Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the fourth day of the 3,800-mile race from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, New Zealand.
'With less than three hundred miles to run to the Scoring Gate and a consistent beam breeze this really is match racing at its best,' reports Olly Osborne, skipper of Visit Finland, this morning.
Visit Finland is engaged in a close duel with Derry-Londonderry for second place with just one mile separating the two teams as they continue the charge to the Scoring Gate in race five.
Both teams logged the same 12-hour run of 126 miles in consistent winds en route to Tauranga in New Zealand. The first, second and third boats to cross the line between 40 degrees south 127 east and 43 degrees south 127 east will be awarded three, two and one points respectively.
Olly said that competition had been 'hotting up' between the two boats throughout the day. 'The next day promises to be very exiting with both crews clearly set on the same objective,' he said.
'Both crews appear to almost completely matched as only fractions of a mile separate our two boats from second and third place,' he said.
As the two teams are only around a day away from the Scoring Gate, neither of the skippers is likely to take their foot off the gas at this critical stage.
'If the next 24 hours are similar to the last, there could only be a matter of minutes in it,' Olly said.
Throughout the night and into this morning both boats have matched each other for course, speed and sail plan and both crews are thriving on the pressure of close quarters racing.
Despite being intense opponents on the water, Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, is an old friend of Olly’s and the pair took the opportunity to catch up via VHF radio overnight.
'I had a fairly long chat with Mark last night over the VHF and despite the fierce rivalry between the boats it was good to speak to an old friend, and it is very pleasant to be sailing within sight of one another,' Olly said.
Mark said that his team had done very well and worked very hard to make up ground on Visit Finland but hadn’t quite managed to overhaul them 'yet'.
'We have been almost neck and neck for the last 24 hours constantly racing in good view of each other, hull up by day and single white or green tri-colour light [located at the top of the mast] by night,' Mark said.
Mark said he had also enjoyed catching up with his friend Olly. 'I'm not sure he took my advice though about taking down all his sails and stopping his boat to do a long and proper rig check but I was only thinking of their wellbeing!' he joked.
The team on Derry-Londonderry has had its binoculars well trained on Visit Finland’s decks. 'Like a sniper, we’ve been looking for any sign of movement on the foredeck which would indicate a sail change or some top secret goings on,' Mark said, adding that his team might carry out their manoeuvres in the dead of night to keep Olly and his crew in the dark.
Qingdao - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Further down the fleet, Qingdao and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital are also battling in close quarters for seventh place with just a mile between the two teams.
On Qingdao the team has now settled into life at sea and a welcome break in the weather has seen the team increasing sail.
'After the last 48 hours of strong winds and big seas conditions have finally started to ease allowing us to shake out reefs and swap to larger head sails. This morning we were even greeted by the first rays of sunshine we have seen for a few days,' said skipper Ian Conchie.
This decision has benefitted the team as overnight Qingdao moved up the leader board and has moved up to seventh place just a whisker ahead of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
Skipper Gordon Reid said his team is 'stoked' to hear news that Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is being supported by Lothian Buses in their home city of Edinburgh. Two of the company’s double decker buses that run on a high profile route through the city have been branded with colourful images of the team that will remain in place until June 2012.
'The Ocean Racing Team on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is totally stoked to hear the news that the Purple Beastie is emblazoned on two of Edinburgh's double decker buses and we would like to invite everyone to get online, hold on tight and join us in our epic adventure racing around the world,' Gordon said.
The team has taken full advantage of the improved weather conditions and last night saw Edinburgh Inspiring Capital jostling with Qingdao for position with only one mile between the two teams at the latest position report.
'The moon was almost full, shooting stars filled the night sky as we surfed wave after wave, with a few pretty big waves breaking over the bow and being side swiped by the odd steam train. But even with a constant soaking and the cockpit full of water it was hard to let go of the helm with so much fun to be had,' Gordon said.
'As the sun came up it was time to increase sail even more and as soon as the winds comes round the kite will be up, so it's all good on the good ship Edinburgh Inspiring Capital,' he added.
New York in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
On New York washing is off the agenda just days into this 3,800-mile race to New Zealand due to problems with the team’s water maker which desalinates sea water on board.
'Our water maker has stopped working so we have introduced a plan to keep water usage down which includes no washing unless we can get it repaired,' Gareth said.
Despite the prospect of a ripe aroma on New York over the coming days as the crew make do with wet wipes to keep on top of personal hygiene, spirits are high and they have increased sail to increase boat speed.
'The sun is out the wind is fresh and we are making good time, so it’s happy days on New York,' Gareth said.
De Lage Landen has moved up from sixth place into joint fifth with Welcome to Yorkshire.
Round the world crew member on De Lage Landen, Tom Ross, said the crew is being pushed to keep up decent speeds without being overpowered in unpredictable squalls.
'This has meant plenty of sail changes and time on the pointy end making them happen. The conditions are however not helping those who are suffering from seasickness with a few of our crew spending unfair amounts of time with their heads in plastic bags,' the 23-year-old student said.
On Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean said multiple sail changes have also been the order of the day as his team strives to sail the Great Circle route under the most efficient sail plan.
'On this morning's watch we did five evolutions going from reef three to full main and from the Yankee 3 to the Yankee 1 and I expect there’s more to come this afternoon,' he said.
'These necessary evolutions are a great workout for the crew, developing fitness, understanding, teamwork and, importantly, integrating the new crew quickly into the established team,' Rupert explained.
'What's more it is all proving to be fun and there's a real buzz about the boat,' he added.
Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Richard Hewson and his team on Gold Coast Australia have extended their lead overnight putting them within 275 miles of the Scoring Gate and the valuable three points on offer for crossing the imaginary line first.
'Conditions have abated somewhat since yesterday and the wind has veered slightly to the north allowing for more pleasant sailing above and below deck,' Richard reports.
With the moderated conditions, the team has seen the return of some birdlife including the first albatross of the race flying around the boat amongst a number of mutton birds.
'The calmer conditions allowed us to do some maintenance prior to the next blow and to also give down below a good clean to stop the dreaded lurgie that seems to be spreading amongst the crew,' he said.
The Gold Coast Australia team has also seen some spectacular electrical storm activity over the last few days prompting them to unplug and turn-off all computers and communications equipment onboard until the storms pass.
Richard said that during these storms he also places the hand-held GPS and VHF radio in the oven which acts as a Faradays cage, an enclosure formed by conducting material used to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes and other electrostatic discharges.
'These precautions may seem funny to many, however they are a vital part of preserving our sustainability throughout the race,' Richard said.
On Geraldton Western Australia, skipper Juan Coetzer said that 'big gusty winds and a confused mountainous sea state' caused him to take a conservative approach to his team’s sail plan last night.
'The wind has calmed down a little, so we are currently sailing with one reef and a poled-out headsail,' he said.
Despite their position at the back of the fleet, the team knows they are at the start of a marathon race and the positions are likely to get shuffled numerous times before they reach New Zealand.
'Today we had our first happy hour on deck and a chat was had regarding the last couple of days. We know we are last at the moment, but it is still early days,' Juan said.
Ahead of Geraldton Western Australia in ninth place, Singapore has shaken out reefs and increased sail as the wind abated.
'It feels fantastic to have the big red bus come alive underfoot with the buzz of her sailing at 100 percent again,' skipper, Ben Bowley, said.
Ben is mulling tactics as the fleet closes in on the Scoring Gate. 'There are some who feel that staying south and keeping in the bigger winds will pay dividends and those who are sticking firmly to the option of sailing the least mileage,' he said.
'The question is, where is the optimum trade off between distance covered and boat speed?' he said, noting that a lot will depend on how swiftly the developing high pressure in the Great Australian Bight opens up and how far south her associated lighter winds extend.
'Once again the options will be discussed and weighed up amongst crews but in the end the wind gods throw in that lovely element of chance that keeps yacht racing such an exciting, and at times frustrating, sport in which to compete and watch,' he said.
Remaining optimistic at this early stage in the race, Ben said, 'It is nice to see that the pack in still tightly formed and there is still all to play for no matter where in the fleet teams are sitting.' Positions at 0900 UTC, Wednesday 9 November Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2966nm
2 Visit Finland - 2989nm (+24nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2991nm (+25nm)
4 New York - 3004nm (+39nm)
5 De Lage Landen - 3014nm (+49nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3015nm (+49nm)
7 Qingdao - 3035nm (+69nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3036nm (+70nm)
9 Singapore - 3037nm (+71nm) at 0753 UTC
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 3062nm (+97nm)
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