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Clipper Round the World Yacht Race teams approach Scoring Gate

by Heather Ewing on 15 Mar 2012
Singapore - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the tenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. The ten teams competing in the Pacific have had a tough 24 hours as they continue to battle with a medley of challenging weather patterns.

Feeling the full wrath of Mother Nature’s fury is Singapore, who has slipped down to third place on the leader board after what skipper, Ben Bowley describes as, 'Another busy, frustrating and eventually rewarding 24 hours of hard work aboard the ‘Big Red Bus’.

'Having been forced to sail with an overly reduced sail plan due to damaged reefing pennants we have been trying to keep the boat moving well with different combinations of head sails.'

Describing the arduous conditions, Ben says, 'The severe conditions of yesterday were certainly reminiscent of the Southern Ocean and the powerful weather systems that prevail down there. There is one distinction that we felt the effect of yesterday: In the Southern Ocean, the swell sets and waves could have been arranged by a librarian, very ordered in their procession. It seems that a Schizophrenic was let loose setting up the wave pattern for the North Pacific.

'One moment we have fantastic, long smooth swell that urges the boat along,at a semi-displacement 13 to 14 knots continuously; the next we are being broached sideways by an eight metre vertically high solid wall of water with a breaking crest. This disparity between wave patterns is most likely due to the fact that here we are feeling the effects of fast moving systems, shortly after their birth over northern Japan. The wind strength and direction is still very unstable and therefore confuses the sea right from the start.

'It is certainly giving the helm something to concentrate on, especially at night! This morning has seen both watches put in a Herculean effort, working together for around six hours continuously to get Singapore sailing again at our full potential. We dropped the main in order to repair both the broken reefing lines and check the upper part of the main sheet system. Spending three hours under headsail alone was frustrating but necessary to ensure that the reefs and main sheet would be ready for the next weather system.

Ben concludes, 'For now though it feels good to be moving in the right direction again and thinking how best to maximise our position for a run at the Scoring Gate.'

If you look at the Race Viewer on the website you will see that the teams are rapidly approaching the Scoring Gate for this race, where there are three, two and one points on offer for the first, second and third teams respectively to reach the gate. With the demanding weather conditions dictating the fleet’s course, it will be interesting to see over the next 24 hours which boats will push for the extra points and which will forfeit the opportunity for a better position on the leader board as a whole.

Also hoping to be the first to cross the gate is New York, who, like their rivals, has been fighting against the strong winds.

Skipper Gareth Glover, reports, 'Just like most of the fleet to our north we have been taking a beating from the low that has formed, with wind in excess of 50 knots over a period of 12 hours and then down to 40 knots for the rest. This called for lots of hard work on the helm's as we ran down wind with only the main and no headsail, we did have the storm stay up for a bit but the forces on the rig were immense so we ran with just the reefed main and running back stays on in the massive seas that have been building, giving us speeds of ten plus knots and surf's of 20 knots.

'This morning the wind has dropped down to the mid 20s and come round to the north giving us a nice reach and we are able to put the stay sail, Yankee 3 and reef main back up, keeping our boat speed around ten knots.

As the team currently occupies second place, Gareth adds, 'We are now in the race for Scoring Gate points with Singapore and Qingdao who are steaming in from the north west but as the wind is forecast to get lighter in the next 24 hours, the run for the gate is still anyone's race. We are going to push hard and try for the gate, if we can score three gate points will see us fourth in the overall leader board which we lost out to Singapore who we are close to in this race.

Extending their lead on the American entry is Gold Coast Australia, who has covered 280 miles in the last 24 hours.

Skipper, Richard Hewson reports, 'In one six hour period we averaged over 14 knots, consistency and speed have enabled us to break away from the rest of the fleet, extending our lead to over 70 miles from 33 miles this time yesterday.

While the crews comes to terms with the harsh sailing on this leg, Richard reports that they are finding innovative ways to keep comfortable on board, 'conditions are near freezing at night and the crew are dealing with the cold well, taking regular breaks down below and making copious cups of tea to keep warm. A few crew members have even taken to keeping hot water bottles inside their foul weather gear while on deck!

With the nearest human inhabitants of the Australian entry over 60 miles away, Richard adds that the team has been greeted by more than just high winds in the world’s largest ocean. 'Schools of White Sided Pacific Dolphins have come to play with us as we surf down the waves. Their agility and co-ordination makes us look slow and uncoordinated. At one point we had a group of six dolphins all jumping in unison at our bow while others played alongside the boat, a beautiful sight and sign of friendship from our aquatic comparisons.'

Also feeling the cold is Qingdao, where skipper Ian Conchie reports, 'As the sun set last night we were treated to a great view of the stars for the first time this leg but unfortunately this also meant that the temperature dropped as well! Luckily with the extra crew we have for this leg the crew can rotate below decks to get warm as it was cold enough last night to get some sleet falling.

With mildly lighter winds forecast over the coming days Ian adds, 'We have continued to push north east with wind holding out better than we thought, allowing us to keep moving at a good speed. Due to Singapore’s problems we have even been able to catch them up so we are now in VHF range allowing me and Ben (Bowley) to have a chat over the radio!

'Everyone is now pushing hard to try and stay in this wind as long as possible before we lose the wind before the next system arrives.'


Meanwhile, on board De Lage Landen, skipper Stuart Jackson reports that the last 24 hours the team has experienced some of the most challenging times since the start of the leg.

'Wind wise we have had both extremes, starting with a couple of days where we had 40 plus knots of apparent wind blowing over the deck and now since this morning we are being becalmed with an occasional wind gust. All and all this is how it goes when you set sail…..

'What is making everything harder is the fact that we have been countered by a three knot strong current. We managed to lose over 50 miles on most boats while averaging almost 12 knots. Now we have finally managed to get rid of those currents the wind is dying.

Commenting on the challenges of ocean sailing, Stuart adds, 'One lesson you learn while racing is sometimes you just have to take it no matter what and keep on fighting.'

Also commenting on the extremes of ocean racing is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital skipper Gordon Reid.

'We are very much back in the deep blue ocean, and what a vast beautiful wilderness it is, you can feel the raw power in every wave and in no time mother nature can turn the sea into a boiling cauldron of raw fury, the seas are enormous and the sheer power is breath-taking.

'The ‘Purple Beastie’ has covered a pretty impressive distance in the last eleven days and continues to as we ride along on the back edge of the receding low pressure system and trying to avoid get caught by the encroaching high pressure system dropping on us from the north west, we are also in the North Pacific Current which is helping us fly along at over 12 knots, peaking out at 15 on the slightly reduced surf, now only the size of a single storey building.

'The weather patterns are changing constantly as the high pressure systems form and are compressed and expanded in all directions by the numerous fast moving low pressure systems; this is certainly making tactical routing a very interesting challenge for me and my navigators, but one which we are enjoying with a very systematic approach.The converging weather patterns should make for some pretty challenging sailing over the next week or so, with some very inspiring seascapes.'

As the team takes on the mighty Pacific, Gordon likens the experience to an action adventure film, 'If you want a taste of what it is really like out here in the arena watch ‘The Perfect Storm’, the only difference is the waves are bigger out here.'

Already enjoying the reprieve and reporting of a steady night on board is Derry-Londonderry.

Skipper Mark Light, says, 'The wind and seas are moderating now and we have gradually worked our way back up through the sail wardrobe, now flying full sail again with the full main, Yankee 1 and staysail.

'Despite all our hard work we find ourselves sliding ever so slightly further from the leading pack. This is partly down to the fact that we are hanging on to the coat tails of the low pressure system and the boats ahead are in more desirable conditions which will last longer as the low takes longer to leave their locations. The other reason is that we have recognised the need to look after our boat and equipment and are thinking very carefully about when to push hard and when it is prudent to throttle back a little in the interests of safety and boat preservation. However, we have become slightly too cautious in our approach and now is the time to recognise this and push all the way to the limits of our boat and ourselves but importantly not over step these marks!

Mark adds, 'As long as we keep in touch at the moment then we will be in good shape for the second half of this race. After all, there is still over 3,800 miles of Pacific Ocean to cross!'

On board Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne, agrees, 'Things have calmed down considerably over the last 48 hours and today the wind is fluky and keeps the trimmers on their toes, but a long rolling ground swell left over from the receding depression makes a magnificent sight in the morning sun.

'We had a meeting at lunchtime which was a little overdue due to the weather, and reflected on the challenges of the past days. The conditions have been some of the most severe we have seen so far and so we talked through how best to tackle what lies ahead. At this point in the journey we have had a taste of what the Pacific can muster, but for the meantime are taking the opportunity to repair broken lee cloths, pump diesel out of the bilges and generality prepare for the next onslaught.

Commenting on the approaching weather, Olly adds, 'Tactically the next couple of days will be quite important in deciding how best to tackle the developing depression to the south of us, and itwill be interesting to see how the other boats route through it. This is one of the few advantages of being toward the back of the fleet, but it looks like there will be some upwind sailing for us now which historically we have done quite well at, so we will hope to close the gap with the leaders during the next week.'


Emerging from Stealth Mode at 0000 UTC today is Welcome to Yorkshire, who are currently in the middle of the fleet. After a hampered 48 hours grappling against strong winds that saw breakages to useful equipment, skipper Rupert Dean reports, 'Welcome to Yorkshire is 'back online again!'

'After two days of running before serious gales with the Yankee 3 halyard stuck on the forestay due to a damaged sheath, Chris Leivers scaled the mast today, in calmer conditions to free it.

'The task required careful planning and co-ordination, to transfer the load onto the spare Yankee halyard at the top of the mast, then cut the jammed one free. This allowed the crew to lower the Yankee 3 in a controlled manner to the deck, enabling an important sail change to the Yankee 1 to power the boat up again in these lighter winds.To have our vital heavy weather Yankee 3 back on deck again was a great relief.

He continues, 'Due to the jammed halyard we had been flying it in more wind than we would have liked. Mercifully, save a few hanks which we have already replaced, there appears to be no damage to it at all. Chris, yes him again, scaled the mast to re-reeve the repaired staysail halyard that snapped a few days ago. Now our 'Pink Lady' has a full set of halyards again and healthy sails we feel complete and ready to race hard again.

'The sunny skies and calmer weather have proved a welcome tonic to the team, after the arduous heavy weather sailing of the past two days. All have been able to dry out, catch up on much needed sleep and affect necessary repairs, both to personal kit and to the boat. Whilst we're well aware that there is more heavy weather coming our way in a few days’ time, in the meantime we'll celebrate a happy and productive day with a cheeky glass of wine at supper.'

Also celebrating the success of repairs on board is Geraldton Western Australia.

Skipper Juan Coetzer, reports, 'The sun is out again, the sea has calmed down - great day for going up the mast. Hurrah - we have wind instruments.

'The question now is, how long will it last for? I took the wind anemometer and lashed it in a three point fix to the head of the mast and then epoxied it all together. The crew are also working hard,' Juan adds.

Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 14 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,598nm
2 New York - 3,668nm (+67nm DTL**)
3 Singapore - 3,670nm (+72nm)
4 Qingdao - 3,694nm (+96nm)
5Derry-Londonderry - 3,721nm (+123nm)
6Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,778nm (+180nm)
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,810nm (+212nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3810nm (+212nm)
9Visit Finland - 3,824nm (+220nm)
10De LageLanden - 3,922nm (+323nm)

*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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