Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day six of race six, from New Zealand to Gold Coast Australia.
It’s been another eventful 24 hours for the ten-strong fleet as the challenging conditions experienced earlier in the week have returned to test all of what the crews have learnt over the last four months of ocean racing.
'So much for the gentle downwind sailing,' exclaims Stuart Jackson, skipper of De Lage Landen.
'We had our day of it and now we are back to the more familiar conditions of 40 knot winds gusting well into the 50s. We can't complain though as it is giving us great speed towards Gold Coast, where the weather will hopefully improve for our arrival.'
There are just seven nautical miles between the Dutch entry and current race leaders Visit Finland and with 590 miles of racing left the yellow pennant is definitely still up for grabs.
'The fleet has again closed up in regard to the north/south divide, so it will be interesting to see the tactics for the latter part of the race as we cross the low pressure system that is currently in our path,' signs off Stuart.
Hoping to hold off the challenging pack is Olly Osborne, skipper of Visit Finland, as he reports stellar conditions on board.
'It seems the surfing isn’t over after all, with the sea state now building considerably and the full force of the depression now going through the fleet. The sailing is fairly pleasant none the less and the sea water is much like bath temperature which is a good thing as the cockpit fills up regularly.
'We have made some fantastic mileage over the last 24 hours though and as the weather eases we will be looking to shape the best course through the lighter airs.'
With the fleet so tightly compact the latter stages of the 1,300-mile race will see a constant jostle for places with the three-hourly position reports threatening to become a game of snakes and ladders.
'The race to the Gold Coast has only just begun and with the fleet so close any number of the yachts could win,' comments Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson.
'Rest assured we are still holding few cards close to our chest to play before the game is over,' continues Richard, with his team hoping to snatch victory into their home port.
'Hopefully the team on Gold Coast Australia can outwit the other yachts as beating them on boat speed alone is not going to work but outsmarting them will definitely put us in the running for another yellow pennant.'
Meanwhile on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital the crew have been thoroughly tested by the day’s conditions.
'Yesterday saw us reaching under spinnaker in around ten knots, enjoying the sunshine as we made our way upwind across the Tasman Sea en route to Australia,' reports skipper, Gordon Reid, whose day was about to be rudely interrupted.
'Boom... just as I was sending our position report I was thrown out of the nav station and across the boat.
'We broached in a massive gust. Jumping up on deck, I saw the boom under water and the spinnaker scooping the tops of the waves. As we rounded up, my dude on the helm looked at me in sheer horror. Even though I had explained what to do in such a scenario, certain things you can teach and others just need to be experienced,' continues Gordon, as Mother Nature continues to toy with the race fleet.
'The Purple Beastie enjoys the heavier winds and we are pushing her hard as we rock our way to the finish line.'
Also receiving a reminder of Mother Nature’s awesome power was Singapore, skippered by Ben Bowley.
'Today we experienced two minor knock downs. The seas are very short and steep and twice we have been caught beam on by a hefty breaker,' explains Ben.
'The first time it happened, Will Parbury (clipped on, naturally) was working on the leeward side deck up by the shroud and by the time he emerged from the boiling foam of water coursing down the deck he was back by the runners, half overboard and missing his shoes.
'The second, small knock down happened but a moment ago whilst I was typing this report. Unfortunately, Graeme Pettyfer was attacked in the galley by a boiling kettle of water that jumped off the stove at him. Luckily, his scalding was less severe than they could have been and his heavy sailing trousers saved the more important parts of his anatomy.'
Currently in seventh and a member of the group of more northerly positioned yachts, Ben will hope their choice of course will pay off in the final stages of race six.
'The race is still on as there is but a gnat's whisker separating us, Qingdao, Geraldton Western Australia and New York at present. The skill now lies in knowing how hard we can push without breaking the crew or our big red bus in these fruity conditions!'
On board Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie reports building conditions.
'Yesterday we spent the day with spinnakers up and slowly changed to smaller spinnakers through the day until we ended up last night with the heavyweight spinnaker and 20 knots of apparent wind. This made for some exciting sailing with the boat surfing nicely.
'As dawn approached, however, the wind built until we had a couple of small broaches so we decided to drop the spinnaker and continue under white sails. This allowed Singapore the chance to overtake us as they managed to hold their spinnaker longer than us,' continues Ian, with his team regaining sixth position from Singapore as of the 0600 update.
'We continue to sail well but frustratingly also continue to slide down the leader board,' bemoans Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry.
'We had a good day yesterday running with light weight spinnaker, then medium weight, then switching to poled out number 2 Yankee as the wind increased. By breakfast this morning (porridge again!) the wind had increased and backed around to the north east so we pulled our Yankee 2 headsail across, de-rigged the pole and raised the staysail, power reaching on starboard tack,' reports Mark, with the team’s first podium finish still a possibility.
'By lunchtime we had a reef in the main and one hour later in went the second reef. We are now flying along with some really good boat speeds over a particularly lumpy sea. We have our own private duel going on with Welcome to Yorkshire and the daily conversations over VHF have been very welcome and we have had some good banter.
'Thoughts are already turning to down time in Gold Coast, Australia; but first there is another 660nm to race!'
While racing around the world certain issues on board will no doubt arise and crews and skippers alike take great satisfaction in finding solutions quickly and effectively such as the one on board Geraldton Western Australia.
'We have a crisis: there are no more chocolate bars...' reveals Juan Coetzer, skipper the Western Australian entry.
'The crew have become inventive once again. Take a biscuit, spread some Nutella on it and then finish it off with a dollop of caramel. Works a treat!
'Weather guru Simon Rowell’s forecast was to be wet and windy and for most of the day we flew the medium weight kite. By sunrise the wind had increased so we dropped the kite and went with the Yankee 2 poled out. Gradually the wind has been building and our sail plan getting smaller.'
Over on board fifth placed New York, just one place behind Geraldton Western Australia, skipper Gareth Glover reports an eventful 12 hours.
'Around 2am we were flying our heavyweight spinnaker, boat speed around 10 knots when there was a bang from under the yacht and we dropped speed very fast. There was a second noise from the rudder and then a call from the helm that the rudder was locked over to starboard and we started to broach with the kite up.
'The crew jumped into action, getting ready to drop the kite and sort out the secondary steering in the lazarette while I was looking to see if we had any water coming into the yacht from what we hit,' explains Gareth.
'As I was doing this the rudder came free as what we hit came clear and we were able to steer again. After a good look round to see if we were taking on water, all was good,' continues Gareth, unaware that his day was to get even busier.
'As the wind picked up we were just thinking about dropping the same kite when the guy broke with the sound a bit like a shot gun. The pole shot forward hitting the forestay but as we were just about to drop this kite we had crew just getting sorted and the kite came down in one piece and was packed away in minutes and the new head sail went up, just like that.
'Now the wind has picked up to over 30 knots. These are the conditions we sail better in and we hope to pull back a few miles from the leader and put ourselves in a better place for the race to Gold Coast.'
Currently locked in a battle with Derry-Londonderry, Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, Rupert Dean, is hoping their southerly course will see them move up the rankings within the next few days.
'The past 24 hours have seen Welcome to Yorkshire running deep downwind under lightweight kite, then peeling to the medium weight last night as the breeze began to fill. For a number of hours we had some fantastic sailing in 14 knots apparent wind, sourced from the high pressure system beneath us.
'After several hours of sailing along, kite perfectly trimmed, regularly checked for small holes and, halyards 'exercised' every two hours (to avoid chafe), our medium weight split in two for no apparent reason. All of us on watch were gobsmacked, but to the team's credit they got it down quickly with minimal fuss. Repairs are currently underway,' says Rupert.
'The winds are due to increase substantially over the next few hours and we have already reefed accordingly, making great VMG (Velocity Made Good – ie, speed in the correct direction) towards Gold Coast. Clocks are being wound back as we progress westwards and right now we are racing close to Derry-Londonderry, which is great for focus and for occasional conversation over the VHF, a welcome change from being alone all the time on long oceanic legs.'
The first of the 68-foot yachts are expected to arrive on the Gold Coast on Monday 13 December.
The Clipper Race boats are open for public during their stay at Southport Yacht Club – come down, get on board and meet the crews: Saturday 17 December 1:30-3:30pm, Wednesday 21 10:00-12:00pm and Thursday 22 Dec 10-12pm. Positions at 0900 UTC, Friday 9 December Boat - DTF*
1 Visit Finland - 561nm
2 Gold Coast Australia - 567nm (+ 6nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 568nm (+ 7nm)
4 New York - 586nm (+25nm)
5 Geraldton Western Australia - 593nm (+32nm)
6 Qingdao - 594nm (+33nm)
7 Singapore - 599nm (+37nm)
8 Welcome to Yorkshire - 610nm (+49nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry - 611nm (+50nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 711nm (+150nm) Position at 0600
*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