Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day four of race six, from New Zealand to Gold Coast Australia.
The ten-strong fleet has enjoyed a great day’s racing in the last 24 hours after rounding North Cape at the top of New Zealand to continue the sprint across the Tasman Sea with less than 1,000 miles now separating the front runners from the finish line.
After the teams received details of a 'benign' forecast from meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2002, Simon Rowell, this race has certainly become a race of two halves with the changing weather the teams have a clear division of tactics. Six of the teams have headed south along the Great Circle Route, whilst the remaining four have headed north in an attempt to gain the advantage.
With the fleet split into two distinct groups, only time will tell which of the teams’ tactics will pay off in this 1,300-mile race towards Gold Coast in Australia. However, the decision to head south is currently paying off for Olly Osborne and his team on board Visit Finland as they continue to hold the lead.
'Each position schedule is eagerly awaited to see how our tactics are paying off, and it is very exciting to watch things unfold. We are sailing to the best of our abilities to maintain the small lead that we have over the rest of the fleet, and the boat is set up well for upwind conditions, but as the breeze backs throughout the next 24 hours we will be working hard to match Gold Coast Australia in a downwind drag race toward her home port,' Olly said.
The team on Derry-Londonderry is working hard as they currently sit in third, and with their competitors in sight, skipper Mark Light says the team 'is in full race mode, charging along under full sail towards ‘the land down under’.'
'The conditions are superb with a flat blue sea, sunshine, lots of blue sky and a consistent 20 knots of south westerly wind. It is great to see the other boats around us and it gives us a real focus to do well. Everything now is about boat speed and that is all derived from accurate helming, precise sail trim, weight distribution, hard fast work when it comes to sail changes and a real determination to succeed.'
As the team enjoys the fantastic racing conditions and looks to the days ahead, Mark hopes their high spirits will be echoed by their followers. 'All we need now is a huge cheer from everybody watching and supporting us back at home to give us that final push. Thanks guys, we can hear you!' Mark said.
After encountering fickle winds when they headed inshore earlier in the race that resulted in fickle winds, the team on board Qingdao changed tactics to find constant winds in the northerly group in a bid to leapfrog the southerly boats and make gains on their rival teams.
'This morning finds us clear of New Zealand and not far off course for Gold Coast. After a busy night of headsail changes and reefing, we are now hoping the wind follows the forecast and allows us to improve our heading for a straight line course towards the finish,' skipper, Ian Conchie, said.
Ian reports that the team is enjoying the milder weather conditions on deck which despite the damp is making upwind sailing 'a much more pleasant experience'.
Maintaining their position firmly in the middle of the fleet and racing on a southerly route, team New York are more than aware that it is team work and fast sail changes that will win this race. With just over 20 miles separating them from first place, Gareth Glover and his team are aware that it will only take a few metres or miles to win this race and are hoping their tactics will pay off in a bid to take the lead.
'We will have to see if the yachts to the north or the yachts to the south do better. We are hoping we have put ourselves in the best place for when this wind dies out and fills in from the north east as forecast,' Gareth added.
Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, is also hoping their tactic will pay off as they jostle with rivals Singapore for position in joint sixth. With Qingdao hot on the heels of both teams, Stuart Jackson on De Lage Landen is keeping his team focused and motivated as they continue to fight in a bid for podium position.
'With only a couple of miles separating us from our closest rivals, the crew is working hard to gain extra miles on the rest of the fleet. Very aware of the head start the front runners have on us, we are confident that we will make up some miles over the next couple of days,' Stuart said.
After a demanding night of coastal sailing, Welcome to Yorkshire is enjoying the gentle and constant winds that see them in fourth position with only four miles between them and current third place competitors, Derry-Londonderry.
Skipper, Rupert Dean, reports that the conditions have allowed the team to point the boat exactly where they want to go for the first time since race start, adding 'this is great for morale as it enables us to maximise our VMG [velocity made good]. The fact that we have less than 1,000 miles to go and the sun has been shining helps too!'
As the team concentrates on good trim and helming as they sail in an area of great significance in Maori mythology, Rupert adds that the team hopes the Maori spirits from Cape Reinga will help speed them on their way.Geraldton Western Australia is the most northerly boat in the fleet after Juan Coetzer and his team rounded the top of New Zealand’s North Island.
'The trip to the top has been full of fun and games with 80 degree wind shifts and the wind picking up for a few hours and then dying down resulting in many sail changes,' Juan said.
'Before the start of the race, we decided we were going to push extra hard, and the crew has been ultra-keen to do whatever it takes to get that extra knot of boat speed,' he said.
On the marine life front, Juan is sceptical about the other teams’ sightings of 'sharks' in recent days after spotting a sea mammal with a similar appearance.
'Yesterday we saw a sun fish, which could be confused for a shark,' he said, noting that a shark’s dorsal fin cuts the water in a straight line, whereas a sun fish's fin cuts through in a drunken motion.
Sunfish are the heaviest known bony fish in the world and the species is native to tropical and temperate waters. Researchers believe that surface basking behaviour, in which a sunfish swims on its side presenting its largest profile to the sun, could be a method of thermally recharging following dives into deeper, colder water.
On Singapore, Ben Bowley reports that his team has started the charge to the Gold Coast and the crew has been kept busy with plenty of sail changes to ensure that they are in the correct gear for the conditions. Although strenuous for the crew, Ben says they have been 'coping admirably'.
'Having followed the wind shift round to the west, we are now making excellent progress towards our destination,' he said.
With Singapore being the most southerly of the northerly grouping of boats, Ben is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to revealing why he is opting to sail to the north of the Great Circle Route.
'We have our reasons for staying a little to the north of track and I'm sure they have theirs. I think things could get interesting over the coming days as we watch how our rivals play the continually shifting wind and we discover what kind of final approach people are planning into Gold Coast,' Ben said.
'I have a feeling that this will be a hard fought race with a very close finish if things carry on as they are,' he added.
Maintaining their position in second place, Gold Coast Australia is the most southerly boat in the fleet as they sail into the Tasman Sea and commence their sprint towards their home port. Skipper, Richard Hewson, reports that everybody on board is motivated, working hard and focused on their goal of securing first place, with only seven miles separating them from poll position.
'Despite our determined efforts to sail the boat hard and fast, trimming for every extra knot of speed, Visit Finland seem to be consistently faster than us no matter what we do and [skipper] Olly [Osborne] and the guys are obviously sailing the boat very well indeed,' Richard said.
An out of service generator on board the Australian entry has meant the team has had to charge their batteries required for navigation and communication via the boat’s main engine. To assist in conserving energy the team are switching off all electronic power outlets apart from during 'happy hour and schedule times'.
'It’s a lot more peaceful without the constant whine of a generator and computer fans, and it is nice to be sailing without the use of computers for a change,' Richard reports.
After leaving the North Cape behind on course for the Gold Coast, on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skipper Gordon Reid admits that 'a few silly mistakes, resulting in sails being dropped' cost the team time, but the team is back in the game and clawing back the miles.
As the team heads on a southerly route along with four other entries, Gordon reflects on his tactics over the last few days. 'Focus is always difficult after a stopover but a wise person told me your glass is always half full and you should always keep the faith,' he said.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Southport Yacht Club in Gold Coast between 11 and 13 December. To coincide with the fleet’s first visit to the east coast of Australia, Clipper’s Crew Recruitment Manager, David Cusworth, will be holding presentations for people interested in taking part in Clipper 13-14. These will be held at Moreton Bay Yacht Club in Scarborough on 15 December at 1900 and at Southport Yacht Club in Gold Coast on 19 December at 1700. All times local. Positions at 0900 UTC, Wednesday 7 December Boat - DTF*
1 Visit Finland - 943nm (0nm)
2 Gold Coast Australia - 950nm (+7nm**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 957nm (+14nm)
4 Welcome to Yorkshire - 960nm (+17nm)
5 New York - 967nm (+24nm)
6 De Lage Landen - 983nm (+40nm)
7 Singapore - 984nm (+41nm)
8 Qingdao - 987nm (+44nm)
9 Geraldton Western Australia - 988nm (+45nm) position at 0800 UTC
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1040nm (+97nm) position at 0600 UTC
*DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL** = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found here Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website