Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day four of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
All ten yachts have been experiencing some fantastic sailing conditions and, as the sea state has subsided from the three-metre swell of race start day, it has allowed all of the teams to dry out kit and carry out some maintenance.
Gold Coast Australia has been monitoring some damage to the stern gland, the flexible membrane around the prop shaft that prevents water entering the boat. It was damaged on race start day and Singapore and Welcome to Yorkshire’s crew transferred the necessary kit from their yachts to Gold Coast Australia to allow them to repair it.
'This morning after three hours of hard labour and a little bit of cursing, Terry Martin and I managed to get the new stern gland on,' reports Richard Hewson. 'The replacement process is normally undertaken while the boat is out of the water and there were a few problems that we had to work out prior to starting the exercise, including how not to lose the propeller and shaft altogether, how to prevent masses of water entering the hull, how to get the water out, and what to do if it all goes horribly wrong.
'The process involves disconnecting the propeller shaft from the gear box and sliding it back, then using a puller to remove the spindle that attaches the shaft to the gear box. This required a special tool to pull the spindle off and thankfully it was in a box passed over by Singapore shortly after race start. The spindle had not been removed for a long time and the nuts took a bit of heat, WD40 and elbow grease to crack. Finally, with the bilge pumps running flat out to remove the water that was flooding in, the spindle was off, and we were able to remove the old cracked stern gland.
'With a bit of messing about the new stern gland was on and with a bit more elbow grease and a little more cursing, Terry and I managed to get the shaft re-attached to the gear box and the stern gland secured in place without sinking the boat.'
Richard continues, 'We are still in the lead and in a good position to receive the new wind from the west first, so hopefully will continue to extend this lead over the coming days to reach the Coral Sea Scoring Gate first and gain three points, but more importantly, be the first yacht into the north easterly trades and commence our sprint to Singapore.'
As the temperatures continue to rise – skippers are reporting the mercury reaching the high 30s in the airless environment below decks – dehydration becomes a very real risk for those on board.
'At my midday ‘happy hour’ brief I warned crew about the dangers of sunburn, heat stroke and dehydration,' says Richard. 'While conditions on deck are at the moment quite pleasant due to the gentle ten knots of westerly wind, conditions below are getting exceedingly hot. Our water maker is basically running flat out to cope with the water required for drinking, cooking and showers.'
'Down below the temperature rises with every passing day, although the flatter seas have allowed us to rig our wind scoop today which has brought a welcome breeze through the boat,' reports Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie. 'Keeping hydrated is so important as you constantly sweat and lose fluids. As a result we have been using our water maker already to maintain our water stocks.'
The water maker, a desalination unit that allows sea water to be turned into drinking water, is an essential piece of kit, but it is not the only source of fresh water during this stage of the race. Along with the blue sky, champagne sailing, come tropical downpours. At crew brief before the start of race seven, Joff Bailey, the Race Director, also instructed crew to consider ways of capturing the rainwater in case they need it.
'Wow it's hot!' exclaims Ben Bowley, Singapore’s skipper. 'I think that we had all forgotten just how hot it gets in the tropics when the wind dies off. Sitting here in the nav station the temperature is hovering in the high 30s. Yesterday evening saw the champagne sailing start properly with our belated ceremonial toast of bubbly to celebrate Christmas. Shortly thereafter the wind eased enough for us to hoist our favourite kite, Vicky, and fly her on a reach. She did us proud overnight but as the sun showed us the first glint of dawn, the breeze swung forward a little too far for us to hold her.
'The rest of the day has been spent alternating between swift fetching and ghosting along with barely enough wind to keep the sails from collapsing. At least we have had some company to help keep the crew focused on trimming and driving the boat along an arrow-straight course. De Lage Landen, New York and Visit Finland have been our sparring partners all day.
'These light, swelteringly hot conditions can be almost as big a drain on energy and concentration levels as slogging it out in the Southern Ocean. We do have the advantage however of getting some good tans and the obligatory tropics ‘grade 0/1’ haircuts. For now we are making the most of sedately heading in the right direction as in a couple of days we are likely to be smashing our way to windward into 30 to 40 knots of breeze!'
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'The racing is staying close with five of us within sight of one another, so everyone is keeping their eyes peeled. With the wind looking to be light for the next few days it will be interesting to see where miles are won and lost,' comments De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson.
He continues, 'Sweating seems to be top of today's agenda, with little chance to get respite from the tropical sunshine. I am sure that is not going to get us much sympathy from those in the British and northern European winter at the moment! We have all taken to having buckets of salt water thrown over us to keep cool whilst on watch.'
From the tightly-bunched leading group New York’s skipper Gareth Glover writes, 'We have Singapore and De Lage Landen on our starboard beam. This keeps us on our game and determined to keep our currently held third spot and improve to second or first. One of our crew has the binoculars permanently fixed on our close rivals, watching their every move. This makes a change from previous races where we have gone weeks without seeing any ships, with only birds for company.
'The sun is still shining and many of the round the world crew have started to reminisce about leg one where they experienced equally hot conditions. Below decks still feels like a sauna, the only difference this time is we have fewer crew. This does have its benefits: no hot bunking and the pick of the bunks around the fans. One of our new leggers, Brian, who joined in the Gold Coast, has rigged up a bimini over the helm to provide some relief from the harsh rays.
'We had a good run overnight averaging about nine or ten knots, flying the heavyweight spinnaker, then the winds dropped as predicted. We peeled to the lightweight in the early hours and then eventually hoisted the Yankee 1.'
Visit Finland is also with the main group of yachts on the east of the race track, neck and neck with Welcome to Yorkshire.
Olly Osborne, skipper of the Finnish entry says, 'Today the Coral Sea seems to be living up to its name with clear blue skies only interrupted by a few streaks of cirrus cloud and even the odd coconut floating past! The sun is beginning to feel pretty intense now though and, as the wind ebbs away to little more than a zephyr, being down below is pretty uncomfortable. On the plus side though the racing has been fantastic and we are still within sight of several boats. It looks like it will all boil down to light airs tactics over the next day or so, and we will be watching the weather closely for signs of change.'
Rupert Dean on board Welcome to Yorkshire agrees with Olly, saying, 'As far as tactics and routing go, the next few days will be very interesting indeed. With wind speeds expected to drop further, swinging round to the west and then north, it will be fascinating to see whether the boats on the east or west extremities will come out best. In the meantime, for us, it’s all about keeping up good apparent wind speed to maximise our distance north, before ex tropical cyclone Grant moves our way. Hopefully we will all be well north of its centre when it arrives.
'Racing under relentless sunshine and decreasing winds is hot work indeed, requiring plenty of discipline from the watches to maintain focus, whilst ensuring everyone is adequately hydrated and protected against the burning, energy-sapping forces of the sun. Fortunately focus is very good at present, helped by having Visit Finland and De Lage Landen in visual and AIS range. It's also very good to share some VHF banter with them too, recalling the treats and celebrations made on each boat over this unique Christmas period.'
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Derry-Londonderry rounded off their Christmas celebrations with a glass of port on Boxing Day evening, toasting to health, happiness and a safe return to all taking part in the race.
'With the Christmas festivities over and the last of the goodies being devoured we will return to our freeze dried foods, porridge and tinned fruit desserts,' remarks Mark Light, skipper of the Northern Ireland yacht.
'We have entered the forecast area of light winds. The sky is almost perfectly clear apart from the odd fluffy white cumulus clouds which give a rare but welcome relief from the intense sunshine. Up above it is very hot but thankfully we are now sailing upwind, giving some sort of light breeze over the deck. Down below decks the temperature is even higher and with no air flow through the boat you can imagine what it feels like. Strange odours and lots of sweat are inevitable as we continue our daily routines of life at sea. Only 1,000nm to go to the Equator, I remind my crew, so get used to the temperatures!
'The fleet is now once again bunching up into the belt of light winds as we approach the first of our mandatory gates and we all wait to see if the latest tropical cyclone will track towards us and give us any helpful or adverse wind and sea conditions.'
Qingdao and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital are carving out a more central path than the main group to the east of the fleet, while Geraldton Western Australia is furthest to the west.
Skipper of the Chinese entry, Ian Conchie, says, 'We enjoyed great downwind sailing during the night starting off with our heavy weight kite, ‘Henri’ and then this morning our lightweight, ‘Zorro’ [so called because of the shape of the scar of the repair tape across the sail]. This was a great change for our new crew to re-familiarise themselves with kite work, especially when we peeled between to the two early this morning. Since then we have changed back to white sails and are trying to make the best of the light conditions.
'Tactically it is a very tight race so far, we are still in VHF range of a few boats and we are pushing hard to try and improve our position and get the boat into the best position for the next weather system when it arrives in a few days.'
'What a total contrast to the weather on Christmas Day: from 40 knot gusts and wild seas to a light breeze and blazing sunshine. The deck is too hot to walk on with bare feet,' notes Gordon Reid, skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
'The wind hasn't veered as forecast and instead it has eased and remains from a north westerly direction. We are currently holding our upwind sail plan as we seek the wind amongst the isolated cloud banks. If it continues to ease it may even be time to get the windseeker up.
'Our wind instruments shorted out during the first rain storm of the first day's racing, and only today is it suitable for a trip to the top of the mast. Unfortunately the intrepid Scarlet (Nick Barclay) dropped the entire cable down the mast whilst trying to re splice the connections... Doh! So our quick fix is turning into a mammoth task and we are now on our third trip to the top in as many hours.
'On we truck towards the Scoring Gate and as Baz (Barry Chamberlain) reminded me... ‘Always keep the faith, Skip.’ So that is exactly what we will be doing!'
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Out to the west and sailing their own course, covering more ground than any of the other ten yachts in the 12 hours to 0900 UTC, Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer, has allowed his crew a little festive celebration as a reward for a good day’s work.
'In the early hours of the morning the kite came down, and the Yankee 1 went up. We have been cruising along today so well and so much maintenance had been done, I thought it to be a good idea to crack open some champagne for happy hour. During this time I told the crew they could have their first shower. This really is champagne sailing.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Tuesday 27 December Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,903nm
2 Singapore - 3,917nm (+14nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 3,921nm (+19nm)
4 New York 3,925nm (+23nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,926nm (+24nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,927nm (+25nm)
7 Visit Finland - 3,926nm (+26nm)
8 Qingdao - 3,936nm (+33nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry - 3,945nm (+42nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,953nm (+50nm)
*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