Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 third leg from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.
Visit Finland has beaten the leading Ocean Sprint time set by De Lage Landen on Sunday by covering the distance of approximately 300 miles between 90 and 95 degrees east in just 26 hours shaving an hour and ten minutes off the Dutch team’s elapsed time.
Earlier this morning, Olly Osborne reported that there was great excitement on board Visit Finland as they neared the end of the Ocean Sprint.
'With only two hours to run the big question is will we set the new fastest run,' he wrote just ahead of this morning’s 0600 UTC position reports. It was not long before that question was answered unequivocally with a resounding ‘yes’ when the team declared that they had finished the Ocean Sprint at 0804 UTC.
With just two boats left to finish the Ocean Sprint, Derry-Londonderry and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Olly and his team have placed themselves in a commanding position to claim the bonus point on offer for the fastest boat to cover the distance.
In order to beat Visit Finland’s time, Derry-Londonderry and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital would need to finish by 1147 UTC and 1247 UTC respectively. Under the race rules, teams have to declare their start and finish time to the Race Office within three hours in order to be eligible to win the extra point on offer.
Assistant Race Director, Justin Taylor, said that given the current positions of the remaining two boats, Visit Finland looked set to win the Ocean Sprint. 'Subject to verification by the Race Office, it looks like Visit Finland has done enough to secure the point for the Ocean Sprint,' he said.
It wasn’t an easy run and Olly reports that fickle winds throughout the night resulted in constant trim and numerous sail changes in order to optimise their boat speed.
With the prospect of adding a much-needed point to their overall tally, the Visit Finland team now has its sights set on moving up the position table in the remainder of this Southern Ocean race.
'As the pack crunches up, the next few days will be crucial in making the right choices as we put pressure on the leading boats, and we’re hoping to work our way a bit further up the leader board as the last week of racing plays out,' Olly said.
There will be relief across the fleet at news that the high pressure system that has plagued the teams with light airs is finally on the move. Meteorologist Simon Rowell, who skippered Jersey to victory in Clipper 2002, reported that the lingering system is shifting out of the path of the yachts, exactly the news the skippers will want to hear as they line up for their approach to the finish off Geraldton.
'The high pressure cell seems to be showing signs of slipping around Cape Leeuwin over the next few days,' he said, referring to the most south-westerly mainland point of the Australian continent, located in the state of Western Australia.
Geraldton Western Australia races away from Cape Town - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
For Juan Coetzer and his team on Geraldton Western Australia, progress towards their home port is proving testing. Juan said their Ocean Sprint was more akin to a drift after they got stuck in a wind hole. The team completed the 300-miles in approximately 36 hours and 6 minutes, putting the extra point firmly out of their reach.
'We had a crazy day of sailing yesterday and hardly made any progress. Eventually we had to put the kite to make so headway. After sunset the wind died completely so we opted for the lightweight kite,' Juan reports.
Despite picking up to around 10 knots of boat speed for a while, the wind totally died after the team changed to the Yankee 1 to preserve their delicate lightweight spinnaker.
'We could see the hole we were in and the boat gybed, tacked and we even sailed backwards. It took a whole lot of effort to get Geraldton Western Australia going in the right direction but we are now off again,' Juan said.
At 1349 UTC yesterday Qingdao finished the Ocean Sprint in 29 hours and 32 minutes, and skipper Ian Conchie reports that the wind has been 'up and down regularly' resulting in regular drops and hoists of the staysail.
'But we have managed to maintain some good average speeds allowing us to close in on the boats ahead as they encounter light winds. The interesting bit will come of the next 24 to 48 hours as everyone tries to pass through the area of high pressure and it could mix up the fleet a lot in the process,' Ian said.
As the fleet gets set to converge on the approach to Geraldton, Ian said his crew is keeping a keen eye on the AIS system [the automatic identification system fitted on each of the Clipper 68s to identify vessels in the vicinity] to see if they can pick up any of the other boats.
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
Welcome to Yorkshire also missed out on the Ocean Sprint point, after declaring an elapsed time of 30 hours and 48 minutes yesterday.
Skipper, Rupert Dean, reports that conditions have been frustrating with low boat speeds in an area of flat seas and light north westerlies.
'It's almost like the winds are playing a game with us. The wind dies, so we set the boat up for a rapid sail change from Yankee 1 to windseeker, only for it to rise again beyond the latter's tolerance halfway through the hoist,' he explained.
'Still, we've seen some magnificent cloudscapes, dawns and sunsets, so have a lot to be thankful for. Our stable boat in these flat seas makes living on board easy and makes it easier to do maintenance on our to-do list for Geraldton,' he said.
But with over 1,100 miles still to run, Rupert is aware that his team is still in with a chance as the weather patterns deal each of the teams a different hand. 'Tactically the race remains anyone's to win,' he said.
Richard Hewson and his team on Gold Coast Australia have extended their lead by a few miles since yesterday despite 'very shifty and unpredictable wind conditions'. Richard said a night of constant trimming and careful helming in fluky winds paid dividends as the team logged the best run.
Overnight the Gold Coast Australia team has been busy repairing one of their spinnakers after it snagged on the top spreader ripping the leech line out.
'The standby watch worked through the night repairing the damage to the spinnaker which is now wooled [tied up in a sausage shape with wool which snaps as the sail fills after being hoisted] and ready for a re-hoist,' he said.
'Considering the synoptic situation at the moment, Gold Coast Australia will take whatever wind is dished out as it’s better to be moving in any direction than sitting idle in the water with sails slapping in the swell,' he said.
Richard also reports that the high pressure system has brought another surprise that his team has not witnessed in over two weeks. 'Today we can actually see the sun and feel its rays without the interruption of the clouds. It’s not exactly hot enough to go sun baking at 44 degrees south, but the warmth of the sun is definitely appreciated and fantastic for morale,' he said.
Stuart Jackson and his team on De Lage Landen are continuing in their relentless efforts to chase down Gold Coast Australia and know that there is still everything to play for.
'After more than three days of light winds, the pace of the yacht is finally picking up again,' Stuart reports. With the fleet being compressed and distances separating the boats shrinking, Stuart is also conscious of the threat from behind as he studies the weather systems.
'It seems as if the ten-strong fleet is lined up on the southern edge of the high, waiting for what is expected to be the final sprint into Geraldton,' he said
'Positions on the leader board are possibly going to change quite a lot over the next days, and it is my belief that the team which gets free of the high pressure first is going to claim the title for this leg,' Stuart 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 Gareth Glover has watched as De Lage Landen pulled away in front and other boats have taken miles out of them.
'At times it just comes down to the wind gods. You can put your yacht in the right place and the wind that was going to be there is not and yachts that are sailing the same course as you just hours behind get wind that was not there hours before,' Gareth said.
'As we push closer to the high the wind dies and as the high moves away from us we get the new wind for a few miles until the wind dies again,' he said.
Gareth said he expects this race to go 'right down to the wire' as they negotiate the unstable air masses which are set to bring changeable conditions that make it difficult to hold a course and fly a kite.
With a newly-repaired medium weight spinnaker, the New York team is keen to avoid further damage but Gareth reports that they flew it successfully this morning and the repair held.
On Singapore, Ben Bowley said he has been chasing the high pressure to the east which has also brought light and variable winds. Like the other teams, he has been experiencing exasperating conditions.
'We were looking quite good for the Ocean Sprint for a while but with just 25 miles to go and nearly four hours to cover it in the wind left us for a good two hours, making it impossible to beat De Lage Landen’s time,' he said.
'The key over the next 24 hours will be to head east enough to clear the high pressure but not at the expense of too many miles to finish,' Ben said.
'We are trying a slightly different sail plan in a bid to gain some miles on both Qingdao and Welcome to Yorkshire. We really need to use these fickle conditions to make some miles on both these boats, as once the wind fills in again, it is likely to be a drag race up the coast to the finish,' he said.
'With this high still blocking our path and the rear pack catching fast, this race is still anyone's to claim,' he added.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Gordon Reid on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital said he had decided not to compromise his Great Circle course for a short term gains in the Ocean Sprint.
'So for now we’re riding on the sweet spot on the edge of the high and the wind is still forward of the beam and very constant,' he said.
'We hope we have picked the best route to stay away from the centre of the high for as long as possible, and we might even skirt the edge but it is starting to look inevitable that we will have to cross the high. It will be slow and we may even park for a time, but ocean racing is proving to us once more that it is a dynamic game,' he said.
'But in the beautiful sunshine of the Southern Ocean it’s just and another day at the office!' he added.
The first boat is expected to arrive in Geraldton in Western Australia on 30 or 31 October, with the rest of the fleet over the following days. Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 25 October Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,010nm
2 De Lage Landen - 1,089nm (+79nm DTL**)
3 New York - 1,123nm (+114nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,133nm (+123nm)
5 Qingdao - 1,145nm (+136nm)
6 Singapore - 1,191nm (+181nm) position at 0600
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,193nm (+184nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1,224nm (+214nm)
9 Derry – Londonderry - 1,271nm (+262 nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,310nm (+300nm) 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