Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day seven of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
After the Australian teams claimed the bonus points for first and second to reach the race seven Scoring Gate, Qingdao has claimed the final point on offer, reaching the gate in the Coral Sea just 27 minutes ahead of Singapore in fourth place.
The skippers are justifiably proud of their crews. Juan Coetzer, the man in charge of Geraldton Western Australia, says, 'Our tactics paid off nicely, but it was to be a game of patience. The decision was when to tack the boat. We were waiting for wind to shift, which was due to arrive, but was a little late. All day long the clouds started to fill up the sky and by night time it we had lighting streaks everywhere and downpours of rain. It’s great sailing in these conditions; the sea and rain at night almost seem warmer than the air temperature.
'Eventually we tacked for the gate. In the beginning it almost looked as if we would not lay the eastern end of the gate but as the squalls came through the wind began to shift in our favour. At one stage we had 35 plus knots of breeze – the staysail up and one reef in the mainsail, flying along at 10-12 knots. The wind shifted so much that we were beam reaching across the gate – in second place. The crew have done really well and have reaped the rewards.'
Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie, reports to the Race Office this morning, 'Last night Mother Nature treated us to a spectacular light show as a thunderstorm came over us and the lightning danced around. At the same time we have had a series of squalls, the worst of which had gusts of 40 knots plus calling for quick sail changes. At one point we were even down to our storm jib! As first light came the wind had stabilised we had passed through the Scoring Gate in third place – with Singapore close behind us. Sorry, Ben!'
From deep inside the Singapore yacht comes the distinct sound of a grumbling skipper, trying to get to grips with a stubborn generator.
'It’s still hot. Especially hot when one has one's head buried in an electrical cabinet all afternoon trying to rewire the 220v power supply from the generator. I'm no electrician as I have proved this afternoon. The fruits of three hours’ labour? Three electric shocks and several dents in the woodwork where tools have been launched out of sheer frustration. Still no joy. I've a mind to remove the whole unit and jettison it over the side as right now it is no more use than a very heavy, noisy paperweight,' says Ben Bowley.
'On the sailing front however, things are a little brighter. We are chugging along nicely in fourth place, hot on the heels of Qingdao and Geraldton Western Australia. We so nearly made it to the Scoring Gate ahead of Qingdao but sadly a huge wind-shift following a squall of biblical proportions combined with a destroyed vang [controls the vertical movement of the boom] put paid to that plan.
'Having just hoisted the Yankee 2 after a bare headed change [no headsails up at all], we were struck by 40 knots of wind, the kind of rain only seen in monsoon season and very nearly by lightning. I'm sure one strike was within a few hundred yards judging by the noise! The bow of the boat was obliterated from view by spray, spume and rain drops the size of marbles. The crew did a valiant job of getting the Yankee 2 back down and secured to the foredeck. Meanwhile we had a tough job of trying to jury rig some kind of kicking strap so as to allow us to wrestle the main back under control before it flogged itself to death.
'Job done, all crew accounted for and short debrief completed, the breeze died off and it was time to re-hoist the Yankee 2 and make a dash for the line. Twenty-seven minutes too late as it transpired; but still we are happy with our current position and enjoying the close racing,' he signs off.
Aside from the competitive thrill of ten identical 68-foot yachts, raced by people like you, ploughing through the world’s oceans, among the memories that will live on long after the Clipper 11-12 Race arrives back in Southampton in July 2012 will be the elemental beauty of the natural world which, in the middle of the ocean, is unlike anything on Earth.
Last night in common with Qingdao, Singapore and most of the other teams, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s crew found themselves in the middle of one of Mother Nature’s spectacular firework displays.
'We had to work hard to keep the Purple Beastie on course and moving,' describes Gordon Reid, the skipper. 'We had numerous intense squalls, some gusts of up to 45 knots and heavy rain, lightning storms all around, with fantastic fork lightning illuminating the night sky, and to top it all we ended up in a wind hole for five hours, just bobbing around. Throughout it all the crew worked hard with all of the sail changes and reefing in and out to keep her moving.
'Today is another hot day and my pale Scottish skin is not used to such heat, the old wind sock is once more proving a useful addition to our boat equipment, allowing us to funnel some air into the living quarters.'
'The sweating continues' aboard De Lage Landen, says skipper, Stuart Jackson, 'and Adele is on the stereo in preparation for passing through the gate beside Adele Island. Over the last 24 hours we have enjoyed some great racing with Visit Finland, Welcome to Yorkshire and New York. We have been within a few miles of Visit Finland for a few days now, with positions changing as the weather does.
'We have had some great tropical squalls coming through with the wind increasing by 20 knots and torrential downpours of rain. One had so much rain that it washed one of my contact lenses out, and one of the crew’s. So it was literally the blind leading the blind. The squalls are gratefully received as it cleared the air and gives us a nice fresh water shower!'
Derry-Londonderry at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Steve Holland/onEdition
It’s been a tough night on Derry-Londonderry, according to skipper, Mark Light.
'We were making very good progress yesterday chasing down the boats ahead and climbing up into fifth position,' he says. 'The temperature is sweltering, a million miles away from the UK winter. Due to this consistent heat by day there are also large and powerful squalls at night. Well, last night we experienced the mother of all squalls.
'The night was extremely dark and it was very difficult to identify dark clouds coming towards us. We had already dropped our Yankee 1 in preparation for the squally conditions but nothing had materialised except for consistent lighting all around. The command was given to hoist the Yankee 2 and just as the crews took up their positions on the foredeck the heavens opened with torrential rain, terrific thunder and lightning and 45 knots of true wind culminating in an apparent wind speed of 52 knots. Very quickly we put three reefs in the mainsail and endured 30 minutes of fierce conditions. The rest of our night was spent shaking out and putting in reefs and raising and lowering headsails. As a result we lost some ground on the two boats immediately in front of us, Singapore and Qingdao.'
Shortly after crossing the Scoring Gate yesterday Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson saw what he describes as 'one of the longest, biggest, blackest clouds that I have seen for a long time off our port bow.'
He continues, 'Like being chased by an evil creature we sailed our best angle for best speed and did everything we could to sail past the monster however it was closing us on a steady bearing. Finally we realised that it was upon us so we bore away to run with it while it lasted. It was like surfing a barrel, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel but it was slowly disappearing until we were surrounded by complete blackness. I have never experienced such blackness in my life. Finally we came out the other side and conditions began to clear up for the rest of the night.
'When I came on deck in the morning as we were nearing the Adele Gate the wind had disappeared almost altogether and we were coasting along with full main and windseeker. As we rounded Adele the wind returned once again to perfect sailing conditions of 13-16 knots from the north west and have remained stable all day. We are keeping a close eye for changing clouds as no doubt the monsoon squalls will return this evening.'
The Clipper Race’s meteorologist, Simon Rowell, the winning skipper in Clipper 2002, provides the teams with updated weather information every day. Today he explained to them what is causing the extreme conditions they are experiencing.
'You're underneath the Madden-Julian Oscillation at the moment, which is an area of increased convection about 20 to 30 degrees wide. It circulates globally in the tropics, and is especially visible where you are now due to the sea surface temperatures. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Grant has at least done the service of getting you through the local version of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone), so what you have now is the north east trade winds being bent to the left by Coriolis as they get south of the Equator.'
Simon is forecasting a challenging upwind trip through the Solomon Sea for the fleet.
One of the squalls caught New York’s crew by surprise, rising from 15 to 40 knots within seconds while they were flying their largest headsail, the Yankee 1.
'An ‘all hands on deck’ was called and the crew got down the Yankee 1 and hanked on the smaller Yankee 3. We sailed with full main and stay sail for a few hours waiting for the clouds and the wind to die off,' reports Gareth Glover.
'The good news was that the wind was now coming from the west and we were able to make the Scoring Gate in one tack. We were disappointed not to get any points from this gate, but have now set ourselves a new target to get out of the Solomon Sea back in the top five yachts.'
Visit Finland races past Surfers Paradise at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Steve Holland/onEdition Click Here to view large photo
Visit Finland is just a mile behind New York and, says skipper, Olly Osborne, 'With the first thousand miles under our belts we have just crossed the Adele Gate which marks our transit from the Coral to the Solomon Seas. We caught a glimpse of Rossel Island as we rounded the eastern end of the gate this morning and the thought of striking into some less frequently sailed waters is quite appealing. The heat is a constant challenge but we are keeping our focus and it is good to have reached the first milestone in this race.'
In ninth place, Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper says it’s been a frustrating 24 hours.
'We are near the back of the fleet, on the eastern flank, precisely where we don't want to be,' says Rupert Dean. 'To make matters worse, it looks like we will have to put in a dogtack to squeeze through the eastern end of the mandatory Adele Gate, which will hand yet more miles to our competitors. (They did and you can see the move clearly on the Race Viewer).
'There is a saying amongst sailing circles that 'ocean racing is chess with muscles.' This rings very true right now. It is now very clear that keeping on the western edge of the fleet since the race start has been the right thing to do. I've known this for a few days. However getting over to this flank without losing hideous miles to the rest of the fleet has appeared impossible and we are still looking for the opportunity to do so. Looking back it is quite incredible how a tactical decision made a long time ago has such an effect days or even weeks down the line.
'Although psychologically this is not a great place to be right now, the crew, to their credit are working hard and doing all that is asked of them. They have been sailing the boat really well, particularly in light conditions where we have not performed so well in the past. Against De Lage Landen and Visit Finland, who we were racing alongside for several days, we did particularly well. Indeed we'd be with them now, had we not been trapped in a wind hole for hours last night, the aftermath of a passing squall.
'The onus on us now is to be philosophical and keep our heads and spirits high. There are over 3,500 miles of this race left to be run and, potentially, several opportunities to make up the miles. The first is likely to be the Doldrums belt, which the fleet will experience as they sail up the Solomon Sea. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that conditions will be kinder to us then.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Friday 30 December Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,512nm
2 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,529nm (+16nm DTL**)
3 Qingdao - 3,536nm (+24nm)
4 Singapore - 3,538nm (+26nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry - 3,547nm (+35nm)
6 New York - 3,553nm (+41nm)
7 Visit Finland - 3,555nm (+42nm)
8 De Lage Landen - 3,559nm (+46nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,569nm (+56nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,582nm (+69nm)
*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