Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
Gold Coast Australia extended the lead overnight as the majority of the fleet headed south to search out the prevailing westerly winds to power them to Western Australia.
Skipper, Richard Hewson, said his team had a logged a 'very nice run' over the past 24 hours as the warmth of the Agulhas Current mixed with 'gusty but fresh' south easterly winds.
The warm Agulhas Current is the fastest flowing current in the world after the Gulf Stream. One of its branches surges through the passageway between Mozambique and Madagascar and flows from south and west from the Indian Ocean. When the wind shifts and blows from the west and southwest against the current very large waves form.
Historically this posed a hazard for Portuguese sailors attempting to sail from the South Atlantic and round the tip of Africa, and seafarers today are still aware of the risks associated with the powerful stream as it passes over the broad shallow part of the southern African continental shelf known as the Agulhas Bank.
'Whilst the Agulhas Current has been hindering our progress towards the east for the past few days it has been making living down below very pleasant with the internal central heating that is controlled by the water surrounding the hull remaining a very constant 24.5 degrees,' Richard said.
With the sea temperature set to drop to around 14 degrees as they dive further south, Richard said his crew is making the most of the comfortable conditions whilst they last.
'Hopefully over the next few days we’ll be in the westerly winds of the Southern Ocean. Then sailing to windward will be a thing of the past and running and surfing will become the norm,' Richard said.
De Lage Landen appears to be covering Gold Coast Australia, as the north easterly duo head south. Skipper Stuart Jackson said he was waiting to see whether choosing to staying north to avoid the high had paid off.
'We are now just waiting to see if our plan of staying north to avoid the high has given us any advantage over the southern yachts, or whether they are enjoying good speed with flatter seas, only time will tell,' Stuart said.
The last 24 hours haven’t been drama-free on the Dutch boat, as Stuart reports that his helm suddenly found that despite having a firm grip on the wheel it was suddenly rendered useless when it became detached from the boat.
'We thought things were going a little too easily, with a little sea sickness being the worst thing. That was until the boat hoved to and someone shouted that the wheel had come off,' Stuart said.
Having experienced steering problems in the last race, the De Lage Landen team was well-versed in the routine and promptly switched to the back-up steering, one of the drills practiced during the rigorous training that all Clipper crews undergo.
'We formulated a plan and about four hours later we were back with a wheel in place,' Stuart reported, adding that they had celebrated crew member Rupert’s birthday with a cake baked on board.
Qingdao in the Parade of Sail in Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
On Qingdao, the most southerly of the fleet, skipper Ian Conchie said that yesterday he made the decision to tack south to try and get into the westerlies
'Until this morning the decision was looking good as were powering south east doing 12 knots. Unfortunately the wind has now deserted us and left us creeping along hunting for more breeze. Hopefully, we will break through this light patch today and find some good wind,' Ian said.
Meanwhile, Geraldton Western Australia is engaged in a close fight with Qingdao for third position with just one mile separating the teams and the two switching places from one position report to the next.
Juan Coetzer and his crew will be hoping that their southerly position will give them the advantage over Gold Coast Australia and De Lage Landen to move yet further up the leader board.
'The crew has been doing well as we travel on towards our home port of Geraldton. Our motto is trim, trim, trim,' he said.
Juan added that his team had experienced the effects of the Agulhas Current noting that the counter current hampered progress yesterday limiting their boat speed to only four to six knots despite wind speeds of 24 knots.
'As we sailed into deep water, our boat speed improved, but the winds went light and fluky,' he added.
On New York, skipper Gareth Glover has also been feeling the full force of the Agulhas Current coupled with frustrating head winds.
'We’ve been fighting the current for a long time with the current cutting our boat speed almost in half,' he said.
'We have been in head winds for the last two days with nowhere to go with a big area of high pressure sitting to the south of us and the Agulhas Current to the east,' he said.
'The lead boats seem to be headed due east to avoid the high but all of us will have to turn south at some point and get to the westerlies,' he said.
'As we struggle with getting through the band of high pressure, it is allowing the boats behind us to catch up, so this is looking like anybody's game at the moment,' he said.
Visit Finland has managed to move up into sixth place this morning, overhauling Mark Light and his crew on Derry-Londonderry.
Skipper Olly Osborne said it had been a 'challenging' 24 hours on the Finnish boat.
'We’ve had to modify plans to suit unexpected wind shifts and confused and difficult seas, but the boat speed is back up now and we watch eagerly at each sched to see how the tactical picture is unfolding,' he said.
'The weather is still proving to be quite a challenge as the breeze seems to fluctuate wildly in speed and direction making the helmsman's job tricky,' Olly added.
Olly said the warm sea temperature, currently reported be 23 degrees Celsius, is a sign that they are in the Agulhas Current.
'The latest positions show that the boats in the fleet are making some very different routing choices, as those to the north skirt round the shallower waters, and those to the south take a less direct journey in search of the prevailing westerlies,' he added.
Mark Light said that his team on Derry-Londonderry had been experiencing some 'very strange' sea conditions.
'Having cleared the notorious Agulhas Bank to the south, we have entered a patch of water where the swell is huge with very little wind,' he said.
'The swell knocks all the wind out of our headsails and if the helm gets it wrong we literally fall off the end of one of the many large waves with a sickening crash,' Mark added.
With the challenging local conditions off the coast of South Africa, the teams will be looking forward to getting into the traditional westerlies and the west-running Southern Ocean Current that will help their progress to the finish line off Geraldton.
Ben Bowley reports that it has been another challenging 24 hours on Singapore.
'We’ve seen our position fall to the lowest yet since we left Southampton and this has been a fairly tough pill to swallow. The tricky part to deal with is that it is through no fault of our own and once again we have been at the mercy of the wind gods. We have at least pulled back some miles on the boats ahead as they have obviously sailed into light and fickle conditions too,' he said.
'The mood onboard is good, but with a grim determination to keep the boat moving as fast as we possibly can, ensuring the boat is in the right gear at all times and tackling all the evolutions with zeal and gusto to minimise the time taken,' Ben said, adding that variable conditions have resulted in numerous sail changes and regular reefing action.
Welcome to Yorkshire races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
On Welcome to Yorkshire, some 63 miles ahead of Ben and his team, backing winds have forced the English team to sail in a more easterly direction over the Agulhas Bank.
'Fortunately, with the wind only being a force five on the Beaufort scale, the seas were relatively small in this notoriously rough area. However, it was notable how confused the sea state was, so it was with much relief that we were able to tack south once the wind backed further to the south east,' skipper, Rupert Dean, said.
'Our new tack initially allowed us to make good speed over the ground assisted, in no small part, by a knot of Agulhas Current,' he said.
Overnight, Rupert reported that 'confused seas, a large swell from the south and variable winds ranging from nine to 21 apparent wind speed with 40 degree changes in direction' made for very uncomfortable progress.
'The conditions made helming and trimming very challenging but thankfully it has stabilised a little more now,' he said.
The race is on to stay ahead of the area of high pressure on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital as they sail out of the reach of the detrimental Agulhas Current. Skipper Gordon Reid said he hoped that his team could stay ahead of the high for long enough to reach the edge of the low underneath it.
'Our objective is to go south and into the westerlies, but according to synoptic charts were receive there is another massive area of high pressure being squeezed towards us,' Gordon said.
Gordon added that his team was focusing on going 'as fast as possible' in pursuit of the fleet.
'It's still a long way to go until Geraldton and fortunes come and go in the game of ocean racing,' he said. Positions at 1200 UTC, Saturday 8 October Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 4,358nm
2 De Lage Landen - 4,404nm (+46nm DTL**)
3 Qingdao - 4,416nm (+58nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia - 4,417nm (+59nm)
5 New York - 4,422nm (+64nm)
6 Visit Finland - 4,473nm (+115nm)
7 Derry-Londonderry - 4,476nm (+118nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 4,494nm (+136nm)
9 Singapore - 4,557nm (+199nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 4,583nm (+225nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish. **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found here
. Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website