Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day twelve of race five, from Western Australia to New Zealand.
At first light this morning in Queenscliff, Australia, Singapore‘s crew slipped lines and headed back out through the Port Philip heads and into the Great Australian Bight after successfully repairing their steering quadrant. Happy to be helming with a wheel again and not a tiller, skipper Ben Bowley has sent a note of appreciation at today’s 0600 position report.
'I would like to extend a hearty thanks to all those who presented a wonderful reception committee for us in Queenscliff yesterday afternoon,' he says. 'Especial thanks to Kate Parbury and family for proving such wonderful hosts. A delicious barbecue and some cool refreshing beverages were served to us almost as soon as lines hit the dock!'
Kate is the mother of round the world crew member and Singapore watch leader, Will Parbury, who lives a stone’s throw from Queenscliff in Victoria and regularly sails and dives in the area.
Ben continues, 'Many of Will's former colleagues, friends and ex-crewmates were on hand with an array of tools and advice. It really served to remind me how many supporters we have and how far they are willing to go out of their way to help us. Once again, we were truly grateful to see so many welcoming, supportive faces waiting for us on that small dockside. Many thanks also to Queenscliff Harbour Marina and pilot station for accommodating us at such short notice and allowing us full use of their excellent facilities.'
Now back at sea and making best speed towards New Zealand, Ben and the Singapore crew are determined to turn around their run of bad luck and make the most of the time they have together on board.
'Reading the other boats’ updates I fear that we are missing out on a bit of a sleigh ride down south! Much is the shame as we are having to nose our way out of the Bass Straits under iron top-sail [engine]. We did have an excellent hour's close fetching under full main and Yankee 1 after leaving Queenscliff this morning. However, as we rounded Cape Schanck, the wind veered to almost exactly our desired course, forcing us to motor at a conservative RPM for probably the first 24 hours of our training/passage sail to Tauranga. Things look a little rosier for the following 72 hours though; we should have a nice fast fetch across to New Zealand, assuming we can keep pace with the weak front sweeping across the Tasman Sea. We intend to use this period as an opportunity to ensure that the knowledge base of all members of the crew is improved by concentrated coaching sessions not just delivered by myself. We have some key (halfway round the world) crew members leaving in Gold Coast and we want to ensure that the knowledge they have gained in the last four months is passed on to new and remaining crew members. We intend to be as well trained and focused as possible for the short sprint leg back to Gold Coast. Time to gain back some cruelly snatched points I think.'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital at the start of Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital looks set to claim the bonus point on offer for the race five Ocean Sprint between the longitudes of 150 and 154 degrees east. The Ocean Sprint is a time trial rather than a first past the post contest, which means every team, no matter their position in the fleet, has the chance to pick up an extra point if they cover the distance in the quickest time.
Welcome to Yorkshire had been the yacht to beat, with a time of 21 hours and 22 minutes for the sprint of approximately 240 miles. But the team representing Scotland’s capital city have declared a time of 19 hours and 10 minutes to complete the trial, meaning Qingdao needed to finish by 0820 UTC today to beat them. The results are provisional until the Race Committee verifies them in New Zealand but it looks like they’ll be celebrating on the deck of the Purple Beastie at happy hour tonight.
Gordon Reid, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, says, 'The Purple Beastie is doing some fierce 12-hour runs in these strong winds she thrives and carries a lot of momentum (kinetic energy), so for now we stay the furthest south, closing on the fleet and pushing ourselves and the yacht as hard and fast as we dare, ensuring we keep a little in reserve for when it all gets fruity again.
'After our wild, crazy ride in 60 knots plus, 40 to 45 knots seems a bit pedestrian. The sea is still wild, with some of the swells as big as a two-storey building, but it is amazing how quickly you become used to conditions which are, to be fair, pretty extreme. The crew are loving it and so am I. We spent the day surfing monster wave after wave to see who could top the highest speed of 26 knots. We initiated a squall watch and a few of us took turns at seeing who could ride the wave mid-squall for the longest. A few months ago that would have seemed like a totally crazy thing to aspire to, but on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, sailing in the beautiful fury of the Southern Ocean, it’s just another day at the office.
'With New Zealand approaching fast I've got a feeling we are about to face our biggest challenge yet with the forecast predicting up to 60 knots as we surf all the way on to the continental shelf of New Zealand.'
The conditions are certainly challenging all of the teams – they are further south than on the previous leg and the Southern Ocean is making sure they have something to remember her by.
Mark Light, Derry-Londonderry’s skipper describes the 'fantastic sailing conditions' his team has been experiencing.
'We are flying along with some really excellent boat speeds: averaging 12 knots and surfing between 15 and 23 knots,' he explains. 'The swells are huge with a lot of power behind them; things are very physically demanding and it takes a lot of skill and nerve to helm one of these Clipper 68s powered up in these conditions. My crew have done exceptionally well. We have managed to look after our boat and equipment very well.'
Just the second and third reefing lines have broken. These are the ropes attached to the mainsail which allow the sail area to be reduced or increased according to the conditions.
Describing how it happened, Mark says, 'We were reefing down the main just before a series of dark clouds arrived over us and unfortunately one of the mainsail cars jammed on the mast track between the first and second spreaders. While we tried numerous ways to free it, the second and third reefing lines managed to flog, snap and tangle with each other and the existing first reefing line. This resulted in a huge bundle of very tightly knotted line right at the end of the boom which prevented us from grinding in reef one – the whole purpose of the operation in the first place!'
A heave-to and 25 minutes of hard work later and the team was back on track, holding on to third place. Could Tauranga be where the ‘LegenDerrys’ claim their first podium place?
While the Northern Ireland team has been lucky to avoid any worse breakages than a few snapped and tangled lines, second placed New York has not escaped so lightly.
New York in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
'Just over 12 hours ago, I was thinking it was ‘race over’ for New York,' reveals the US team’s skipper, Gareth Glover.
'While we were putting a second reef in the main as the wind was building and an unseen squall hit us with gusts of over 50 knots, the mainsail got pushed though the rig, breaking three battens and putting three rips along the batten reinforcements.
'The first was about half a metre above the second reef and the two others about 30cm above the third reef. We quickly went to three reefs to make sure the biggest rip did not get bigger and called all hands on deck. As we do on New York, we got on with the job of taking down the Yankee 3 and putting up the Yankee 2, taking the mainsail down on the deck and our storm sail went up in its place. We have been racing under this sail plan now for over 12 hours and have only lost a few miles to De Lage Landen and Derry-Londonderry.
'We have had all the crew working in teams on different parts of the mainsail. The hard bit is that you’re hand sewing though four pieces of sail cloth in 30-knot winds and breaking seas. We’ve got about four more hours of work to be done, taking the full repair to about 13 hours. And then we will put the main back up and chase down Gold Coast Australia.'
With New York in second place, De Lage Landen is running neck and neck with Derry-Londonderry, jostling for third place. After two and a half thousand miles of racing, just a couple of miles separate them but although the racing is red hot, the weather is decidedly not.
'It doesn't look like the weather is going to give us any reprieve until we are past the southern point of New Zealand,' comments De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, this morning. 'It has also got a lot colder with the south westerly winds bringing cold air up from the Antarctic, so everyone is looking forward to the conditions improving as we make our way up the New Zealand coastline. It's just all a bit repetitive, putting reefs in and out as the squalls come through.'
Rupert Dean, skipper of Welcome to Yorkshire, echoes Stuart’s comments about the cold, explaining, 'These 30-knot winds have been accompanied by enormous, vicious squalls, demanding rapid evolutions to shorten sail and/or bear away. Consequently the crew are working hard in some arduous sailing conditions.
'Race four has, for us, been a far truer reflection of what the Southern Ocean should be than leg three. Since leaving Geraldton there has hardly been a day when we haven't been sailing in gale force conditions. To perform day in, day out in winds ranging from Force 8 to 10, in mountainous seas under racing conditions, is no small feat. It demands courage, determination and teamwork of the highest order and I thank my crew for it. In particular, I wish to praise my watch leaders, Hannah Richards (Management Consultant) and Jim Stamp (Plant Operator), along with their deputies, James Charlesworth (farmer) and Richard Williams (accountant), for their sterling efforts in keeping our boat and crew motivated, happy and safe.
'As we near the southernmost point in our round the world adventure, we look forward to turning north again, towards warmer climes (and cold beer). The crew has come a long way since their training days in the English Channel, in more ways than one. They are doing themselves proud.'
Clipper 11-12 is raced by people like you – people from all walks of life who put their everyday lives on hold to fulfil a long-held ambition or take on the challenge of a lifetime. Hannah, a management consultant, Jim, a plant operator, James, a farmer, and Richard, an accountant will have completed the sailing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest when they return to the UK in July 2012 – a circumnavigation under sail. There are presentations taking place in New Zealand and Australia in the next few weeks – go to the event website
for more details.
Geraldton Western Australia and Welcome to Yorkshire at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Geraldton Western Australia’s having a pretty good day as well, according to skipper, Juan Coetzer, whose team will be more refreshed after being allowed to shower instead of the standard wet wipe wash during the rough weather of the last two days.
'For the first time since leaving Geraldton, we have got our Yankee 2 up and a first reef in the mainsail. Being short numbered one has to take seamanship into consideration and choose the best sail plan for the long term.'
The team does appear to have an extra body on board – but not a helpful one, says Juan. 'It looks like the electrical gremlin is back again, as our instruments have gone bonkers. Even our deep water anchor alarm has been going off.'
On board mid-fleet Visit Finland, Olly Osborne is in reflective mood as they prepare to head north and begin the first stage of their climb back towards the northern hemisphere.
'With a little more than two days to run to the Stewart Island waypoint our time in the Southern Ocean is drawing to a close. It has not been without its adventures and over the last few days we have seen some of the most challenging conditions yet. Indeed for the first time this year we made good use of our storm trysail which allowed us to weather gusts of up to 60 knots through the night, and the sea state would at times certainly be referred to as 'high' if it were given over the shipping forecast,' he says.
'But we are making good speeds none the less and, despite the frustrations of living in a constantly pitching environment, everyone is well rested and in good spirits. The sun shines between towering cumulus clouds and when the boat is lifted onto the crest of a wave you can see for what seems like miles over the surf streaked glittering surface.'
While the rest of the fleet has been experiencing winds of up to 60 knots and more of the same is predicted in the next 72 hours, Qingdao has been slowed down by the high pressure system that they were hoping to avoid.
'It is amazing to watch the barometer down here,' says Ian Conchie, ‘down here’ being right below ‘Down Under’. 'In the UK it is rare to get a change of more than one millibar per hour unless there is a strong weather system around. But here, due to the stream of low pressure systems that revolve around the bottom of the globe the pressure goes up and down all the time like a yoyo!'
Currently racing at between seven and eight knots, the team is hoping to stay ahead of the weather to avoid being becalmed as they were on the way in to Geraldton. The crew is anxious to push as hard as they can to arrive in Tauranga in time to enjoy a longer than expected stopover and fully recharge their batteries.
'In the meantime we have been using the gentler conditions today to inspect and repair sails, do our routine maintenance and tidy and clean up the boat,' says Ian. 'In rough weather it is hard to keep everything spick and span due to the motion of the boat, so we have to use these days when we can to keep our beloved purple dragon in top shape.'
Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
At the head of the fleet Gold Coast Australia is having a wild and windy ride.
'Some would say it is a bit breezy down here,' comments skipper Richard Hewson. 'Yesterday conditions were nearly perfect as we ran downwind towards Stewart Island. Today we have throttled back a bit as the wind has increased to a steady 32 knots, gusting 50 knots. This may sound a little extreme to some, however to make it even more interesting the gusts sometimes last for up to an hour. Gold Coast Australia is handling like an absolute dream and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t acknowledge these yachts as being the most seaworthy I have ever sailed.'
If you think the conditions are hairy, you should see the faces of the crew – the men, at any rate.
They are growing moustaches for Movember – the charity movement that raises funds and awareness for male cancers and mental health issues – and there are some fine sets of whiskers being cultivated on board many of the boats. Styles range from Errol Flynn to Tom Selleck as well as hommages to the facial stylings of Chopper Read and Merv Hughes on the Australian yachts.
'Today we took our half time photos for Movember. No doubt it will be one of the most extreme Movember photos in history as at the time it was blowing over 50 knots and with five-metre swells and two-metre seas,' writes Richard.
As the teams approach the waypoint to the south of New Zealand, all ten are preparing for a change in conditions – and perhaps a shake-up in the rankings. Meteorologist, Simon Rowell, a former winning Clipper Race skipper and Assistant Race Director who sends wind and weather forecasts to the yachts each day, has been looking ahead and has today told the skippers and navigators, 'There's a big spread in wind strength locally as you get further north.'
The depth of the ocean floor will also have an impact on the sea state.
'What is going to be very interesting is the increase in sea and swell in the shallow water to the south of Stewart Island where the depth decreases from 1,000 to 140 metres as we go over the continental shelf,' explains Richard. 'I gather that the sea is going to be quite treacherous and we will be battened down and ready to rumble when we go over the shelf.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Thursday 17 November Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,052nm
2 New York - 1,130nm (+78nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 1,153nm (+102nm)
4 De Lage Landen - 1,161nm (+109nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,179nm (+127nm)
6 Visit Finland - 1,238nm (+186nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,305nm (+254nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,330nm (+278nm)
9 Qingdao - 1,507nm (+455nm)
10 Singapore - 1,975nm (Retired)
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