Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 third leg from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
As race four reaches the halfway stage, the skippers and navigators of the 10-strong fleet will be scratching their heads as they ponder their next move, as a high pressure system stands between them and their goal of Geraldton, Western Australia.
'Conditions for the fleet have moderated somewhat, since the gale a couple days ago. There are now two high pressure cells of light winds to contend with,' reports Welcome to Yorkshire skipper, Rupert Dean.
'At this stage of the race, both rhumb line and Great Circle courses demand an east north east course from all of us, to do otherwise compromises our VMG (Velocity Made Good) to Geraldton. However it is not as simple as that, according to our GRIB files, following either track over the next few days could result in light winds,' continues Rupert.
After experiencing the harsh Southern Ocean conditions earlier this week, the race to Western Australia looks set to turn into a tactical battle as the fleet pick their course hoping to pip their rivals to the finish line.
'Headwinds are forecast just north of the rhumb line, this is why you have seen so many of the fleet stay resolutely south or dive even further down. We on Welcome to Yorkshire are one of those, gybing our medium weight kite onto starboard gybe yesterday evening, before reaching with the Yankee 1 and staysail for a few hours.
'The question is this, for how much longer do you hold your southing at the expense of VMG? The longer you do so, the more expensive it becomes. Going north too early, however, risks lighter winds and being outflanked by your competitors. Time will tell.'
'This race can be anyone’s to win,' declares New York skipper, Gareth Glover.
'The high which is going to block any easy way to get to Geraldton is going to stop the fleet in its tracks and gives the guys behind a few days to gain on the leaders with over 2,000 miles to race,' the American entry’s skipper predicts.
'After a good few days of racing and making up good miles on Gold Coast Australia and De Lage Landen, this morning saw New York nearly 100nm behind Gold Coast Australia and only a few miles in front of De Lage Landen, with Qingdao and Welcome to Yorkshire hot on our heels.
'Up to now we had all three kites in one piece. We now have our medium weight spinnaker in a few more pieces, we were flying our medium in 10 knots of wind way under its maximum wind strength limits when we saw gusts of up to 25 knots hit us. With the helm and trimmers not ready for this down came the medium weight in a few more parts then it when up in... So we can add this to our now fast becoming long list of things to repair!'
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
Also reporting after an eventful 24 hours is Qingdao skipper Ian Conchie, who found himself involved in the thick of the action after a kite wrap.
'After the heavy weather passed we started getting the boat up to speed and by last night we were flying along under the medium kite. In the early hours of this morning we decided to drop the kite as the wind was building.
'Unfortunately as with all things the problem started with one small problem in that the guy jammed, next thing we knew we had an almighty kite wrap. This required a trip up the mast to try to clear, which is exciting at the best of times. Mark went up and managed to free the halyards but unfortunately lost his grip when a big wave hit, swinging him all the way round the rig,' explains the Chinese entry’s skipper.
'After this we had to change halyards to lower him safely but unfortunately his control line (to stop him swinging) broke, causing him to swing from side to side violently. One swing he came my way and managed to wipe me out giving me a nice nose bleed all over the deck! Seven hours later and we managed to recover most of the kite and began racing again, but unfortunately we lost a lot of time drifting around with no sails up which has cost us dearly.'
With over 2,000 nautical miles to Geraldton, Ian and his Qingdao crew will hope to hold off the challenge from Geraldton Western Australia and make up their lost ground on Welcome to Yorkshire.
Meanwhile on board Singapore, spinnaker issues have also occurred as the crew continue their fight up the leader board.
'Yesterday morning found us hoisting our heavy spinnaker and starting to head back a little north of east as we had been set quite south overnight. As today progressed the wind became progressively lighter and backed round as expected, this necessitated a gybe just after dark which was going swimmingly well right up until the strop connecting the new working guy to the sheet parted,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley.
'Luckily the wind was not to strong and we were able to drop the kite swiftly with a minimal amount of fuss. This served to reinforce why we try to do the more complex evolutions around the time of watch change to maximise the number of crew on deck for just such an eventuality. The next 20 minutes made me extremely proud of my crew, with barely a word of direction from myself the deck was reset for a hoist, spare sheet rigged, kite wooled and packed, passed on deck and re-hoisted.
'The Clipper Race now represents the greatest collection of boats and associate crew in this part of the world, no one else being crazy enough to venture down here!'
Currently in seventh position behind Geraldton Western Australia and in front of Derry-Londonderry, Ben hopes the conditions will see his team make gains on the pack ahead.
'There are big gains and losses to be made and from our mid-fleet position I for one am excited about the potential shake up of the leading pack. A lot will depend on the accuracy of the forecasts. Time to roll the dice once more and let the wind gods decide who's been good and who needs punishing again.'
Still savouring the steady calm of the Southern Ocean are the crew of Geraldton Western Australia, who‘s skipper swapped recent war stories with their closest rivals.
'A happy days sailing, all the crew had showers, a good rest and we’re ready to make up some ground on Singapore,' reports skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'We converged last night and have been hot on their tails. It was nice to have a chat to Ben, to hear and exchange tall stories of the weather system we both had encountered and how much wind they had. The spinnaker went up this morning at first light and we are making good ground towards Geraldton,' continues Juan, as his team move into sixth place.
'Which is shorter and which is faster the rhumb line or the Great Circle route?' contemplates Gordon Reid, skipper of the only Scottish entry in the Clipper Race.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
'The good ship Edinburgh Inspiring Capital continues on our flyer south staying just below the Great Circle route and attempting to stay on the edge of the approaching low and below the double high forming to the north.
'We still have a steady force four/five from the south west and are not quite ready to start heading north but we will soon. Down here approaching 47 degrees south it is seriously chilly, so my advice to the crew is dress for freezing cold then put an extra layer on!' continues Gordon.
'In this extreme environment things get broken, we can't just leave it or ask someone else to fix it so today we had a visit from Bob the Builder, when Bob has a problem what does he say 'Can we fix it? ... Yes we can!' No is never an option, not here, not ever!
'Despite the minor problems, the crew are all still fully focused and they are taking good care of the Purple Beastie our oasis in the vast wilderness of the Southern Ocean.'
Current front runner, Gold Coast Australia are also assessing their next move as they look to maintain their lead with New York and De Lage Landen following in hot pursuit.
'The high pressure system which is blocking our path to Geraldton will make navigation decisions very important in the final parts of race four. While it would be fantastic to sail north around the western edge of the high, there is a high pressure ridge blocking the way there too. It seems we are surrounded by the weather and have no choice but to skirt around enemy lines hoping for a breakthrough in the coming days. Every morning we wait with fingers crossed as the latest weather information is sent to us hoping that the high has moved on or reformed into a more predictable system,' says skipper, Richard Hewson.
'Gold Coast Australia has been good to us, as she has received more of a pounding over the last few days than in the first three races put together and is looking forward to some love and maintenance on her arrival in Geraldton,' continues the yachtsman from Tasmania, as he closes in on his native Australia.
'This morning I saw the first signs of approaching Australian waters with the first mutton birds flying around the boat on their migration south. In summer time in the areas of Southern Australia flocks of these birds can almost make the sky black as they fly overhead, but this morning I only saw one or two who have decided to make the trip early or who have been blown off their original course.'
Meanwhile currently in third position is De Lage Landen, skippered by Stuart Jackson, who is predicting a tight finish.
'I really think that this could still be anyone's race and can envisage lots of frustrated people screaming at the Race Viewer at home. If only all that energy could be channelled into boat speed!
'As always with sailing there are never many dull moments and today has been no exception. During the night, obviously as all problems occur in total darkness, our spinnaker decided that it had done enough work and tore from head to foot. We quickly dropped and the spinnaker came down in two pieces, due to the guy not running this put extra pressure on the tapes until they finally gave up,' explains Stuart, skipper of the Clipper Race’s first Dutch entry.
'Only hours before this happening, the off watch was saying how it was nice during their afternoon watch to be doing some general running repairs, so they had something else to concentrate on than just sailing and hanging on. Now they definitely have a new focus!
During the Clipper Race, each team has a repairs budget of £500. Once this is reached a penalty point is incurred to their overall race tally and their cost is reset to £0, introduced to instil good seamanship skills in each crew member.
'Upon inspection, although it is a large tear it is relatively straight forward. All those who attended the sail repair course can now put what they learnt into action. A few crew were disappointed as they were hoping to get around the world with no major sail repairs, I had to smile at their optimism!'
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
Also lamenting over damage is Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.
'A steady day yesterday but not a good one for us. When the wind was right we hoisted our medium weight spinnaker, always keeping in mind the weakness in our mast track and monitoring the weather closely. As soon as the sail popped open we could feel the boat speed increase and we glided along in lovely conditions at a much improved 11 knots.
'The spinnaker had only been up for 30 minutes when the wind picked up without warning and the boat took off on a surf of 17.5 knots. I was on the helm at the time and although exhilarated called for a quick drop to avoid damage, this was executed very quickly and all was well,' explains Mark.
'We hoisted our Yankee 2 and set about dismantling the spinnaker pole. To my dismay, somebody shouted back that the spinnaker pole beak end had broken again. This leaves us in a very compromised position of not being able to fly a spinnaker at the moment and also not being able to hoist our full main due to previous damage. I am sure that we will come up with a solution but right now it is a very disappointing situation that we find ourselves in. I hope we see a change of fortunes before very long.'
Looking to pinch Derry-Londonderry’s eighth position is Visit Finland after making gains on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital overnight.
'Our focus now is to sail to the best of our ability to claw back some ground on the rest of the fleet.
A podium position is probably not on the cards for us this time, but Visit Finland is back up to speed and the race is still young,' says skipper, Olly Osborne.
'With the weather now moderating the crew are now enjoying a quick respite from the Roaring of the Forties and we have been enjoying some great starlit spinnaker sailing overnight.
'Passing north of the Kerguelen Islands today marks the halfway milestone in this leg and there is a new sense of optimism on board.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 19 October:
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1975nm* 0nm**
2 New York - 2065nm 94nm
3 De Lage Landen - 2071nm 95nm
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2153nm 178nm
5 Qingdao - 2200nm 225nm
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 2212nm 225nm
7 Singapore - 2216nm 241nm
8 Derry-Londonderry - 2358nm 383nm
9 Visit Finland - 2369nm 394nm
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2390nm 415nm
*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