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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet endure gale force winds

by Heather Ewing on 13 Mar 2012
The Clipper 11-12 Race fleet departs Qingdao, China to start Race 9, to Oakland, San Francisco Bay. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the eighth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The extreme wind speeds, which were predicted to return and once again test the skills and endurance of the crew, made a grand entrance yesterday with a variety of welcomes.

'I don't think any of the fleet will come through racing in the North Pacific Ocean in March without any damage and we are no exception!' laments Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.

'Last night we had a near disaster and plenty of drama...

'We were charging along downwind with superb conditions, running before 25 knots of westerly wind with full main and Yankee 2 headsail driving us forward at about 11 knots. At about 0130 local time (these things always happen at night) we were hit by a 35 knot gust, there was a loud crack and the boat spun out of control,' explains Mark.

'We instantly knew that the steering cable had parted and the boat had rounded up into wind flogging the mainsail and headsail wildly. The boom was thrashing about madly, both preventer lines, were trailing and the boat was heeled over at such an angle that the boom itself was banging into the water as we travelled forwards out of control with pace.

'Very quick action was required - importantly a drill we practice many times in our rigorous pre-race training program (nevertheless, when it happens for real the adrenaline starts pumping through your veins and the seriousness of the situation hits home).'

Mark and his crew sprang into action and began to set up the emergency tiller while another team hauled down their Yankee 2 from the foredeck. After securing the tiller which brought the boat under semi control, Mark and crew member, Tom Way, squeezed into the tiny space above the steering quadrant and set about replacing the steering cable.

'After an hour involving hydraulic bolt croppers, hacksaw and plenty of elbow grease we had successfully changed the cable, no mean feat when being constantly thrown around in the conditions like a rag doll!

'We managed to regain full control of the boat, returned to our former heading and hoisted our Yankee again. The whole episode took about two hours in which we lost an estimated 16 miles.

'Once again, no injuries, no lasting damage and we are back racing again. My crew handled the situation impeccably and we did a sterling job. Now in true Derry-Londonderry style we will push on, fully determined to make up the lost ground and get ourselves back up into those precious podium positions,' signs off Mark, with his team currently occupying fourth position in the race nine standings.

Currently one place behind the Northern Ireland entry is Welcome to Yorkshire, whose crew are hoping their tactical gamble will pay off at the end of the race across the Pacific Ocean.

'Welcome to Yorkshire has returned out of Stealth Mode and her position is open for all to see. For those of you back at home, loyally following our progress, the past 24 hours leading to our current location must have seemed a mystery,' says skipper, Rupert Dean.

'A day ago, we were at a major crossroads in this race to Oakland, San Francisco Bay. We had played the first northern loop of the Kuroshio Current well, gaining some valuable miles on our competitors, resulting in us being the most northern boat in the fleet.

'However, a couple of mishaps on deck during the first depression off Japan caused us to miss the current's southern oscillation, with the short cut taken across the bight resulting in negative current, which cost us some ground to the boats further south. The result of this was at lunchtime yesterday, we found ourselves in seventh position and an uphill struggle to get back into the top half of the fleet,' reveals Rupert.

'Our choices were twofold. Take the rhumb line to the Scoring Gate and fall behind the boats ahead of us, who were gradually working their way east north east.

'Alternatively we could tack our way north and religiously ride the ‘Black Snake’ as far as possible. The first option was the lowest risk with the shortest number of miles to sail. However, it would have meant sailing through negative west flowing current, just to follow the wake of the boats ahead. The second, more radical option could result in long term rewards,' continues Rupert, with Welcome to Yorkshire sitting 86 miles behind current leaders Gold Coast Australia.

'I must admit, there were times when we were tacking north to keep in the current where VMG to the Scoring Gate showed negative! Moments like this make you question whether you are doing the right thing. However, we stuck to our guns and the possibility of places to be gained through being at a much better tactical position than the day before.'

Currently boasting a 23 mile lead over rivals Singapore, Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, reports of excellent conditions as his team make good progress over the last 24 hours.


'It’s been another full on day for Gold Coast Australia as we sail in some exhilarating winds in the North Pacific Ocean and have faced a multitude of small problems.

'As the winds started to abate yesterday I predicted at least a 12 hour reprieve of light winds, however King Neptune had other ideas and threw another gale straight at us. Thankfully this time by the time the wind started to increase it had veered round to our beam and we were reaching across it on starboard tack but as it continued to increase we began the familiar ritual of changing our way down through the sail wardrobe,' continues the Tasmanian yachtsman.

'Putting in the reefs last night a multitude of problems occurred. Firstly a baton came half out of the sail and was in danger of ripping the mainsail. While Annelise Nelson prepared to go to the end of the boom to recover the batten it popped out and was held there by the first reef. Some quick thinking and a nicely timed lull allowed us to winch in the boom and recover the batten from the deck. Then we realised the topping lift had chafed through in a most unusual position. At about the same time an intense electrical storm approached us quickly, giving us an awesome light display and showing us the power and fury the sky has to offer.

'As the winds continued to veer we gybed onto port tack and a few hours later we were blessed with another light spell allowing us to replace the batten and re splice the topping lift allowing us full function of the mainsail again. We were also able to shake a reef out, and we now enjoy some exhilarating sailing down wind surfing at speeds up to 20 knots with rays of sunshine lighting up the beautiful ocean around us giving us some breath taking scenery.'

Meanwhile on board Qingdao, the crew are continuing to battle the conditions together with a stomach bug.

'After yesterday's light conditions the wind has filled in to give us some great sailing conditions as we head north east searching for the North Pacific Current,' reports Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese entry.

'We have been trading places with Welcome to Yorkshire who with their move north under Stealth Mode seem to have found the current first but we are pushing hard to try and catch them again. Hopefully our early move north will allow us to pull some distance back to the front of the pack.

'For me it has been a horrible 24 hours as I have succumbed to the dreaded stomach bug which I slowly working its way through the boat! But the crew have done a great job with getting on with running the boat with less input that normal from me. It just shows the strength of the Clipper Race Training that the watch leaders now have the confidence to do this.'

It’s also been a busy day for Visit Finland, with skipper, Olly Osborne describing extreme conditions in his 0600 UTC report to the Race Office.

'We had a busy night as the wind built to gale force with the gusts being fairly violent at times, it made for some exhilarating sailing and did much to make up for the poor run of the day before.

'This morning the sea state is more manageable and as the wind has moderated it makes for some great helming. The sun even made a brief appearance just before lunch and it is great to be making some good progress.'

Currently filling second place and hoping to make gains on Gold Coast Australia, is Singapore.

'Our respite from the breezy wet conditions was relatively short lived yesterday. After sunset the rain clouds came back with a vengeance and the wind started to veer and build. Before too long we were screaming along on a reach with a little too much sail up as one squall passed over head,' says skipper, Ben Bowley.

'The Yankee 1 was duly dropped and replaced with the Yankee 3 and we decided to drop straight to the third reef in light of how fast conditions were changing.

'We may have been a little premature in with our deep reefing of the main as other than the odd gusty patch, we were a little underpowered for the most part last night. This was necessary however as I mentioned yesterday how the crew were completely knackered from a plethora of sail changes in the previous 24 hours,' continues Ben.

'We now need to stay with this pressure system as long as we can to gain plenty of miles before we are left wallowing in its windless wake.'

Just 17 miles behind the Singaporean entry is the team from the Big Apple, keen to reel in their race rivals.

'The wind has picked up just as predicted by Simon Rowell (meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2000) and the weather files we have sent to us,' reveals New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover.

'We were racing along in less than 10 knots of wind and then 20 minutes later it was 30 plus knots and we were polling out our Yankee 2 and full main while thinking about going to our Yankee 3 and one reef in the main.

'This wind has been with us for the past 12 hour making it a fast fun riding for the crew with speed in their 20s but only a few hours sleep for the skipper, swapping from polling out to reaching without the pole in the 40 plus gusts,' continues Gareth.

'New York's crew members are still fighting off the stomach bug that is going round and we still have a few crew that it’s not hit waiting their turn as its going round the whole crew including myself.

'This has not stopped us trying to chase down Singapore and Gold Coast Australia and put a few more miles in the bank and we are working hard to do this.'


Over on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skipper Gordon Reid reports of the ever increasing wind speeds.

'Just as forecast after a day of frustrating light fluky winds, the next low pressure system descended upon us with a vengeance, the wind very quickly built to over 30 knots of true wind and we took off like a rocket under full main, Yankee 1 and staysail.

'As the wind veered at a very fast pace we drooped in the first reef and poled out the Yankee 2, hitting a savage 6.8 knots on the first wave I surfed, throughout the night the wind continued to build and today we regularly hit 18 knots as we surfed one monster wave after another, peaking out at 22 knots so far this afternoon,' continues the Scottish yachtsman.

'Last night and today have been taxing conditions for all of the crew who have worked solidly and with great focus and determination to keep our beloved ‘Purple Beastie’ racing fast, taking wave after wave and wrestling with sails during frequent sail changes with big smiles on their faces and loving every minute of this awesome race.'

After the medevac of a crew member over the weekend, De Lage Landen, is making progress in their attempt to make up ground on the fleet.

'It was a night of squalls for the De Lage Landen crew; for the helmsman conditions were similar to those remembered from the Southern Ocean - rolling waves and fast downwind sailing with half an eye on the next dark cloud approaching,' explains skipper, Stuart Jackson.

'We had a line failure as one of the reefing pennants snapped just at the height of one of these squalls. The crew commented afterwards it was probably time for another reef anyway. It is also clock change day so we are gaining two hours on board. The earlier and earlier sunrises have been a great sign of our progress east to catch up with the rest of the fleet.'

Finally on board seventh placed Geraldton Western Australia, skipper Juan Coetzer, reports of good reactions from his crew to the challenging weather.

'Slowly the wind picked up during the day, until we needed to reef. A squall hit us hard, so we call all hands on deck to drop the Yankee 1. During this period the main sail was flogging like crazy, and the third reef just feel apart in the middle of the line. So we put a second reef in and spent the next hour and a bit packing away the Yankee 1 and Yankee 2.

'Today during happy hour we are going to hoist the storm try sail and drop the mainsail - so we can put a new third reef line and second reef line in. Every day is a learning day, and the crew have responded well to the tasks required.'

The fleet is expected to arrive in Oakland, California between 1-7 April, where it will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Jack London Square. Oakland is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Positions at 1200 UTC, Monday 12 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 4111nm*
2 Singapore - 4134nm (+23nm)**
3 New York - 4148nm (+37nm)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 4190nm (+79nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4195nm (+84nm)
6 Qingdao - 4223nm (+112nm)
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 4229nm (+118nm)
8 Visit Finland - 4240nm (+129nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4271nm (+160nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 4297nm (+186nm)

*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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