Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day thirteen of race five, from Western Australia to New Zealand.
'Yesterday after pushing ourselves and the Purple Beastie right to the edge, we were rewarded by becoming the fastest boat in the race five Ocean Sprint. We are totally stoked that all of our hard work paid dividends and we had a wee dance on the deck in the moonlight to celebrate,' reports a jubilant Gordon Reid from on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
News of the team’s victory in the Ocean Sprint reached the crew of her Royal Navy namesake and last night HMS Edinburgh’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Russell, sent a message of congratulations to the yacht. During race three HMS Edinburgh sprang a surprise visit on the ‘Purple Beastie’ in the South Atlantic.
Gordon said, 'I hope to meet up with Paul on the Gold Coast and share a few drams and swap stories of our respective adventures on the ocean waves.'
Meanwhile the team is taking advantage of the lighter conditions they are experiencing after the latest storm and using the opportunity to do some routine maintenance and dry out kit in the warmer, sunny conditions.
In reflective mood as he and his team prepare to leave the Southern Ocean, Gordon concludes, 'As we fast approach New Zealand, it is time to reflect on what we have done: ‘Far better it is to dare mighty things, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.’ I will be saddened to leave this beautiful, furious ocean but take with me memories of how we battled with Mother Nature in all her glory and we how did something to inspire and make us feel proud.'
The conditions have taken their toll on Welcome to Yorkshire whose crew are chasing down De Lage Landen in fourth place and Derry-Londonderry in third. Skipper Rupert Dean’s graphic description of life on board the 68-foot yacht in the last 24 hours, where the winds they encountered were far in excess of the predicted 45 knots, gives some idea of the extreme nature of ocean racing in Clipper 11-12.
'As the blow approached late yesterday afternoon, we were pushing Welcome to Yorkshire hard under a reefed main, staysail and Yankee 3, having worked our way down the sail plan in the hours before. Powering along with the wind just behind the beam, the boat was absolutely flying on the edge of control, surfing down some of the biggest waves we have seen since leaving Southampton.
'The surfing speeds were incredible, regularly peaking in the 20s. Indeed a close succession of three waves enabled Beulah Steele (taking time out of her regular job as airline cabin crew) to helm Welcome to Yorkshire to 18, 23 through to 25.9 knots as the waves overtook us.
'Helming a yacht in those conditions is a truly exhilarating experience. As the wave picks up the stern, it's like looking down a 40-foot cliff, before the yacht surges forward down the face. As it does so it leaps around like a bucking bronco, sending great walls of spray 20 feet up either side of the bow. What a rush! Below decks is almost as exciting, for when the yacht surfs you feel the hull shaking, hear the white water turbulence against the hull and the whoops of joy from outside. When you're going really fast even the cutlery in the galley makes a noise through being tossed around, in an environment more akin to an earthquake!
'As darkness advanced, so too did the strongest winds and biggest waves, requiring our best available helms to steer through the night. Helming in these conditions is particularly challenging, for one can't see the size or direction of the advancing waves, only hear their menacing hiss as they break nearby. Several large waves slammed into us and it is testimony to the design of these Clipper 68s that they handle the abuse so well.
'One wave in particular broke on the quarter, its 'soup' of white water approaching at boom height, 20 feet above sea level. When it hit the yacht, the impact and noise was like being hit by a sledgehammer! For a couple of seconds all the crew in the cockpit were buried underwater, thrown to the limit of their safety lines. Below decks it was even more dramatic. I was in the galley at the time, and remember dozens of cups, plates, cutlery and condiments raining on top of me. Kyle Gardner (a property developer), next to me, found himself thrown onto the draining board! Others fared less well, taking nasty tumbles or being completely thrown out of their bunks. In all, several minor injuries were sustained. Two strained shoulders, a cut head, two burns, bruising and some shock. It's taken a few people out of our watch system for a while but, thanks to the efforts of Steve Reid, Welcome to Yorkshire's paramedic, they're recovering well and should be back with us soon.
'In all then, a memorable night and, one where the crew yet again looked out for each other, as members of a proficient and happy team.'
Teamwork is an essential element of the Clipper Race, whether that is lugging sails across deck, developing effortless communication between helm and trimmers, or supporting each other through the tough times. Qingdao’s crew have pulled together to do just that as they make their way through winds at the other end of the spectrum in the high pressure that is plaguing them.
'We spent most of yesterday and last night drifting along with the sails flogging as we tried to keep Qingdao moving,' explains Ian Conchie, the skipper of the Chinese entry. 'Then in the early hours of this morning the breeze picked up and we were off again and in the right direction.
'In this leg already the crew have dealt with all sorts of issues from heavy weather to crew injuries and pretty much everything else and have managed to come out of it with a laugh and a smile. They even managed to lift my mood when we were stuck in the listless wind. This may not be our best leg in terms of results but it has shown the depth of character the crew has developed.'
Teamwork is also very much in evidence on board Geraldton Western Australia. A combination of injuries and illness has conspired to leave the team with reduced watches but nevertheless they have come through, developing the skills required to quickly adapt to the situation.
'What a day,' says skipper, Juan Coetzer. 'We managed to get our Yankee 1 up this morning. Now we are pushing the boundaries: we went for a kite hoist not too long after with four crew members on deck. The crew spirits are high and they having the time of their lives. Man puts up spinnakers for enjoyment and the wind gods get a kick by knocking them down, offering the remains to Davy Jones!' he jokes, explaining the off-watch crew remain in a state of alert in case they are required to help drop the kite quickly.
Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, reports his team has come through the latest low pressure system and things are starting to settle down. He, too, is full of praise for his crew and their yacht.
'This LegenDerry crew have had a really fantastic last 48 hours with some great distances covered and some decent gains made on the boats around us. We were brave and held a good amount of sail in the heavy weather in order to keep our boat moving fast. The all-round helming was excellent and any evolutions carried out were done with massive effort and huge levels of endurance in some very arduous conditions. The Southern Ocean has certainly lived up to its reputation and I feel very privileged to have been able to sail it with a fantastic team of people and on board a boat well capable of handling the situation and the elements. These Clipper 68s are well found, proven boats and I am very proud of our Derry-Londonderry!'
Now focused on maintaining their podium position in the final 1,000 miles of the race, Mark and his team are looking forward to reaching Tauranga to enjoy some well-deserved time off in New Zealand.
New York in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
De Lage Landen and New York have both been struggling with mainsail issues and both have had to drop them on deck to carry out the necessary repairs.
'The whole crew is enjoying a welcome break from being battered by waves and using the blue skies and lighter winds to dry out a bit from the past few days of battling the elements,' Stuart Jackson, skipper of De Lage Landen, tells the Race Office this morning.
'Yesterday we had a bit of a fight on our hands when one of the last squalls from the most recent low pressure system hit whilst we were sailing under a full main and ripped the top cars out of the track, leaving us with a relentless four hours of dropping the whole sail to the deck and re-threading the cars one by one. This was all done whilst gusts of 45 knots were battering the tired crew,' he continues.
In simple terms, imagine a curtain has fallen down and you need to feed each runner back on to the curtain rail to put it back up again. Now imagine the curtain weighs half a tonne. And you’re in a wind tunnel. With the ground underneath you constantly moving. And someone is throwing buckets of freezing salty water over you while you try to fix it.
Full of admiration for his team, Stuart says, 'It has been great to see the whole crew working so well through the tough conditions and stay positive and driven throughout the tough weather. The crew and I are now looking ahead to the sail up the coast of New Zealand and to claw back some places.'
They’re up to speed again on New York after carrying out repairs to three rips in their mainsail.
'New York is racing again, after sailing for over 24 hours under storm jib we have now have our main back up with over 20 hours of work going into the repair. We have managed – just – to hang on to second place and now have Derry-Londonderry only ten miles behind us. This was only possible with the hard work of the team which they have shown time after time when things just don't go our way.
'Now is the time for us to get back a few more miles away from Mark and Derry-Londonderry and the rest of the racing fleet and there is no way we are going to give up our place that easily. Just under 1,000 miles to go and the top three places are still up for anyone.'
Knowing how easily a lead can slip away as coastal currents and local winds affect boat speed, Gold Coast Australia is going into Stealth Mode until 0600 UTC tomorrow.
'As we navigate some of the currents up the east coast of New Zealand, hopefully we will put ourselves into a good strategic position to make the most of the light winds ahead to further extend our lead,' says skipper, Richard Hewson. 'With New York fully repaired and nipping at our heels, if we are complacent our lead could disappear overnight, particularly with the forecasted light wind, so we want to stay on the ball, stay vigilant and stay in front.'
Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
This morning Gold Coast Australia rounded the most southerly of the New Zealand turning marks and altered course to the north towards Tauranga. Not before they enjoyed one last wild spell of surfing in the darkness of the Southern Ocean night though.
'At one stage when I was helming the bow just dropped into a black hole. I was not sure what way she was going to accelerate or if she was just going to broach and roll down the wave sideways,' describes Richard. 'I said to Tim Burgess (a researcher), who was on the mainsail trim next to me, that things could get interesting and suddenly she accelerated straight down the wave and hit 24 knots.
'Helming in such treacherous yet enthralling conditions was made even more exciting by the blackness of the night and the absence of any stars or moonlight due to the overcast sky. Due to the blackness of the surroundings you cannot see anything until a wave suddenly crashes next to you or on top of you and releases a mound of phosphorescent light. Last night our top adrenaline-pumping speed was 26 knots through the water.'
The confused sea state Richard was expecting as they reached the New Zealand continental shelf didn’t materialise, something of a relief after the rough and tiring night the team had experienced.
'It is very nice to finally have New Zealand soil only 140 miles away and know that we are once again nearing the completion of another race in the lead,' he continues.
That first glimpse of New Zealand is something Olly Osborne and his Visit Finland team are looking forward to.
'With our heavyweight spinnaker set and a fair forecast we’re looking good to round Stewart Island early tomorrow morning,' reports the Chichester-based yachtsman. 'Everyone is looking forward to a first glimpse of New Zealand after a very testing couple of weeks in the Southern Ocean, and I think we will all have some amazing memories to take away from this place.
'The skies have cleared and the sea state has moderated a good deal from the serious surfing we have been doing over the last couple of days. This spell of relatively settled weather has come at the right time as we approach the continental shelf and the great change in depth. Some of the crew have taken the opportunity to dry out some wet gear on deck and we have a washing line strung between the back stays today! Life is pretty basic on board and these small opportunities to make things more comfortable are rare.'
Singapore’s crew are also enjoying an opportunity to catch up on some rest as they clear the Bass Strait.
'With the wind blowing straight out of the north east we have been forced to use the engine for longer than I would have liked,' reports skipper, Ben Bowley. 'This morning, however, the wind backed a little and allowed us to hoist the Yankee 2 and staysail. Our course has a little more south in it than I would like but we are making good speed in the right direction and the silence is bliss! We still seem to be suffering from a bit of dirty fuel as this morning, just before shutting down the engine, she started hunting up and down the rev range again. Changing the primary fuel filter seems to have cured the problem and since we only did it about a month ago, Will Iife (on board engineer – and one in real life, too) had the job done with a minimum amount of fuss. For now though it is good to be sailing properly again and to not require three people just to keep the boat going in a vaguely straight line! Our thoughts go out to the other nine yachts deep into the Southern Ocean battling what I envisage to be rather fruity conditions. It is hard to empathise as we glide along in flat seas with 20 knots from the warm north east. Enjoy the sleigh ride chaps; rare experience, sail safe and hold on!' Positions at 0600 UTC, Friday 18 November Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 877nm
2 New York - 955nm (+78nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 966nm (+89nm)
4 De Lage Landen - 986nm (+109nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 995nm (+118nm)
6 Visit Finland - 1,066nm (+189nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,170nm (+293nm)
8 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,195nm (+317nm)
9 Qingdao - 1,386nm (+509nm)
10 Singapore - 1,909nm (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