'The Clipper 11-12 Race fleet departs Qingdao, China to start Race 9, to Oakland, San Francisco Bay.'
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twenty fifth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. In the last 24 hours all ten 68-foot ocean racing yachts have entered the Ocean Sprint zone as they close in on the end of the sixth leg to San Francisco Bay.
Singapore and New York have both crossed the finish line of the sprint. The fastest team to cover the distance between the latitudes of 22 degrees north and 25 degrees north will score one bonus point. Once all teams have reported their start and finish crossing times the Race Office will calculate who crossed in the best time and a point will be awarded.
Currently the team to beat is Gold Coast Australia who covered the distance in 25 hours 53 minutes and 42 seconds, bettering Singapore’s time by 1 hour and 37 minutes.
Singapore has since entered Stealth Mode, and will emerge from the cloak of invisibility a 1300 UTC. On board, skipper Ben Bowley reports that the team has been contending with the lighter airs that have swept across the fleet.
'We are really being made to work these last 500 miles! The wind has gone light and fickle leaving us with a highly confused sea state and some badly flogging sails. Add into the mix the south easterly flowing current and we are set for a very challenging night of trying to keep the boat going in the right direction. The temptation to hoist ‘Vicky’ in an aid to raise our abysmal VMG (Velocity Made Good) is great; however, we have no wish to repeat our Southern Ocean experience by wrapping the kite so badly we end up sailing slowly for 12 hours as a result.
'With the end in sight we have to ensure that we have no major mishaps with Derry-Londonderry less than half a day's sailing astern. A lot will depend how we negotiate the next 24 hours of changeable (I don't think you get consistency in the North Pacific) conditions. Once on the other side of this patch of wallowing then we should have a fast clean run into the finish. Right now though it is as much as our battered and exhausted crew can do to pull themselves into their wet gear at the start of each watch, do yet another sail evolution (usually at the expense of the off going watch's down time) and then collapse exhausted into their wet bunks for possibly only an hour or two's rest.
Ben concludes, 'I'm not usually a fan of American beer but I have a feeling that the first one to touch my lips on arrival will be the finest beer I have ever drunk!'
Chinese rivals Qingdao have also entered Stealth Mode in a bid to glean back miles lost due to the flimsy winds which have seen 'Another day of lots of sail changes,' skipper, Ian Conchie, explains.
'In the last 24 hours we have used full main, reef 1, reef 2, reef 3 staysail, Yankee 2, Yankee 3 and the heavy weight spinnaker as the conditions keep changing.
'Last night we headed north trying to find some consistent wind as the GRIBS suggested there was a possibility of a wind hole, there was but not where we expected it! This all allowed Welcome to Yorkshire to pass us so we decided to slip into Stealth Mode to try and do something about it!'
Ian adds, 'We have started a book on the arrival date and time and have also been checking and preparing the boat for the wind due in a few days’ time!'
The North Pacific weather patterns have proved to be a constant challenge for the fleet with variable winds provoking the teams at every phase of this race. As they currently struggle against the lighter airs, a low approaching rapidly from the west is forecast to bring much stronger winds in the coming days, and conditions are expected to deteriorate very quickly once again.
'Another night of drama on the high seas as Derry-Londonderry suffers its second steering gear failure of this race,' reports skipper, Mark Light. Continuing its leap frog contention with New York, the Northern Ireland entry fights on in third place, despite equipment damages.
'We were cracking along last night under full main and Yankee 2 doing about 11 knots speed over ground and were broad reaching (wind just aft of the beam) in about 25 knots of apparent wind. Without warning we experienced a gust of well over 30 knots which rounded the boat up to wind and left the helmsman with a steering wheel just spinning freely, wildly flogging sails and once again unable to bear away from the wind...the steering system had failed again! Why do these things always happen at night?
'Once again, we sprang into action immediately rigging our emergency tiller and putting two reefs in the mainsail to bring the boat back under control. With two people steering using feet braced against the tiller from either side and taking bit of as drenching, we managed to steer the boat back onto the desired course. This took an incredible amount of teamwork to avoid the boat rounding violently up to wind and also bearing away too severely and crash gybing (comments were passed that we steered better like this than some of the normal helms) While all this was going on above deck, down in the depths of the aft lazarette, we had a team of two trying to sort out the rudder problem.
'Thankfully, on this occasion, the steering cable itself had not broken but instead the steering quadrant had lost its steel keyway and therefore its grip on the rudder. A good spot and very quick and efficient fix allowed us to return to conventional wheel steering within 40 minutes. Once tested, we shook out a reef and continued on our way. Hopefully we have not lost too much ground but with our nearest rivals New York in Stealth Mode we will have to wait to find out. I am slightly nervous about the next position reports...fingers crossed that we have done enough!'
New York - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Steve Holland/onEdition
Meanwhile, New York has emerged victorious from Stealth Mode occupying second place. As the American entry continues to fend off their rivals, thoughts turn to the home stretch and what awaits them in port.
Skipper, Gareth Glover says, 'There is a different mood in the air on New York, with close to 500 miles to go until the end of this leg, the crew are seeing the end of what's been a very wet long race. Most of this race the winds have been in the 30s and there is still a low system coming our way before the end which may have winds of 50 knots plus in it, to take us the last few hundred miles.
'By the time you read this we will be out of Stealth Mode and we will see if our tactics have worked and put ourselves into third place. As always the race is never won until you cross the line or in this case, pass under the Golden Gate Bridge.'
He continues, 'Our ETA at this time puts us into port on Saturday morning so we are hoping to have had a shower and be in a bar for Saturday night, joining the other teams to swap stories of this leg.
'The crew of New York are looking forward to be landing on home soil and seeing friends and family and the new crew members joining us.'
Also looking to what lies ahead is Geraldton Western Australia. Skipper, Juan Coetzer reports, 'Less than 1,000 miles to go. The ocean swell has a rhythmic flow and the wind has been pretty constant and we have been carrying out many maintenance tasks on board ahead of Oakland.
'The crew have begun to fantasise about the delightful foods and drinks that await, just over the Blue Yonder. It has also been a good day to reflect on the achievement of how far we have sailed thus far.'
On board Gold Coast Australia, skipper Richard Hewson reports that the team has had a brilliant days run as they make the final sprint towards the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland, San Francisco Bay.
'As the wind shifted further to the south west we have been power reaching along getting some fantastic surfs and averaging eleven knots of boat speed, with about 1.5 knots of current to give them a boost along towards the American coast.
'Wind is predicted to slightly moderate this evening, and we were amazed to see the wind drop below 30 knots at one point. The wind has been consistently above 30 knots for the last few weeks, and when it finally drops off a bit it feels like we are sailing in a mill pond. Hopefully the more moderate wind will allow us to make some more ground to the south later tonight so we can make best use of the predicted south easterly currents in the area, and increase our Speed Over Ground and time taken to reach the finish line.
As one of the first boats expected to arrive in Oakland this week, Richard adds, 'With only two days of racing to go crew are focused on the finish and talk often sways in the direction of what the crew will do when we hit terra firma. High on the priority list will be warm showers, a change of clothes, and a dry bed to sleep in.'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race started from S - onEdition ©
Currently sitting in the middle of the fleet is Welcome to Yorkshire, De Lage Landen, and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital with 61 miles between them as they try to eke out extra miles.
On board the Scottish entry, skipper Gordon Reid asks, 'Who switched the wind machine off?
'After days of unrelenting gale force winds it all went a bit Pete Tong this afternoon, first the wind veered 40 degrees and eased off to less than 10 knots. A quick increase in sail plan to keep moving, then it died off almost completely leaving us drifting for several hours, but it came as no surprise as this was well forecast and the price we had to pay as we awaited the breeze filling in again from the south west.
'Now the breeze has backed again and is filling, currently 20 knots giving us an apparent wind angle of around 80 degrees, happy days, park with the spinnaker just in time before a massive squall blowing 38 knots came through, 40 minutes later we have two reefs in the main and now hanking on the Yankee 3 after patching some minor rips and replacing busted hanks earlier today, welcome to the dynamic game. Now it's time to focus on making up those miles we lost earlier.
'During all of the sail changes and wind shifts our spinnaker anti-wrap net got caught around the cage on the steaming light, so mid gust I had to climb the mast to free it, I am not a big fan of mast climbing in the dark or when the wind and sea are building but it's the skipper’s job when it all gets a bit hairy! No dramas, the crew did an excellent job of keeping everything under control whilst I was up there.
Gordon adds, 'We are hoping that as we have the fresh breeze first, it may just give us the opportunity to push ahead of our fellow racers to the north, making full use of our southerly advantage.'
Echoing Gordon’s frustrations is De Lage Landen skipper, Stuart Jackson, who declares, 'From the sublime to the ridiculous, or some would say the other way round!'
'We have been spoilt for so long now with great boat speed in the right direction that now with the wind having died right off we are struggling with both speed and course. To some this is a pleasant relief after the rough weather we have been having and we are all too aware that the wind will be back with a vengeance soon. Although not everyone is relishing another battering from the elements, we need to look on the positive side of the great mileage we will cover to speed us to our arrival in Oakland.
'With the lighter winds we seem to have hung onto the drizzle and rain that has been a constant companion for the majority of the leg, so the boat isn't having a chance to dry out just yet. All the discomfort will make life shore side feel all the more luxurious.
Stuart adds, 'On a positive note, with the boat being flatter I did manage to make a cake that actually stayed in the tin for a change!'
Welcome to Yorkshire - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - onEdition ©
On board Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean reports, 'Spirits remain high and we are all looking forward to getting into Oakland, despite the frustrating conditions.'
Rupert continues, 'What a difference a few hours makes. This morning Welcome to Yorkshire was power reaching before a south westerly gale, surfing down waves at speeds up to 22.5 knots. Now, as I write this at 1900 local time, we are bobbing around in a messy confused sea, with very little wind at all.
'After so many days of truly exhilarating sailing, sailing below 10.5 knots is frustratingly slow. Even more so, when one naturally fears competitors to the north and south could be keeping the wind for longer, or sailing around this hole altogether. Our GRIBSs suggest we shouldn't experience this at all today. However, a calm period is forecast in this area for tomorrow, which we were hoping to be well past by then, by holding decent breeze. With rising pressure, grey skies and constant drizzle all day, suggesting the passing of an occluded front (also forecast for 24 hours’ time), one can only surmise that the weather systems are moving a day ahead of schedule, not what I planned for.'
The first boats are expected to arrive this weekend and will be berthed in Jack London Square, Oakland. Watch out for updated ETAs which 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, Thursday 29 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 383nm
2 New York - 612nm (+228nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 636nm (+253nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 691nm (+308nm)
5 De LageLanden - 728nm (+344nm)
6 Singapore - 734nm (+351nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 752nm (+369nm)
8 Visit Finland - 754nm (+371nm)
9 Qingdao - 899nm (+516nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 916nm (+532nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website
by Heather Ewing
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1:25 PM Thu 29 Mar 2012GMT
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