'Gold Coast Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race'
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the eighteenth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. While Gold Coast Australia and Singapore are slogging it out at the head of the fleet there is an interesting battle ensuing for third place in the race across the Pacific Ocean.
With fewer than 30 miles separating Derry-Londonderry in third place and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital in sixth, with Qingdao and New York sandwiched in between, there is plenty more excitement to come in the second half of this marathon stage.
Skipper of the entry representing Scotland’s capital city, Gordon Reid, says, 'It's a tough race for sure, probably the toughest so far, but we will keep pushing hard all the way to the finish and that podium place.
'The crew are kept busy bailing out the bilges every two hours using buckets, and twice a day we use our saltwater sump pump, which pumps 135 litres a minute. We are taking on so much water as the waves wash over the deck that the sump pump was running for 25 minutes as we emptied the crash bulkhead, the rope locker and the ghetto... Yes, that is a lot of water but she moves faster with it on the outside and we are doing everything it takes to get on the podium!'
Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, recognises that he and his team cannot let up if they are to hold on to their position in the fleet.
'Although there is around 2,500nm left, just seeing this distance to run figure tumbling down is great for morale and, given that we are sailing very well and still placed firmly in the top three, there is a great vibe on board. One look over our shoulder however, shows all the other Clipper Race boats hot on our heels and working as hard as us to win this race.
'This is incredibly close racing for such a long race but we have proved before that we are more than capable of finishing well and it is worth noting that as long as we carry on with the same high levels of motivation and effort then we should continue to sail well and look after our boat. It is therefore up to the other boats to take this from us! At the moment, this is ours to lose and having worked so hard to get here, we are not going to give it up easily.'
Mark adds, 'Very consistent conditions are resulting in some fantastic sailing during the first few days back in the western hemisphere. We have 25 knots of wind from the south giving us between a beam and a close reach. The sea state is moderate allowing boat speeds on average in excess of ten knots and we are making superb distances (in the right direction) of around 240nm per 24 hours. Because we have a southerly flow of air the temperatures on deck are pleasant which makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. There is a definite feeling of ‘going home’ even though we are only just over half way across this vast ocean.'
Matching the pace of the Northern Ireland yacht, Qingdao is just 17 miles behind them.
'We are continuing to power our way east with the speed solidly above ten knots so the distance to go is counting down nicely, if slower than we would wish for,' reports Ian Conchie. 'As for the weather, it continues to blow hard so that life on board is tough with the boat bouncing around and wet on deck as waves smash over it, but the fact we are making good speed keeps everyone upbeat and focused. Already the talk has turned to what to have for the first meal ashore and what plans people have for their stay in Oakland. This leg was always going to be long and hard; the North Pacific is living up to its reputation so far and I am sure it has a lot left to show us!
'We are pushing the boat hard but keeping a good eye on all of the equipment as it still has a long way to go. The sails look completely different to when we first used them. They have changed colour a lot and show honourable battle scars from the many thousands of miles of sailing. On the positive side, they are a lot easier to fold now compared to when they were new!'
In common with several of the other yachts, Qingdao’s crew have a sense that they are homeward bound after passing into the western hemisphere yesterday.
'After a day of crossing the Date Line everyone has adjusted to the change, and at the same time we continue to change our local time to suit the daylight hours. To do this we add an hour every few days so that it is light for the early morning watch change at 0700 local. This has an added benefit for the crew as we do it over watch change so each watch works 30 minutes less!'
Despite the close racing, New York’s skipper explains that to gain ground on the yachts ahead will be a tough task as the yachts and the teams are evenly matched and racing in the same weather system.
'The next few days are going to bring the same weather for most of the fleet which means gaining on the rest of the yachts is almost impossible as we are all heading the same way at around the same speed,' says Gareth Glover. 'Some may make better miles for a few hours and then you don't do as well as the wind dips for a few hours.
'New York has been pushing north west and it looks like we will be for the next few days, trying to keep best speed towards our waypoint and, as always, to pull into the top three yachts. The wind has been around 25 knots so we haven’t had to do many sail changes, which is giving the crew a bit of a rest from the foredeck.'
While the Chinese crew’s thoughts are of the food they will devour when they arrive to start replacing some of the calories they are burning through during the 6,000-mile race from Qingdao to Oakland, the US crew had a fantasy of their own, says Gareth.
'It’s still not shorts weather on deck but, with the Hawaiian islands just over 750 nm away, there has been talk of calling in for a cocktail en route. I had to point out to the crew that it would be upwind all the way and, remembering the upwind work from last week, it got put to one side!'
The English entry, just 14 miles behind the Scottish yacht, is also in with a shout of a place on the podium in Oakland.
'It’s been another day of great power-reaching conditions on Welcome to Yorkshire, helping to bring the distance to go mileage down at a very respectable rate,' says skipper, Rupert Dean. 'To have so many great days in succession is a rare thing in sailing and puts one in danger of accepting this as the norm! However conditions will change as we sail ever closer to the top of the high, necessitating a likely change to a goose-winged or broad reach spinnaker formation in a few days’ time.
'One thing's for sure, it's definitely getting colder as we progress north on the upward turn of our Great Circle route, until we reach the Sailing Instructions 'ceiling’, capped at 42 degrees North. So our thermals are remaining firmly on!'
The Race Committee has implemented a boundary of 42 degrees north for this race to keep the fleet out of the worst of the storms in the North Pacific. It is something the tacticians will have to keep firmly in mind as they negotiate the high pressure systems.
Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, is already taking it into account as his team powers towards the finish line.
'We've had a fairly non eventful 24 hours aboard Singapore,' he tells the Race Office this morning. 'A headsail change and a bit of reefing have punctuated what can only be described as excellent reaching conditions, yet at times 1.5 reefs in the main would be ideal! For the moment we have erred on the side of performance and are pushing hard to make up the miles lost to our competitors in the last 24 hours. We seem, at times, to be punching into a little foul current which is rather perplexing as (according to our plots) we should be over the squiggly worm, or the North Pacific west to east flowing current. I'm sure that we are just caught in a gyre and should soon be free but it is letting our competition close in slightly.
'The temptation now would be to foot off a little and head northwards but we want to ensure a good buffer of 42 degrees north. It would be heart-wrenching to get this far and end up forced into a bad position by a wind shift and have to tack away from the penalty zone and lose ground to those to the south. We are treating the parallel as a very long, straight lee shore. Now we need to concentrate on keeping in the favourable winds as long as possible before getting trapped in a big fat high; that would be sure to slow our charge to San Francisco Bay to little more than walking pace!'
In the meantime their target ahead is back in the crosshairs as Gold Coast Australia emerged from Stealth Mode at midnight, back in first place despite running with a jury-rigged mast track.
'We slipped into Stealth Mode yesterday on completion of mainsail trials, confident that our solution was safe and efficient, and eager to measure our improved performance against our nearest rivals, Singapore,' reports Richard Hewson.
'I am very happy with the result. Not only do we have a fast way of dropping the sail in an emergency if required but it is performing at 100 per cent, giving us the speed required to stay ahead of the worst of the approaching weather and hopefully win the race to Oakland. Our speed matched against Singapore, who are now about 65nm astern, is comparable. We are no longer losing ground to them which is a great relief to me and the crew.
'Winds have been reasonably consistent over the past few days and the temperatures have been almost balmy compared to the other parts of the race, making for some enjoyable sailing through the North Pacific. Being so close to the centre of the high pressure system we see the effects of quite flat but confused swell and an incredibly high barometric pressure of 1042. It seems we are basically moving at the same speed as the weather system at the moment, making for some relatively stable conditions, though the wind is still shifting in the order of 20 degrees and gusting up to 25 knots.'
Life in the confines of a 68-foot yacht often throws up some unexpected challenges, some easier to tackle than others.
Richard adds, 'When there are 17 people on board and 17 pieces of identical foul weather gear, 17 pieces of mid layers, and other almost identical items of clothing around, it is inevitable that some items will get mixed up, which normally results in some good comedy. Today Caroline wore Babs’s foul weather gear, and Deb Miller wore Babs’s mid-layers. As a result when Babs went to go on watch she found herself relatively naked (for the North Pacific) and needed to recover some of her clothes from the fashion parade.'
While clothing is causing confusion on one Australian yacht, it seems the time shift as the fleet crossed the International Date Line continued to confound on board the other.
Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer, says, 'It was a day of chaos, confusion and a touch of déjà vu. I thought technology would get it right. Every day is a school day on the mighty Pacific Ocean. At least we have the all inspiring Beach Boys to sing about California as we carry on thrashing towards the Golden Gate Bridge.'
Geraldton Western Australia is in very close proximity to Visit Finland who are about 20 miles east of them.
Olly Osborne, the skipper, is pretty happy with the way things have been going.
'We have been making some great mileage over the last few days and the last 24 hours has seen another good run,' he says. 'The breeze is consistent and although there is a lot of spray over the deck the sea state is fairly manageable. The temperature is noticeably colder now as we near the most northerly part of the journey and everyone is doing their best to keep at least one hat or pair of gloves dry.
'Although the conditions are relentless and it is impossible to dry anything out, the routine of watch changes, emptying the bilges and cooking goes on as ever, and having crossed the Date Line there is a sense that we have broken the back of it now. Last night at the evening watch change we had a celebratory tot of mulled wine which warmed everyone up nicely and it is good to be back in the western hemisphere at last.'
There were also celebrations on board De Lage Landen, where one of the crew members demonstrated a skill not normally associated with ocean racing.
'The passing of the Date Line seemed a good excuse for a deck party,' explains skipper, Stuart Jackson. 'A new stash of sweets, chocolates and marshmallows appeared. Janice took the honours in the ‘fluffy bunny’ game, proving she could stash the most marshmallows in her mouth and continue to say ‘fluffy bunny’. Never a dull moment on De Lage Landen!'
Despite the celebrations the serious business of racing continues and, says Stuart, 'We have been focused on eating into the leads the other teams have. Slowly but surely the miles are being captured. Weather conditions have been pretty stable and, with many of the teams relatively close to each other, making big gains on each other is not easy.
'The Pacific has shown its strength by removing one of the binnacle feet from the deck. With some clever engineering and rummaging through John's tool ‘purse’, the binnacle has been fixed again, ready for the helms to grasp at every helm change or serious wave.'
The binnacle is akin to a steering column – the wheel and navigation instruments are attached to it, including the compass, which sits on top.
The fleet is due to arrive in Oakland, California, between 1 and 7 April. They will be berthed in Jack London Square and hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show.
Positions at 1200 UTC, Thursday 22 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2,132nm
2 Singapore - 2,206nm (+74nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2,318nm (+186nm)
4 Qingdao - 2,335nm (+203nm)
5 New York - 2,336nm (+204nm)
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,344nm (+212nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,358nm (+226nm)
8 Visit Finland - 2,381nm (+249nm)
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,398nm (+266nm)
10 De Lage Landen - 2,401nm (+269nm)
*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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3:05 PM Thu 22 Mar 2012GMT
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