Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
An eventful 24 hours has seen some of the yachts having to take evasive action to avoid icebergs in their path and Gold Coast Australia reach the Southern Ocean Scoring Gate first.
It is unusual to see icebergs as far north as 45 degrees south, especially at this time of year, but yesterday at just after midday UTC De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, emailed the rest of the fleet and the Race Office to advise, 'We have just spotted two very large icebergs around one mile south of position 44 48.93S 049 46.88E, they are barely visible on radar.'
Assistant Race Director, Justin Taylor, immediately issued an advisory to the yachts to avoid the area.
Huge chunks of ice break away from the Antarctic as the spring thaw begins and the ‘bergy bits’ or ‘growlers’ as they are also known, can drift with the winds and currents. It is something the teams will also be made aware of at the beginning of their final Atlantic crossing in the closing stages of the race next June – the equivalent season in the northern hemisphere when the Arctic ice cap begins to splinter as the weather warms.
'We felt very privileged to have seen them, but it also reminds you of the hazards of sailing in these remote waters. So it was a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on emergency procedures and reminds us why we carry out our frequent safety checks,' comments Stuart.
The move north, particularly for Gold Coast Australia who reached the Scoring Gate and crossed it at its most southerly point at 0539 UTC, has brought a little respite from the bone numbing cold the crews have been contending with.
'We are back on our great circle route track, heading east towards Australia and morale is high this morning,' reports skipper, Richard Hewson. 'Not only because we have reached the Scoring Gate first, but also because temperatures have soared to a balmy 11C which is more than twice as hot as the temperature we have been experiencing for the last few days.'
Being first to the Scoring Gate is 'a massive victory for Gold Coast Australia after battling with the elements for the last few days and then having to run north to reach it without a spinnaker in very moderate winds and large seas with the rest of the fleet catching us at a rate too close for comfort,' continues the Tasmanian yachtsman.
For the front runners the next big challenge from the weather will be a cold front from the west, surmises Richard. 'I am expecting this front to be quite windy so we will be once again battening down the hatches and holding on whilst we fly east towards Australia.'
New York races away from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
New York looks set to be next to reach the Scoring Gate and claim two bonus points but skipper, Gareth Glover, has his mind on the long game and is far from complacent, saying, 'We now have just over 50nm to go before the gate and all focus is on getting some points. As Gold Coast Australia is coming back up from the south and we have De Lage Landen close on our tail there is still work to be done to keep in the top five yachts.'
New York’s crew have managed to repair their mast track and have been able to hoist a spinnaker again.
De Lage Landen is also on course for a bonus point, according to Stuart, who says, 'The sailing has been wonderful over the last 24 hours, with about 15 knots of wind behind us and a gentle swell. This afternoon we should also pass the Scoring Gate, which is another milestone in the trip.'
Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie, reports, 'Ahead of us is the Scoring Gate but from our current fourth place we will not score any points but we will carry on for it in case any of the teams ahead miss it or have a problem.
'It has been a tense night of watching the radar and keeping a keen look out. After receiving the ice report from De Lage Landen and the advice from the Race Office I looked at our options. If we gybed north our path would have taken us straight through the reported position of the ice so I decided to carry on east leaving the reported position well to the north of us. We slowed down our speed to seven to eight knots to give us time to keep a good look out and I briefed the crew as to what to look for and refreshed all our safety procedures.'
'I reckon I owe him a beer,' says a thankful Rupert Dean, Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper. 'The course we were sailing at the time would have unwittingly led us straight into their path 35 miles away. Thanks Stuart.'
Welcome to Yorkshire altered course to avoid the two 50-metre icebergs.
'The decision was an easy one to take, as it ensured a timely and substantial alteration of course away from the danger,' says Rupert. 'It was made even easier the fact that it was getting dark and the knowledge that icebergs are notoriously difficult to pick up on radar. At times like this, one has to remember that the safety of the boat and the crew is paramount, even if it does affect the short term outcome of the race. For sure our gybe to the north-east has cost us a place to Geraldton Western Australia and miles to the majority of the fleet.
'At daybreak this morning Welcome to Yorkshire turned back to head east, securing us better VMG (Velocity Made Good – simply put, speed in the correct direction) and the ability to fight back the miles lost last night. The immediate danger is now well behind us, but we are primed and vigilant in our lookout for any icebergs that may come our way. With around 2,000 miles behind us and over 3,000 miles to go in this beautiful Southern Ocean leg, the boats are still so amazingly close. There truly is everything to play for.'
No further icebergs have been sighted since De Lage Landen called in the report but perhaps Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper might have a better view when he heads up the 89-foot mast today to run a new spinnaker halyard.
Gordon Reid explains, 'Yesterday we had been flying our medium weight spinnaker and been doing rather nicely when we had a visit from our arch enemy, the chafe monster. This time our spinnaker halyard snapped sending our kite in the icy cold Southern Ocean. We wrestled it back on board, a quick inspection and no damage sustained… so all good!'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital had turned to steer further north and way from the dangers of ice and sea fog last night when, says Gordon, 'who should appear on our AIS but the good ship Derry-Londonderry. It was good to see our fellow ocean racers out here in the vast wilderness. We exchanged pleasantries and are now sailing a parallel course to catch the rest of the fleet.'
Derry-Londonderry races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, says his team are also maintaining a vigilant watch on radar and also, as he puts it, with their 'best equipment on board – the Mark 1 Eyeball! The two large bergs were spotted exactly at our current latitude and directly to the east of us. Ice is unusual this far north but clearly does exist. We have since altered our course slightly to the North.'
The Northern Ireland team sustained some damage to their mainsail earlier in the week so, says the skipper, the forecast conditions will suit them.
'There is another depression coming in tonight which will give us strong northerly winds and the all-too-familiar Southern Ocean waves, this time on the beam, so we should have some pretty exhilarating power reaching conditions. This will suit us on Derry-Londonderry as we are still unable to hoist our full mainsail due to damage sustained earlier in this race and we are well up for doing battle with the next Southern Ocean challenge!'
Singapore’s crew are also attacking the remainder of this race with renewed vigour, according to skipper Ben Bowley, whose team is now closing in rapidly on Welcome to Yorkshire.
He explains, 'Having spent a fairly sedate morning yesterday we had a bit of a chat about performance. The cold weather seems to be having a very detrimental effect on the crews' energy levels and that had started to impact on our performance. We discussed the importance of remaining active to keep the blood flowing and the need to keep setting short term targets (such as getting past Geraldton Western Australia) to keep us focused and always in the right gear.'
Maintaining focus on these long ocean races is crucial – but it is not easy and Singapore will not be the first team, professional or amateur, to have found themselves in a position where attention drifts. No other sport demands so much concentration for such extended periods of time. A tennis match might last several hours; a Formula 1 race is over in a couple; cricket Test matches, although five days long, are only in play between 11am and 6pm – and then, in most civilised fashion, they break for lunch and tea and the players can get a decent night’s sleep. But ocean racing is relentless: 24 hours a day, working in four hour shifts, freezing, boiling, soaking wet, pummelled by waves or becalmed, thrown around in your bunk, sleep interrupted for any number of reasons. Physically and mentally this is an extreme sport.
'Our little pep-talk seemed to have the desired effect and in the latter part of the day yesterday we ran with our Vicky, (the heavyweight spinnaker) making some good progress to the east,' continues Ben. 'As the evening wore on I was delighted that it was the crew and not I that suggested a semi-peel to the lightweight in an effort to glean every last knot out of the dying breeze.
'Although there were a few complications with the change we ended up getting our undamaged, virginal lightweight kite up and saw the boat speed rise significantly. The evening went off pretty well with only the smallest of wraps in the wee hours of this morning to disturb my slumber! Even that was rectified before I could get dressed and on deck.
'The results have been clear, we have started to claw back some miles again, the general attitude aboard is more energised and there is a real desire to reel in the boats in front and get ourselves up to the top five at least.'
Olly Osborne and his team, who are currently lying second overall in Clipper 11-12, equal on points with Singapore but ahead by virtue of their greater number of higher ranked finishes, will take comfort in Ben’s comments after their own setbacks which have dampened spirits on board somewhat.
Visit Finland races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
'On Visit Finland we have been enjoying a long spinnaker run through the lighter airs,' comments Olly. 'Our recently rebuilt heavyweight kite made an appearance for its first hoist yesterday afternoon and happily it remained in one piece.
'The repair work held up to the conditions and although it looks a bit like something from The Rocky Horror Show I am confident that it will be usable up to similar wind speeds as it used to be. A small celebration was held at lunchtime to mark the hoist after the many hours of work that we have all put into it. This went some way towards lifting morale and I hope will get everyone back into the racing spirit. Any progress up the leader board will be a massive boost and this is now my whole focus.'
Geraldton Western Australia, racing for their home port, have had a spot of bother with a spinnaker as well, according to crew member, Tom Way.
'We went for what would be our third kite hoist of the leg unfortunately, during the hoist as the kite made its way up the mast it wrapped itself around the inner forestay. Ian (Geraghty) was wearing the harness at the time and was dispatched up the rig in an attempt to unwrap the halyards. To begin with things did not go well… The halyards that Ian was being hoisted on were adding to the bird’s nest which was developing further with every wave which rocked the boat. After some impressive aerial acrobatics which involved spinning around the forestay a good few times and a very short inversion, he managed to clear it and made his way back down to the deck. The kite was then re-hoisted and we were off surfing down waves at a constant 11+ knots. This continued throughout the day with the wind gusting up and down providing the odd challenge for the helmsman.'
In between the fleet and the finish line at Geraldton Western Australia lies the Ocean Sprint, a time trial between longitudes 90 east and 95 east. The fastest team to cross the stretch of ocean – approximately 300 miles – will win a further bonus point.
The yachts are due to arrive in the City of Greater Geraldton between 29 and 31 October. Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 15 October Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2,926nm
2 New York - 2,973nm (+47nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 3,005nm (+79nm)
4 Qingdao - 3,063nm (+137nm)
5 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,090nm (+165nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,113nm (+187nm)
7 Singapore - 3,143nm (+208nm) (position at 0600)
8 Derry-Londonderry - 3,249nm (+324nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,256nm (+331nm)
10 Visit Finland - 3,293nm (+367nm)
*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