Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently enduring difficult conditions on the third day of racing from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, New Zealand.
Derry-Londonderry has romped up the leader board into third place after a challenging night of sailing in high winds and mountainous waves. Along with the rest of the ten-strong fleet, the team representing the UK City of Culture 2013 experienced the full force of a powerful low pressure system off Cape Leeuwin.
Skipper Mark Light said his crew had worked 'tremendously hard' over the first two days of this 3,800-mile race from Geraldton in Western Australia to Tauranga in New Zealand.
'They have carried out many sail evolutions in some very demanding conditions,' he said.
Mark also commended his crew’s helming in the testing conditions. 'We’ve had huge waves sweeping towards us every few seconds and the deck has been partially submerged on several occasions with the whole boat bucking wildly down below,' he said.
Mark said that as he sailed close to Qingdao last night he commented to his crew how she was smashing around and being picked up and thrown down 'like an unwanted toy'.
'Then I thought ‘that's exactly how we might look to the other Clippers’!' he said.
Mark said that it was great to be in such a favourable position at the start of the race, adding that his team is determined to keep the focus 'not just for the first couple of days but for the duration of the race'.
Just two miles ahead of Derry-Londonderry, Visit Finland will be well within Mark’s sights.
Skipper Olly Osborne said his crew had experienced 'a baptism of fire' as the conditions have become increasingly more challenging.
'The security of being ashore in Geraldton was quickly dispelled as we found ourselves shortening sail in the teeth of a gale last night,' Olly said.
Despite the challenges, Olly admits that it has been a welcome start to the race as his team is making 'terrific mileage' with thoughts already turning to the Scoring Gate, currently around 500 miles away.
'Making the right choices now is so important, and the fine balance between a safe sail plan and pushing for a competitive speed is not always an easy one to meet as the wind varies so much with the passing rain squalls,' he said.
Olly reports that his team recorded a boat speed of 25 knots as they surfed down the face of a wave overnight. 'The cockpit had no sooner drained than it is filled right up again by the swell catching us on the beam and rolling down the deck,' he added.
All the teams know that they will face bitterly cold conditions as they dive further south. 'We had a brief hail storm this morning which pinged off the metalwork on deck reminding us of the cold conditions that await us further south,' Olly said.
'Whether we can hang on to our second position for the next few days until the Scoring Gate is the big question now, but with Derry Londonderry hot on our heels and the rest of the pack not far behind it looks like we've got our work cut out!' he added.
Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
'Sailing doesn’t get more exciting than this and we’re loving it!' reports Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, this morning.
'As I write Gold Coast Australia has the wind aft of the beam and is surfing down waves the size of houses at speeds of up to 20 knots. The sea looks wild but we have blue skies and crew onboard are having a blast,' he said.
Richard said his team has enjoyed a fantastic 24-hour run as they rounded Cape Leeuwin and changed course for the Scoring Gate en route to Tasmania.
Richard said Gold Coast Australia was sailing more like a submarine than a yacht as they rounded the virtual mark off Cape Leeuwin 'with large and confused sea and swell resulting in some very exciting sailing'.
'Since the wind was coming from the west and we had large swells that were being amplified by the shallow water off the shelf coming from the south and the north west. This resulted in Gold Coast Australia surfing down one wave and then ploughing into the next head on resulting in a great rush of water down the deck,' Richard explained.
After a night of conservative sailing due to ferocious weather on the approach to Cape Leeuwin, Qingdao skipper Ian Conchie reflects on his team’s decision to it play safe as they slipped from fourth position in the fleet down to joint eighth.
'Our goal now is to target a climb up the leader board although I am happy to report that as a result of our conservative approach we have no injuries and the only damage to the boat being our windex [an arrow marking the wind direction at the top of the mast] which snapped at some point, probably in one of the 45-plus knot gusts!' Ian said.
Ian said that his team’s new crew mates who joined in Geraldton are getting up to speed although he admits that helming a Clipper 68 in these conditions is proving a 'steep learning curve'.
On Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Gordon Reid and his crew have been enjoying some similarly adrenalin-fuelled sailing as they have moved up into joint eight place logging the same distance to the finish as Qingdao.
Gordon reports that his team played cat and mouse last night in what he describes as an 'epic gale'.
'We had massive thundering waves side swiping the boat, gusts of up to 50 knots and for the first time since leaving the UK we used our storm jib barrelling along and at one point hitting 20 knots on the surf,' he said.
Gordon said that under the moonlight his team could see the stars and 'the angry seas boiling all around' as they pitched south and rounded Cape Leeuwin in some 'fairly challenging conditions' as everyone back home slept.
New York in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
New York has also been feeling the full brunt of the low over the last 24 hours with much bigger waves and winds of 35-knots plus.
Skipper Gareth Glover said he decided to stick with only the staysail and three reefs in the main overnight to avoid sending crew forward of the mast in the treacherous conditions.
'We had some very big waves breaking over the bow, some of which were the biggest I’ve seen in the three legs so far and I wasn’t prepared to put the crew in any unneeded danger,' he said, adding that a number of his crew are also suffering with seasickness.
'The wind looks like it is going to drop in the next 24 hours and then we hope to hank on a new headsail and get racing again and hopes of doing well in this leg are high,' Gareth said.
Welcome to Yorkshire has been experiencing 'feisty conditions all round' but spirits remain high as the team makes good progress at the start of the long ocean leg, according to skipper Rupert Dean.
'The gale force winds with regular savage gusts of 45 knots dictate conservative sail plans and we’re currently beam reaching with three reefs in the main, the Yankee 3 and staysail,' Rupert said.
'The violent motion is making living conditions below decks challenging and several of the team are succumbing to seasickness, which I hope they will work through over the next few days,' he added.
Juan Coetzer on Geraldton Western Australia said it had been a day of 'hanging on' as they crashed through the short, steep swell coming from two directions.
'We have rounded our first virtual mark and are now drag racing with the rest of the fleet to the next mark,' Juan said.
De Lage Landen slipped down to sixth place as the crew dealt with the 'bumpy' conditions as the wind built. Following the ideal conditions at the race start on Sunday, numerous sail changes have been called for on the Dutch boat as the team adapts to the increasing wind and sea state.
Skipper Stuart Jackson said that the majority of his team’s new leggers who joined in Geraldton have succumbed to seasickness.
Singapore at the start of Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Ben Bowley on Singapore said his team had taken 'a good kicking' along with the rest of the fleet as they faced the strong winds and hefty seas piling up on the shelf of Cape Leeuwin.
'I was delighted with the performance of both the crew and boat in such challenging conditions so early on in the race,' Ben said.
'Today sees us barrelling down the face of some pretty big waves, watching the sunlight give the breaking crests an iridescent quality that is captivating to watch,' he added.
After suffering extensive sail damage in the last transoceanic race, the Singapore team is adopting a more cautious approach en route to New Zealand. 'As we learnt in the last race, it’s better to keep some sails in reserve for the latter parts of the race than going hell for leather in the big stuff!' Ben said.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Tauranga, New Zealand from 25 to 29 November. Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday 8 November Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3216nm
2 Visit Finland - 3239nm (+23nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 3240nm (+25nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3245nm (+29nm)
5 New York - 3245nm (+30nm)
6 De Lage Landen - 3249nm (+33nm)
7 Singapore - 3253nm (+38nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3264nm (+48nm)
9 Qingdao - 3264nm (+48nm)
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 3275nm (+60 nm)
DTF* = Distance to Finish, DTL** = Distance to Leader Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online
. Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website