Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race is on the seventh day of leg four, from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, New Zealand.
Today’s skipper reports are filled with varying fortunes of the ten-strong Clipper Race fleet as they continue in the marathon race through the Southern Ocean.
Singapore is continuing to stay north of the fleet in order to avoid the worst of the weather associated with the frontal system that is forecast to reach the yachts in the next 48 hours. It follows a problem that developed with their steering system, forcing them to switch to their secondary system, yesterday afternoon.
The bolts holding the steering quadrant onto the rudder stock stripped their threads and they have had to revert to their back up steering, which is a tiller. This drill is practiced during the rigorous pre-race training that every crew member receives prior to the race start.
Clipper Race Director, Joff Bailey, said, 'With the tiller it is not as easy to sail directly downwind in big waves so the Singapore team is currently steering at a more acute angle to the wind whilst they attempt to solve the problem.
Skipper, Ben Bowley, is in close contact with the Race Office and the Clipper Maintenance Team to ascertain whether a repair can be worked out at sea so that they can continue racing to Tauranga. Despite every effort to find a solution, they do not have the specialist tools required on board and are now making their way towards a port on the south coast of Australia in order to make the repairs and put back to sea.
Ben says, 'Team Singapore is fairly crestfallen this morning. Having spent the night helming the boat under secondary steering and doing a lot of head scratching, there appears to be very little we can do to fix our steering whilst at sea without specialised tools. For the sake of two stripped threads, our race is over. This is always the risk when you go yacht racing and one that we are all too familiar with. At some point our run of bad luck has to end and we shall start winning races. Presently we are heading to the north in a bid to get out of the way of the next frontal system and its associated strong winds and big waves.'
Explaining the decision to put in to port, Ben continues, 'It takes three crew to steer the boat and we have four helming teams of three people. They run in a 1.5-hour on / 4.5-hour off rotation. We then have one mother who tries to provide food and hot drinks for the helming team. We hope to get this issue sorted ASAP as even though we have a very conservative sail plan, this is hard work on all the crew and only sustainable for a short period of time. Gutted, gutted, gutted.'
Singapore is still racing and is approximately 600 miles from Melbourne, Victoria, where there are a number of marinas capable of accommodating the 68-foot yacht while the repairs are made. A member of the Race Office team is in Melbourne assisting with arrangements which will be clarified in due course. It is likely to take the team approximately three days to reach port and the repair is likely to take a few hours.
Joff commented, 'Given the sea state and weather conditions and the latitudes at which the teams are sailing, this is a highly sensible decision and one that shows great seamanship. For race management and our ten skippers alike, the first and foremost concern is the safety of the crews and the yachts and Ben has made absolutely the right call to pull in to make the repairs to the steering quadrant so that they can get back on the race track.'
Ben and his team, who have the ‘Can-Do!’ attitude of the yacht’s sponsor, Keppel Corporation, are confident that with the correct tools they can make the necessary repairs and swiftly re-join the fleet on the race to Tauranga, New Zealand, where the yachts are due to arrive between 25 and 29 November.
Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Meanwhile the skipper and crew of the Gold Coast Australia have sent a message of congratulations the people of the Gold Coast after hearing of their success in winning their bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
'On behalf of the crew of Gold Coast Australia competing in the Clipper Race, I would like to congratulate the people of the Gold Coast in their fantastic efforts to win the 2018 Commonwealth Games,' says Richard Hewson, the skipper of the Australian entry.
'The crew of Gold Coast Australia are very proud to be sailing for your city as we win our races around the world and I am sure that the people of Gold Coast will also be proud to host the Commonwealth Games and will host one of the best games in history.'
The Tasmanian yachtsman continued, 'The Gold Coast is a fantastic venue with a fantastic climate and friendly people and I look forward to visiting the games in 2018, just as I look forward to finishing our race in the Gold Coast in December this year.'
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, founder and chairman of the Clipper Race, said, 'I add my congratulations to those of Richard and his crew. Winning the right to stage the Commonwealth Games is marvellous news for Gold Coast and will enhance the city’s profile in the world sporting arena. Their sponsorship of a yacht in the Clipper 11-12 Race is already providing them with a global platform from which to promote the Gold Coast name ahead of the games in 2018 and will continue to do so in the 15 ports of call during the 12-month-long event.'
'We are now making arrangements to lengthen our snake pit to accommodate the swimming, and building a track around the gunwales for the marathon; where we should have the grand opening ceremony is undecided,' jokes Richard, with his team currently leading the ten-strong fleet in the race to Tauranga.
'Not only have we just won the Commonwealth Games but we are also very pleased about our performance so far in Race 5. Earlier in the race we thought we had made a bad tactical decision by heading too far north, but it has all seemed to work out well as we sail under heavyweight spinnaker towards the Tasmania Gate and we are sailing better than ever with the last few spinnaker hoists and drops being even slicker than normal.
'Whist we are sailing very well our joy is somewhat hampered by the news that Singapore has lost her steering and the offer of assistance went out this morning if it was required. Ben and his crew really don't deserve their bad luck and we wish them all the best in their recovery.'
On board current occupiers of fourth place, Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean reports champagne sailing conditions.
'Since dawn this morning we have had the heavyweight spinnaker up and have been charging along on a broad reach under sunny skies. Sailing at great speeds with grins all round, this has really been champagne sailing at its best.
'It's great to see our new crew who, for the first few days suffered from seasickness, now fully recovered and enjoying life on board,' continues Rupert.
'The Southern Ocean is a far warmer more pleasant place to be than the cold steel-grey surroundings we found ourselves in a few weeks ago. Admittedly much of this is to do with the warm north westerly winds we are experiencing and that spring is now well advanced in the Southern Hemisphere.
'We continue to enjoy our second visit to the Southern Ocean.'
Derry-Londonderry at the start of Race 5 from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, NZ, in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Hoping to keep the English entry at bay is Derry-Londonderry, skippered by Mark Light.
'After a fantastic day’s sailing yesterday (and me feeling one year older!), we experienced a night of lighter winds as we made our way south easterly to avoid the high pressure pushing south down on top of us,' explains Mark, who celebrated this fortieth birthday yesterday.
'This also enabled us to cover our opponents’ actions as we try to protect our valuable second position while trying to make in-roads into the dominant leader Gold Coast Australia. I am amazed, after nearly 1,500 nm of ocean racing, how closely grouped all of the boats still are.
'This is one long match race at the moment and we are doing exceptionally well as a team - things are really coming together on board and there is a huge sense of belief amongst the whole crew,' reveals Mark, who has his eyes fully focused on a podium place.
'Apart from anything else the sailing has been outstanding and we are managing to look after our boat and equipment very well. This race has the makings of one of the most exciting yet, giving one of the closest finishes so far and we on Derry-Londonderry hope to be right up there in the last two or three days to make sure we achieve one of the much coveted podium positions.'
Currently the most southerly positioned boat in the fleet, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, is again experiencing the conditions the Southern Ocean is famous for.
'Is this real or just a dream I need to wake up from? What a wonderful, adrenaline fuelled ride we are having here on this wonderful furious ocean,' comments Gordon Reid, skipper of the Scottish entry.
'After ripping our spinnaker pole from the mast track, we are unable fly a spinnaker or pole out a head-sail and with the weather not being conducive to effect a repair, we are keeping the faith and happy with our big game plan even though we found ourselves on a very slightly less advantageous heading last night.
'Now the wind has veered and being further south we are taking full advantage of the stronger winds we sought. Currently the furthest south yacht we are sailing on a fast beam reach on the surf averaging 12 knots and hitting 18s and 20s as we surf the big ocean rollers,' continues Gordon.
'With the next low pressure system and intense cold front racing at us from behind, we are enjoying the near perfect conditions before the Roaring Forties give another good beating in around 48 hours time.
'Once more today we are smiling and loving the adventure of a lifetime that we will never forget,' signs off Gordon.
De Lage Landen - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 - Clipper Race/onEdition
Also taking a similar southerly route is Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, whose crew, for the first time since leaving Geraldton, have been able to remove full foul weather gear.
'Finally some sailing in proper sunshine, the thermals are off and we are enjoying surfing downwind in the sunshine – ideal,' reports skipper, Stuart Jackson.
'It's amazing what a difference the weather can make on crew morale, having spent a few days with full wet weather gear making it difficult to talk, the big jackets are now off and the usual conversation and banter has resumed.
'We are also finally making back some of our lost miles from choosing to go south early on, so we have managed to get ourselves more amongst the pack again. We are all looking forward to the Tasmania gate, which will be another milestone in the race passed.'
Focused on avoiding any damage which could hamper their progress to New Zealand is Geraldton Western Australia skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'Life is good at the moment on Geraldton Western Australia. Looking after the boat is the key to this race. The normal saying is that this race is a marathon not a sprint and the crew are really stoked to see we have moved up one position for now.
'Late in the evening last night we put a gybe in and the wind has been playing in our favour, taking us to our waypoint. Just had happy hour and morale is still high,' continues Juan, with his team currently in ninth place.
One place ahead of the Australian entry is Qingdao, who report good progress as they look to mount an assault up the leader board.
'We were greeted today with another glorious sunrise and have spent the day trucking along under a poled out headsail,' explains Ian Conchie, skipper of the Chinese entry.
'We have also been busy keeping up with the maintenance required to keep a Clipper 68 out at sea. Chafe checks, steering checks, engine checks and sail checks resulted in repairs to our number two and number three Yankee.'
Hoping they can make up ground on current leaders Gold Coast Australia is American entry, New York.
'The crew have been working hard at keeping New York racing over the last few days. We have now fixed our mast track and can now pole out and fly a spinnaker but still have to try it out,' says skipper, Gareth Glover.
'The repair took three hours up the rig in 25 plus knots of wind with the yacht pitching from side to side; a job that would have taken an hour on land. But as good as we are at fixing things but we are unable to fix the hole in our spinnaker pole. New York is still sailing well and is making good speed towards the gate.
'Now with only one pole we are going to play safe and not fly a spinnaker until the wind drops a little more. A shame as today is a sunny bright day and great for spinnaker work. Every time I go on deck the crew say, ‘NO we need to save our pole,’ and I know they’re right. Let just hope it not going to hurt us overall. We just need the wind to pick up or go more to the north and we will be happy.'
The fleet is expected to arrive in Tauranga, New Zealand between 21 and 25 November. Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 12 November Boat - DTF* / DTL**
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2286nm / 0nm
2 New York - 2351nm / 65nm
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2373nm / 87nm
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2378nm / 92nm
5 De Lage Landen - 2380nm / 94nm
6 Visit Finland - 2394nm / 108nm
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2422nm / 136nm
8 Qingdao - 2438nm / 152nm
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 2456nm / 170nm
10 Singapore - 2494nm / 208nm
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