to check sails and make any repairs (such as broken hanks) as required before the next session on wind.
'The wind this entire race has been relentless and it seems that it is always blowing over 30 knots from one direction or another in the North Pacific. Thankfully at the moment the wind is behind us, but the conditions are still harsh, rugged and strangely beautiful.
'Occasionally a set of waves will come through that can only be described as massive, and if you are unlucky enough for one of these waves to break over the boat the situation can get quite messy. One such wave broke over the boat today without warning. A huge crest of foamy water covered the deck as the boat broached and was knocked over. Thankfully there was no damage and only a few bumps and bruises suffered by crew members who were briefly suspended in mid-air as they fell from one side of the boat to the other.
'For now, the wind has picked up as we approach the speed gate giving us very windy conditions that should give us a good time for the Ocean Sprint.'
Gold Coast Australia will be hoping they can earn themselves the one point bonus after the Race Committee announced penalties for three teams following the stopover in Qingdao. The penalty system exists to encourage the skippers and crews to sail conservatively and preserve their sails and equipment for the duration of the world’s longest yacht race. While the sport of ocean racing is extreme and wear and tear is to be expected, safety and good seamanship are core tenets of the Clipper Race.
Gold Coast Australia has been penalised two points, one for sail repair and one for avoidable equipment damage, while Derry-Londonderry and Visit Finland have been penalised one point each for equipment damage.
Derry-Londonderry, now level on points with Welcome to Yorkshire, but still in seventh place overall thanks to their greater number of higher placed finishes than the English team, continues to put the squeeze on Singapore, maintaining their hard-fought-for third place.
'Every day that goes by we are approximately 250nm closer to our destination and ever closer to a podium finish,' says skipper, Mark Light.
'Our closest rival, New York, is flying as well. They must be because no matter how hard we push we cannot shake them off! Every position update gives only about eight miles between us, one report seeing us losing a couple of miles to them and the next gaining them back.
'Putting this into perspective, at our current speeds this equates to a lead of only about 50 minutes – this could be purely down to a poor sailing evolution, a spinnaker wrap, slowing to sort out a problem, poor sail trim or simply a lapse of concentration on the helm for a couple of hours. Things are that close and there is plenty of nervous anticipation every time the positions update lands on our desktop.
'Whatever happens at the end doesn't take away from the fact that this is a major achievement crossing the North Pacific Ocean and I know we will all take some time to really think about what we will have accomplished… probably in the comfort of a bar or yacht club or similar establishment!
That said, a top three finish is well within our reach and, having held the position for this long, we will not give up without a fight.'
'Things are moving fast on New York but we are still the same distance away from Derry-Londonderry,' reports Gareth Glover. 'As always we are pushing to catch them but as they’re very close to our position and we must be carrying the same sail plan we must come up with a new plan which we hope will take us into third.
'The wind is back to the mid 30s and we are racing downwind at over ten knots. We are seeing waves come from all angles making it very hard to hold a good course and direction. With this we are unable to pole out any headsails without fear of damaging our last jockey pole which I am sure we will need as we get closer to the end of this race. So at the moment we are happy to be holding fourth and not to give any more miles to Derry-Londonderry and the other yachts close on our transom. This race may come down to the last few miles into port.'
The constant sail changes demanded by the conditions means the final days are passing quickly but, as Rupert Dean comments, with 1,000 miles still to go there is still time for movement in the standings.
'After a night of goose-winging, broad reaching and trying to identify a light on the horizon, my VHF crackled into life this morning with a call from the ever cheerful Ian Conchie on Qingdao. It's always great to catch up with another boat after so long out of touch, so we talked as skippers do about our surreal life on the high seas. It turned out that the light we had been chasing was him. Absolutely incredible to think after 4,500 miles racing across the world's biggest ocean, one can be within visual range of your nearest competitor! Indeed, there's precious little splitting the fleet from third to ninth at present, with positions sure to change before arrival in Oakland.
'Whilst talking to Ian it became apparent that the wind was backing from the west north west to the west south west, necessitating a gybe. As the wind was also increasing it was a good opportunity to get the Yankee 2 down to repair some hanks which had come off the forestay and to slap in another reef. The latter was doubly significant, for two sliders had detached from the luff of the mainsail and needed fixing. With reef two in place this allowed our ever-ready bowman, Jim Stamp, to climb up to the first set of spreaders (where there is plenty to hold on to) and repair them. He was aided by his fellow watch-members Kim Rolfe, Hannah Richards and Paul Bray, holding Jim horizontally in position using deck lines.
'Since then the wind has veered back to the west north west so at watch change we have gybed again back onto port gybe. All in all then, another busy day at the office!'
Ian and his team have also had a busy day but have now settled into their easterly course again as he notes, 'As we continue our drive east we are continuing to get strong tail winds to push us on our way. With each fluctuation of the wind we have to react to keep at the best course and speed. We had Welcome to Yorkshire with us for most of the morning but when the wind changed we decided to gybe slightly south to get a better angle and for a while it worked but then we had to gybe back. This was all going well until reef one broke during the second gybe.'
Gybing, where the back of the boat passes through the wind as the boat turns and the sails are moved from one side of the yacht to the other, is a more complicated manoeuver than tacking, where the nose passes through the oncoming wind, and the teams will be using every ounce of concentration to ensure they get it right.
Juan Coetzer, skipper of Geraldton Western Australia, is pretty happy with his team’s performance in the evolutions required to match the changes of wind direction.
'The crew have become rather good at gybing the boat, from poled out head sail on the one tack to poled out head sail on the other. We are making the most of the swell and gybing when the swell starts to change. Ocean swell is wind generated, and when a new swell set arrives, it means a new wind direction is coming soon.
'We’re still sailing downwind with poled out Yankee 3 and two reefs, making good speed in the right direction. It is rather amazing how one can get excited about things we take for granted. A few minutes of pure sunbeams can change your day!'
'Long range weather forecasts seem to be of optimal interest at the moment amongst the crew,' comments De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson. 'They are keen to know if the wind is going to hold to continue our speedy passage to San Francisco. The jury is still out on that one as weather forecasts older than three or four days start going into crystal ball territory, so although it looks like we will continue to make good progress over the coming days we are all hoping that the high pressure that could slow our arrival does not dominate too soon.'
Meteorologist Simon Rowell answers that question with his daily forecast sent to the teams.
He says, 'As the current low moves eastwards to the north of you the wind should ease and veer a little before the relative lull in between the two systems gets to you. You should see the barometer rise a bit, or at least be steady, depending where you are, before it drops again and the wind backs south of west for the next one. When it does, I think it will happen fairly quickly. As far as conditions at the finish go there seems to be a small ridge developing around 30 to 31 March which I'm hoping will stay a little south of Oakland and still give you a decent bit of south or south west wind on the way in.'
The teams will be hoping to make it to California before April Fools' Day, when quite large cell of high pressure is expected to form which would slow their pace considerably.
Back on board De Lage Landen, Stuart continues, 'Watches have had more activity recently. As we are sailing deep downwind we are having to keep a watchful eye on which sail configuration is going to give us best speed in the best direction. Although the boat is much flatter now, making conditions below decks easier, it is still very wet above and below decks which, coupled with the cold weather, doesn't make for the most pleasant living environment. Our wet weather gear is also getting darker by the day as the mould growing on it increases!'
While launderettes in Oakland can expect to see an influx of crew desperate to wash the Pacific out of their belongings, Visit Finland’s team will be giving their mainsail some attention when they reach port, says skipper, Olly Osborne.
'We have been busy adjusting the sail plan and poling out the head sail from time to time, and all the while surfing down the great Pacific rollers. Last night the bolt rope on the mainsail caught on a shackle as we were shaking out a reef which tore a six inch section out. I went aloft to free the sail and after a bit of swinging around we are still able to use it as normal which is the main thing. It will require some fairly extensive TLC when we arrive in the States though!'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has been in Stealth Mode for 24 hours and will remain undercover until the 1200 UTC position update tomorrow. Because of the length of this race, the longest of the 15 individual stages of Clipper 11-12, the teams can go into Stealth Mode for two 24 hour periods which can be taken concurrently.
Gordon Reid, the skipper of the Scottish yacht, is confident his team’s performance could well see them on the podium.
'The conditions are full on, winds gusting well over 40 knots, the helm is taxing and lively and not all have the skill or the nerve to drive so close to the edge,' he says. 'One wrong move and the consequences could be horrendous... it just means the skipper gets to have a play on the awesome monster surf.
'This entire race has been a full on crazy ride for weeks now, with very little respite from the fierce winds and massive confused seas. Everywhere is soaking wet, the crew are tired and I am sure some have had enough but with still around 1,100 miles still go, this is when we need to dig really deep and find that last bit of magic. If we can do that then the podium will be ours.
'We are currently in Stealth Mode and hoping to take full advantage of our position. So far today we have made significant gains and will continue to do so. Our sail plan is generous and our Course and Velocity Made Good is spot on target as we trim, trim, trim for speed.'
Time will tell whether they have done enough to snatch third place from Derry-Londonderry.
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 0900 UTC, Tuesday 27 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 902nm
2 Singapore - 1,002nm (+100nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 1,095nm (+193nm)
4 New York - 1, 111nm (+209nm)
5 Qingdao - 1,141nm (+239nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,155nm (+253nm)
7 De Lage Landen - 1,198nm (+296nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1,209nm (+307nm)
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,336nm (+434nm) Position at 0600 UTC
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,369nm (+467nm) Stealth Mode: position at 1200 UTC 26 March
*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