Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
As the teams approach the Ocean Sprint, conditions are proving challenging due to a massive high pressure system sitting right in their path.
The fastest team to cover the distance between 90 and 95 degrees east will receive an extra bonus point, regardless of their position relative to the rest of the fleet. Gold Coast Australia is set to be the first boat to start the Ocean Sprint, but with the contest judged on elapsed time, any of the ten teams is in with a chance of bagging the extra point.
A massive high pressure system akin to the big Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters is now sitting right over the fleet bringing with it light and fluffy conditions. Meteorologist Simon Rowell said the zone of high pressure should be on or very close to the fleet by now. 'Its centre should go generally eastwards before seeming to stall. There'll be a lot of hard work going on in the next few days to get past it,' Simon said.
Mark Light and his team on Derry-Londonderry are planning to take advantage of the light airs to repair their mainsail which was damaged earlier in this race. The team is currently sailing with a reef to protect the damaged section, which would prove a major handicap in lighter airs.
'We know that we are going to get light winds later today as the large high pressure system moves eastwards over us and this is the perfect time to repair our mainsail,' Mark said, adding that he had been reluctant to slow the boat for repairs and risk losing mileage to the rest of the fleet when they had wind.
'We have all the plans and materials in place so providing we have no significant precipitation then we will set to work with an array of sticky back Dacron tape, spare sail cloth, Sikaflex, scissors, a kettle full of boiling water and a hair dryer,' Mark explained.
'Big gains could be made and lots of miles and places will be won and lost in the next 12 days. One thing’s for sure, after today, we will be in better shape physically to start racing again and, being near the back of the fleet at the moment, we have nothing to lose,' Mark said.
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
On New York, skipper Gareth Glover reports that his team has had a day of 'mixed fortunes'.
'As the weather calmed down, we were caught in the lower winds at the edge of the high that decided to swing a little more south,' he said, adding that his team had made good use of the light conditions to dry clothing and repair their damaged medium weight kite which is laid out down below.
'It was almost evening before we were south enough to pick up enough breeze to start moving faster. Now the scramble is on amongst boats to move south to find winds and the final approach strategy for Geraldton is still anyone's guess,' Gareth added.
On Qingdao, Ian Conchie and his team have managed to recover the final remnants of their medium weight spinnaker after numerous trips up the inner forestay over the last 36 hours.
'I’ve never heard a crew cheer when a ripped piece of spinnaker comes down before but after all the hard work and trips up the mast it was such a relief to get it down and reset everything back to normal on the boat,' Ian said.
'We then spent the night under full main and Yankee 1 before hoisting the kite and then pointed the boat towards Geraldton and the finish for the first time in many days,' he added.
Ian said he hoped that his team’s move south will allow them to make back some of the ground they have lost. 'The challenge for us as a crew is rebuild our confidence and get the boat speed back up to give a quick safe passage to the finish and a well deserved beer,' he said.
Just three miles behind Qingdao, Geraldton Western Australia is battling with variable light winds.
'We are still in a tussle with Qingdao and Singapore and the crew is working hard. They now able to do a spinnaker hoist, headsail drop and hoist of the anti-wrap net in less than 20 min so happy days,' skipper, Juan Coetzer, said.
'Our main aim is to keep the boat moving and the light airs give us some time to do some housekeeping,' he added.
Richard Hewson and his team on Gold Coast Australia have been enjoying some sunshine as they continue to stay ahead of the rest of the fleet and the looming high pressure system. However, Richard reports that they are not making as good progress as expected due to choppy seas and confused swell which are making steering difficult.
'We are sailing very conservatively at the moment as we know we will need our spinnaker, pole and mast track when conditions become suitable to head north,' Richard said.
'On our run up from the Southern Ocean and up the west coast of Australia lighter winds from the south are predicted, and being without a spinnaker in those conditions would cost us a lot of time,' he added.
Richard said that although his team’s speeds had not been as good as they could be, they still have enough speed to stay ahead of the pack until the 'critical moment' when they turn north.
'The cold and the grey of the Southern Ocean is not taking away from the incredible rugged beauty of this desolate place and everybody is definitely making the most of this unique experience that few have the pleasure to enjoy,' he said.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
The crew on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital found themselves too close to the high pressure system overnight and experienced testing wind shifts.
Skipper Gordon Reid said he is finding the Southern Ocean weather patterns more 'frustrating than fascinating'.
'Last night we continued on a north easterly course with a view to coming up behind the south easterly moving high pressure system, carefully watching the barometer so as not to get too near it's centre and the light winds,' Gordon reports.
'Unfortunately, for a couple of hours we found ourselves a bit closer then we wanted to be as a result of our quicker pace overnight. We watched with frustration as the wind shifted first from the south west then back to the north west,' he added.
'So for now on the Purple Beastie we’ll be watching the weather patterns very carefully and doing whatever it takes to keep her moving as fast as possible towards Geraldton in this very exciting Southern Ocean race,' Gordon said.
On Singapore, skipper Ben Bowley reports that he is 'absolutely gutted' after dealing with what he describes as the worst wrap that he has ever seen. He said that after moving up into fifth position last night, he heard the call for 'All hands!' on deck after their heavyweight kite became detached from the shackle at the tack end.
'The next 12 hours were rather busy and fraught aboard Singapore. Within two minutes it was wrapped around the forestay, inner forestay, pole uphaul, pole downhaul and the port shrouds,' Ben said.
A lengthy operation resulted in the spinnaker being freed from the pole, the forestay and the shrouds. The remainder of the sail was twisted into a big sausage and secured with the uphaul overnight until first light when watch leader and chief rigger, Will Parbury, climbed the mast to free the upper part of the sail.
'After four hours up the rig and much jiggling of halyards, the remnants of the sail slid down the inner forestay and down the hatch,' Ben said.
'Top marks to Will as without his sterling efforts and tirade of profanities from 70 feet aloft, I'm sure we would be sailing the rest of our 2,000 nautical miles to Geraldton under mainsail alone,' he said.
'This only goes to illustrate how one tiny piece of equipment failure, through no fault of anyone, can have such long reaching ramifications on a team's performance. We now have to face the very real prospect of sailing the rest of the way to Geraldton under white sails alone,' Ben said.
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
Just behind Singapore, Olly Osborne on Visit Finland has his sights set firmly on the leading boats after recovering from extensive damage earlier in the race.
'Having made some fantastic distances over the last few days the approaching high pressure is resulting in a bit of head scratching in the nav station, but as the sea state becomes unusually calm we are enjoying some light airs spinnaker sailing,' Olly said.
In order to make up ground on the leaders, Olly is aware that his team needs to employ some slightly different tactics, and his crew are doing all they can to help.
Finnish crew member, Pekka Granroth, has come up with a novel way of mulling over the tactical options by starting a new tradition of baking a 'navigation cake' whenever there is a decision to be made.
'It is usually a chocolate sponge cake with the continents and Great Circle route marked out in M&Ms, and we had a particularly good one yesterday with the Kerguelen Islands complete with penguins! This helps us to see the lie of the land and then we eat it at our lunchtime meeting. It’s a good opportunity to share ideas, and a very pleasant way to, quite literally, chew over the various options,' Olly said.
On De Lage Landen, Stuart Jackson and his team have nibbled just over 20 miles out of Gold Coast Australia’s lead and repairs following last week’s battering are well underway.
'Slowly but surely the yacht is being returned to her former glory,' Stuart reports. 'Whilst the sail repair team is sewing their way through the kite, the remaining crew is racing the boat into what seems to be the beginning of the high pressure system.'
'Now the pressure is on to make the best out of these challenging conditions that are awaiting us over the next couple of days,' he said.
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
Although Welcome to Yorkshire had maintained a clean sheet as far as damage was concerned this leg, Rupert Dean reports that they have joined the ranks of the sail damage victims after ripping their medium weight spinnaker in two.
'All of the skippers are, by now, learning the value of looking after our sails and kit. After all, they are meant to last us the whole way around the world. Obviously worn kit will fail from time to time, taking all by surprise but, in the main, we are living by the value of trying not to push our boats or crew to 100 percent in order to leave some slack in reserve,' Rupert said.
'As the saying goes, 'sometimes to go fast, first you must go slow'. Another is, 'to finish first, first you must finish',' Rupert said.
Having held the medium weight to the limit of the sailmaker’s recommended wind strength, Rupert admits that he should have changed down before the damage occurred and is left questioning why they didn’t.
'Well, we had been making great speed, the crew and sail had been handling it and it was forecast that the wind velocity would decrease. I suspect the cold had a say too, for it saps the energy levels and clear thinking of all on board, especially in the early hours,' he said.
From this weekend, Discovery has confirmed that it will start screening Against the Tide, the television series about Clipper 09-10, on Discovery, Discovery HD and their +1 counterparts with the first episode scheduled to go out on Sunday 23 October at 6pm.
Discovery World across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) has also been screening the series on Tuesday evenings (times may vary in different territories) and this Saturday 22 October the whole series screens back-to-back on Discovery World throughout EMEA from 0835 to 1355 BST. Check local schedules for further information. Positions at 0900 UTC, Friday 21 October Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,631nm
2 De Lage Landen - 1,702nm (+71nm DTL**)
3 New York - 1,763nm (+132nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,789nm (+158nm)
5 Qingdao - 1,861nm (+230nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,864nm (+233nm)
7 Singapore - 1,904nm (+273nm)
8 Visit Finland - 2,009nm (+378nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry - 2,072nm (+441nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,114nm (+483nm)
*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