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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet face punishing conditions

by Heather Ewing on 13 Mar 2012
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the ninth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The ten-strong fleet have faced a punishing 24 hours of conditions as they continue to be tested by gale force winds and waves the size of tall buildings.

With close to 4,000 miles still to cover in the race from Qingdao to Oakland, San Francisco Bay the past day’s conditions are sure to be a sign of what the next three weeks at sea have in store for the crew members taking part.

'We are well and truly on the North Pacific rollercoaster,' excitedly declares Gordon Reid, skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.

'The wind has not dropped below 25 knots and has been as high as 48 knots. All day yesterday, last night and since dawn this morning the Purple Beastie has been surfing one huge roller-coaster wave after another and in the past 12 hours or so our VMG (Velocity Made Good) has perfectly matched our SOG (Speed Over Ground) not dropping much below 12 knots.

'The rush experienced as you surf on top of a breaking wave the size of a two storey building is putting huge smiles on the faces of those who have the skill and indeed the nerve to take the helm,' continues Gordon.

'This is no classroom and only the best helms are being invited to drive in these truly extreme conditions. The weather is giving some fantastic boat speed but it is taking its toll on the deck equipment and sails, yesterday we had to drop the Yankee 2 for some repairs and replaced three of the brass piston hanks which had simply twisted and snapped under the strain caused by some of the ferocious gusts we are encountering on a regular basis.'

Over on board British rivals, Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean, is also reporting of similar intense sailing conditions.

'Leg 6 has certainly lived up to its heavy weather billing. For the past two days the fleet has been in the second full-blooded gale of this race, this one more powerful than the first and enabling all to sail in a downwind direction.'

Currently in sixth place the Yorkshire entry entered Stealth Mode at 0000 UTC and will not have their position reported for a period of 24 hours. Leg 6 is the longest of the Clipper 11-12 Race and teams are able to use two periods of Stealth Mode. Either combining them to make a period of 48 hours, as Derry-Londonderry has previously done or separate at any time of the race, as Welcome to Yorkshire is doing today.

While in Stealth Mode, the team’s position is not reported to the fleet or on the website for the period of 24 hours, or in some cases during this race 48 hours, however the Race Office still tracks the team every hour.

'The ferocity of this gale has to be seen to be believed. At 37 degrees north, where we've been hanging out as the most northern boat in the fleet, 50 knots of true wind has been howling through which has generated 50 foot breaking waves,' continues Rupert.

'The powerful gusts and bitter cold are very reminiscent of our time in the Southern Ocean. Indeed for much of the time this gale has appeared to be on an even grander scale! Sailing in these conditions fills all on board with a mix of emotions.

'There's the exhilaration of surfing down waves at 22 knots, the fear of accidental gybes, broaches, injuries or major damage occurring and, a renewed respect for Mother Nature in her most beautiful and raw guises.'

Now the most northerly position boat, Gold Coast Australia has increased its lead on the following boats overnight.

'During the last 12 hours we’ve had a blitzing run, averaging around 12 knots over ground as we surf down monstrous seas in high winds,' reveals Richard Hewson, skipper of the Australian entry.

'One wave stood up so steep that as the bow dropped into it, it looked three times the size of the yacht. It must have been at least 30 metres high at as Gold Coast Australia took off down the wave everybody braced themselves as the speed increased to over 22 knots.

'The record run should have allowed us to make back some miles on the rest of the fleet after we were stuck in a negative current for about 12 hours and unable to make more than 8 knots. Since we got out and the wind picked up we have been having a brilliant run.'

Qingdao has also made great progress, chalking off 153 miles over a 12 hour period, the most in the fleet.

'An amazing day of sailing,' reports Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese entry.

'Yesterday as the wind built up we changed down the sails until we were let with just three reefs in the main and Yankee 3. During the night we had winds up to 50 knots allowing us to push hard and get some great surfing with boat speed constantly up in the teens with the odd 20 knot burst! This plus the North Pacific Current has given us some great speed over ground to allow us to close the gaps to some of the boats around us.'

Current occupiers of fourth place, Ian and his crew hope to continue their good form after moving up two places in the last 24 hours.

'This sort of sailing whilst a huge adrenaline high puts a lot of pressure on the crew. The helm needs to concentrate to keep us on course as the wind and waves do their best to push us off course, at the same time waves side swipe the boat filling the cockpit with water! Even the simple tasks like moving around or making a brew take care and effort. And sleeping becomes an extreme sport as you get thrown around your bunk.

'The question now for the crew is how long can we stay in the current? How long will this wind hold and can we hit the magic 300 miles in 24 hours, a big ask!' signs off Ian.


However, not experiencing the same speeds as the boats ahead is Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, skippered by Stuart Jackson.

'Frustrating probably sums up the past 24 hours, despite having some great conditions for exciting sailing and good boat speed, our speed over the ground is appalling, we seem to have been stuck in an area of counter current.

'We have been keeping a close eye on what the weather is expected to do over the next 72 hours, so we are trying to stick with a long term strategy, even if we do seem to be losing miles just now.

'Everyone is enjoying the fast reaching even if it is rather damp on deck, with the cockpit filling with water a little too often!'

De Lage Landen were forced to divert their course over the weekend to medevac injured crew member, Cath James, who is recovering in Tokyo after injuring her back as she was thrown from her bunk in rough conditions. She is currently awaiting permission to fly back to the UK.

'Our thoughts are also with Cath at the moment who is recuperating in Tokyo at the moment and she is missed by all the crew,' says Stuart.

Well and truly in the mix for maximum points in the race to the Scoring Gate, where the fleet now set their sights, is Singapore.

'The last 24 hours has seen the wind build to the extent that we are currently broad reaching along under three reefed main alone in wind that has occasionally topped 60 knots of true in the gusts,' explains skipper, Ben Bowley.

'The conditions yesterday were quite mild in comparison to today and later in the afternoon we increased sail a little Yankee 2 and one reef in the main.

'At around 0300 I lunched myself out of my bunk and up to the companionway to find the helm having a hard time trying to keep course. We managed to get the boat to bear off down wind and were discussing dropping to the second reef when the first reef line parted due to the earlier flogging of the mainsail,' continues Ben.

'As we were dropping the sail to the second point it became obvious that there was a problem with the second reef pennant too. Finally we were able to get the third reef in and the boat under control again. This morning it was my intention to send a crew member out to the end of the boom to sort reef two and one but the boiling sea state and very gusty wind made me think better of it for the moment. Instead, as the wind continued to rise we dropped the headsail all together in order to take some load off the helm.

'Once the wind starts to abate in 24 hours or so, we hope to shake out to full main and reeve new reefing lines through the sail and boom. Fingers crossed our third reef holds till then!

'Oh and to top it off, I have come down with a very nasty bout of man flu - deep, deep joy,' signs off Ben.

Also dealing with damage due to the serve conditions is Geraldton Western Australia, skippered by Juan Coezter.

'Yesterday during happy hour, we began repairing our reefing lines. Not an easy task at sea. We had the storm staysail up and a main with a second reef.

'In order to re-run new reefing lines, the main sail would have to be lowered to the deck, and the storm tri-sail hoisted in its place. The whole operation took three hours, and unfortunately cost us time, but it was a job worth doing,' continues Juan.

'Last night we had gust up to 35 knots and with a third reefed main sail, storm staysail and staysail, we rocketing along at 10-14 knots VMG (Velocity Made Good).'


Yesterday’s Daily Update contained a dramatic report from Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, and today’s thankfully is filled with details of great progress.

'We have been charging along under Yankee 2 and second reef in the main with average boat speeds of 11 to 12 knots. The wind has been upwards of 30 knots true gusting to 50 knots - this has resulted in some spectacular North Pacific waves in turn giving great surfing conditions,' says Mark.

'Helming in these conditions takes a lot of skill and a good helping of courage due to what could go wrong at any point. Lots of my crew are showing good attributes and confidence when helming which is very encouraging. Full on concentration is key.

'There is now an ongoing competition for highest speed achieved during this leg and currently this is held by Ben Turner at 21.8 knots.

'I am very quick to remind all crew that the overall race record is held by, let me think... oh yeah, the skipper at 26.4 knots in the Southern Ocean!' boasts Mark.

'All maintenance has been carried out efficiently and quickly by my crew and the boat is ready for the next onslaught from Mother Nature. Now it is time to raise our levels and try to recapture a place on the podium and sail hard in order to stay there.'

Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 13 March 2012
Place Boat DTF* / DTL**
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3872nm / N/A
2 Singapore - 3920nm / 48nm
3 New York - 3926mn / 54nm
4 Qingdao - 3961nm / 89nm
5 Derry-Londonderry - 3976nm / 104nm
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4032nm / 160nm (Stealth Mode 13/03/2012 0000UTC Position)
7 Visit Finland - 4049nm / 177nm
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 4051m / 179nm
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4056nm / 184nm
10 De Lage Landen - 4127nm / 255nm

*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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