The crew on board Gold Coast Australia have finished their fourth and final week in Race four of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
At the beginning of the week our race position was threatened by competing boat De lage Landen as we sailed in light and variable winds waters for days as a high pressure system stretching over 700 nautical miles long decided to stall right near us. Tactically we had opted to sail south to Latitude 48 degrees south and round this massive high pressure system just on the edge at the bottom but on day 18 the weather gods showed us some mercy. We ended up 300 nautical miles closer to Antarctica than to Australia and experiencing some bitterly cold conditions with air temperatures of three degrees on deck.
Watching the Gib files closely it became evident that the High Pressure system was going to split just to the north east of our course allowing us to cut miles out of our race. The gamble was would we be able to get on the other side of it before it once again moved over our course. We decided to go for it and altered course to the north. The atmosphere on board visibly changed as soon as everyone new we were sailing into warmer weather and that we were finally making our approach to land with our course taking us straight to Cape Leeuwin another of the great capes.
We really did not know if we would make it in time to sail the gap between the two highs as our boat speed was holding at an impressive 4 knots as we sailed with the Light Weight Spinnaker up and the full main. As the winds would shift, veering and backing consistently as well as change in speed ranging from 2knot to 10 knots making trim the primary focus. On day 26 we left the Southern Ocean in our wake as the winds filled in giving us a steady 10 knots of breeze. De Lang Landon were right behind us and within 20 nautical miles, so close that our lead position that we had held since Cape Town was threatened. With sailing you have to play the hand you are dealt and work with what weather conditions you get but luckily for us we were dealt a great hand. The High Pressure System performed perfectly as predicted by the Grib files, taking one huge high air mass and splitting into to two with a steady wind belt in-between that we were able to sail through. Unfortunately for De Lang Landen the wind god were not so kind as they were trapped in the High to wallow around for days.
As we increased our lead on the fleet we were also quickly closing in on land, not just any land but my homeland Australia. After 24 days at sea we passed Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste making our final approach to Australian shores at first light. Australia showed us her sprite with one of the most stunning sunrises glowing red over the silhouette of Geraldton. Shortly after we saw our first boat in over 20 days as we sailed the final miles. At 0702 am on 30/09/2011 Gold Coast Australia crossed the finish line to the shouts and sheers of the crew as we won another very tough race. Later we were informed that our lead had dramatically increased to over 440 nautical miles to the next boat. In the true Aussi tradition we were greeted by the lovely people of Geraldton and welcomed to a lovely BBQ complete with beer.
Six short days later and it was time to say our farewells to this loving and friendly town called Geraldton and set sail on Race Five, racing from Geraldton to Taronga in New Zealand. Spectators lined the shore as we ran through a series of drills and manoeuvres to refresh everybody's mind.
Every race there are three-five people leaving whilst others come to take there place. For some of those new comers, they may have not sailed in a six months or more so these refresh sails are vital to ensuring everybody is safe on-board. Shortly after we lined up for the start, sailing pass the marks so that I could get a transit on the start line. After a short delay because the pick was dragging in the water the race gun sounded at 1340 on the 06/11/2011 with Gold Coast Australia in second place just behind 'I love New York'. It is on as we race to the next mark still holding second place, by the third mark had taken New York and gained the lead.
Team Finland and New York are a short three nautical miles behind us and with over 3 000 nautical miles left to run, anything can happen.
*The Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race began in August 2011 and the fleet of ten sleek, stripped down 68-foot yachts embarked on a full circumnavigation of the globe, 40,000 miles of ocean racing.