Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 third leg from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway. It’s all set for a nail biting final week of the fourth race as all of the teams make their move north towards the finish line.
The high pressure system, which has dominated proceedings in the last few days, is still influencing decisions of the tacticians on board the ten 68-foot ocean racing yachts and, according to meteorologist and winning skipper of the Clipper 2002 Race, Simon Rowell, it is likely to do so for a few more days as the centre of the high dissipates slowly.
While the rest of the fleet has opted to skirt around the high pressure system to the north, Gold Coast Australia is still the most southerly boat of the fleet having ventured beyond 47 degrees south in order to sail around the anticyclone. Will it be their undoing?
'As I said last week, this race is still anybody’s,' comments skipper Richard Hewson. 'Other boats are further to the north and will have more favourable wind for the remainder of the race to Geraldton.
'We still have the high pressure system to the north to deal with and have no option but to sail around the eastern edge; no doubt this will give the following fleet the advantage. The team on board Gold Coast Australia is working hard and trimming the boat to its fastest capacity with the wind available to try to maintain our lead whilst navigating around the high and hoping to pull the trump card at the finish.'
Richard reports the winds are very fluky making flying the spinnaker a risky choice overnight so they erred on the side of caution during the hours of darkness. They are also running a number of wind models in order to make their next tactical move.
'We have been comparing a number of different tactical navigation options for the remainder of the race and simulating a number of trial runs given various wind and course possibilities to minimise the time taken between our current location and Geraldton. Our new tactics are by no means a gamble and hopefully we can once again clear the table at the end of the race,' says the optimistic Tasmanian.
Gold Coast Australia races away from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
In the meantime Gold Coast Australia has set the benchmark for the race four Ocean Sprint, completing the distance between longitudes 90 and 95 degrees east in 27 hours 51 minutes and 13 seconds.
Three other teams have now followed them into the sprint zone. De Lage Landen must complete the distance before 1654.25 UTC today in order to best the Australian team’s time. New York crossed longitude 90 east at 2331.28 UTC last night while Welcome to Yorkshire did the same at 0327.46 UTC today with Qingdao entering the sprint at 0816.16. Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia are both likely to begin their Ocean Sprints later today.
A couple of teams have played their Stealth Mode cards to cloak their tactics as they make the turn towards their destination.
'The tactic was to make our turn north before the rest of the fleet as when you make this turn to the north makes a big impact on your DTF (distance to finish),' says Gareth Glover, skipper of New York. 'Over the last 24 hours we have seen our DTF and distance to the rest of the Clipper Race fleet get better; we’re getting a few more miles away from Welcome to Yorkshire and gaining on Gold Coast Australia and De Lage Landen so going into Stealth Mode has worked for us so far.
'But did we turn too early or too late? With Geraldton Western Australia in a good position further north I can see them heading up the leader board very fast and, with the high to the north still to negotiate, this race is far from over.'
New York’s engineers have been busy turning their two broken spinnaker poles into a single functioning one.
'With our repaired spinnaker pole on deck and the mid-weight kite being woolled as I write this, you can bet New York is going to give the leaders a hard fight to the end,' promises Gareth.
'Watching on the Race Viewer, friends and family had better be prepared for a nerve-wracking close finish,' warns De Lage Landen skipper, Stuart Jackson. 'With New York getting out of Stealth Mode and the boats west of us having some good speeds, it seems that everything is still to play for.
'The tactical move which led us to round the high pressure centre on starboard seems to have paid off. [Starboard tack: when the wind blows across the boat from the right hand side as you stand at the back looking towards the front of the boat.] As the wind eased, our progress became pretty small but after less than 24 hours we managed to pick up some decent wind which led us to gain a considerable amount of miles on our main competitors.'
Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
The battle for fourth place is developing into a gripping drama. Qingdao, Geraldton Western Australia, Singapore and Welcome to Yorkshire have been jockeying back and forth for some time but it may well be that their north west to south east alignment and position relevant to the high pressure system will prove to be the deciding factor. Will, as Gareth suggests, Geraldton Western Australia have the upper hand? And will it enable them to score the first home port victory since Clipper 07-08?
Skipper Juan Coetzer is giving nothing away – other than the change in the sea state. 'It is amazing how flat the sea is compared to last week’s mountainous swell. Looking at the GRIB files, the high pressure system is going to cover the whole fleet. The leaders have gone south hoping to skirt around the bottom and it looks like the back of the fleet are starting to head north. So what shall we do? We are having an adventure of a life time, working hard on the trim and trying to steer a straight course. Life is good.'
Both Ben Bowley on Singapore and Ian Conchie on Qingdao use the adjective ‘lovely’ to describe the conditions of the last 24 hours.
'The wind has filled in from the north and we are close reaching towards Australia,' reports Ian 'This morning we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and some lovely warming sunshine, the first we have had for many days, lifting the mood on board and making it feel like we are closing on Australia at last.'
Sail repair is underway on board the Chinese entry as David Hall, a Hong Kong based teacher, manages the task of piecing together Qingdao’s medium weight spinnaker. Manipulating a piece of fabric the size of a tennis court within the confines of a heeled-over 68-foot yacht is no mean feat but Ian is confident David and his team will have most of the work completed by the time they reach Geraldton.
The sail repairers are in something of a sticky situation on board Singapore, says skipper, Ben Bowley.
'I am fairly confident that we chose the correct moment to start our move to the north as we have had fairly consistent breeze on a fetch with flat water and sunshine to accompany them. It is also excellent to see that we have started to pull in some miles on the boats ahead, before long I'm sure that we shall be chasing down Welcome to Yorkshire once more. This is provided that the wind does not come so far aft that we require a spinnaker. We have hit a bit of a snag with our repairs in that we have run out of sticky backed Dacron. This leaves us with only our lightweight ready to fly. Fingers crossed that any wind from abaft the beam is very light! For now though we are enjoying the clear sky and glimmer of warmth from the elusive sun. You never know how long it will last down here in the barren wastes of the Southern Ocean!'
Welcome to Yorkshire’s team also hope they have picked the optimum moment to make their move north.
'With an enormous anticyclone stationed between us and Geraldton, allied to several smaller ones to boot, the decision when to turn has been a tough nut to crack,' says Rupert Dean. 'Strategically we've had to consider avoiding areas of high pressure to the north, be aware of the need to cover our rivals Qingdao, Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore close behind, whilst looking for opportunities to reduce New York's lead. We wanted to make the turn yesterday but, frustratingly had to contend with a day of very light winds which made both our desired course and speed impossible. Last night, however, we got our break and are now charging along under main, Yankee 2 and staysail.'
The skipper of the English entry continues, 'All our attention is now focussed on sailing as fast as we can along the shortest route to the finish. This morning we started our Ocean Sprint with Welcome to Yorkshire’s Duracell bunny, Stevie G, at the helm, but are unlikely to sail directly east for another five degrees [the straightest route from start to finish of the Ocean Sprint] as it will split us from the boats we wish to mark, increase our distance to Geraldton and, take us into an area of lighter winds.'
Race Director, Joff Bailey, has been studying conditions on the course and says, 'It looks like the winds may favour the boats at the back of the fleet.' So the back markers still have the opportunity to pick up a valuable bonus point.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
It’s been 'a blinding 24-hour run for Edinburgh Inspiring Capital,' reports skipper Gordon Reid. The battle is set to intensify between the Scottish, Northern Irish and Finnish teams.
'With a very close eye on the weather patterns and in particular the interaction of the secondary high with a small intense low squeezing its way through, the whole race is taking on an entirely different complexion,' Gordon continues.
'Our sail plan has been generous and we only had to reef for a short time overnight as the winds increased to 28 knots true. The wind is now backing as we ride up the western edge of the high pressure system, watching the barometer very closely to ensure we stay right of the edge, not too close and not too far away, staying right on right in the sweet spot!'
'Today we are enjoying some real champagne sailing as the boat cuts along on a fine reach through smooth seas,' reports Visit Finland’s skipper, Olly Osborne. 'The northerlies are being enjoyed throughout the fleet and it feels good to be making fast easy miles, and with the boats now spanning a 600-mile spread it is fascinating to watch the tactical choices of each team are playing out.'
With the reappearance of the sun and flatter conditions it’s been an opportunity for Visit Finland’s crew to have a bit of a spring clean and for the mothers to serve up a morale-boosting roast dinner.
Emerging from Stealth Mode at 0600 today, spirits are also high on board Derry-Londonderry, according to skipper, Mark Light. He writes, 'We have made really good progress on our chosen course with some good distances covered. Our mainsail repair is holding up very well and there is a great feeling of optimism that we can still do very well on this leg. With approximately 1,600nm to run there are still lots of twists and turns to play out.
'The daily weather reports are very eagerly anticipated as they may hold the key to the door into Western Australia. The accuracy of the GRIBs is proving to be very good up to two to three days out but the critical moments are likely to be about four or five days away from now. It will all get very interesting in the next few days and we hope to be one of the boats to benefit from all of these Southern Ocean shenanigans!'
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 today (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). Check local schedules for further information. Positions at 0900 UTC, Sunday 23 October Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,340nm
2 De Lage Landen - 1,380nm (+40nm DTL**)
3 New York - 1,421nm (+80nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,477nm (+137nm)
5 Qingdao - 1,508nm (+168nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,520nm (+180nm)
7 Singapore - 1,537nm (+197nm) Position at 0600
8 Visit Finland - 1,634nm (+294nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry - 1,656nm (+316nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,696nm (+355nm) Position at 0600
*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