Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day ten of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
The teams continue to tack their way up through the Solomon Sea, hard going through the light headwinds, with the two Australian yachts still in the lead, separated by just a few miles.
'It has been an exciting game of cat and mouse for Gold Coast Australia and Geraldton Western Australia as we battle our way out of the Solomon Sea,' says the Queensland yacht’s skipper, Richard Hewson. 'This is a battle not against each other but also the weather as the monsoon trough slowly closes in on us to take away our wind.'
'Yesterday afternoon Gold Coast Australia headed back towards the coast of Bougainville as we saw large amounts of convection coming from the island. Towards the eastern side of the course there was also more wind and as we sailed closer to the coast we got a nice lift. Eventually we tacked because we got a 20 degree knock and I did not want to get too close to a coast whose weather I did not fully understand or soundings I did not trust.
'The reports had us sailing towards our waypoint from the east so it would have been a great surprise to Geraldton Western Australia when we crossed their bow at 0500 this morning coming from the west. We crossed about two miles ahead of them and had a quick chat on VHF before proceeding our own ways to satisfy our own tactical desires.
'Later in the morning Geraldton Western Australia was sailing on the same tack as us only two miles to the east. They had to duck behind a ship that was drifting Not Under Command and I was happy as that would give us more miles over them. For this small bit of personal satisfaction, or perhaps we were being too greedy sailing the lifts higher and higher as we lifted through north and even towards the west, but a large cloud approached us and for the next three hours we were beaten down.
'Finally the cloud moved on, taking all wind with it and we were left flapping about with no wind observing Geraldton Western Australia had escaped the punishment and was now about three miles ahead of us. We shook out a reef and the wind returned and we started to once again eat the miles away from them.'
At least, says Richard, the monsoon clouds are providing some respite from the intense heat of the sun as they approach the Equator.
Juan Coetzer, Richard’s opposite number on Geraldton Western Australia is finding the wind conditions baffling – as well as the number of ships apparently drifting with no one in control.
'The winds here are crazy. At one stage Gold Coast Australia was one mile to weather of us, on the same tack, pointing 30 degrees higher than us. We tacked over and got a lift on the opposite tack to them. I am also amazed by how many Not Under Command ships there are, thus far we have passed four.'
Still fighting it out for third and fourth place are the two Asian teams, whose courses have separated with Qingdao to the east and Singapore to the west of fleet, but their distances to the finish remain close, despite now racing miles apart.
<:img Alt_Qingdao1.jpg :>
'It was with great relief we received the position report this morning as overnight we had to drop the main twice,' says Ian Conchie, whose Qingdao crew is holding on to fourth place. 'First when one of the sliders on the headboard (top of the main) came off, which in itself was a relief as at first we thought the bits blowing in the wind at the top of the mast were from damage to the main halyard (used to hoist the main and keep it up). Then for the second time when we broke a reefing line; with a squall coming I decided to drop the main and replace it rather than risk not being able to reef. Since then we have been working hard to try and bridge the gap to Singapore again but with rain storms coming through one after another causing us to go from zero to 30 knots it has been hard to do.'
As they make their way up through the Solomon Sea the team has also spotted two water spouts being sucked up from the ocean.
'By the whoops of sheer delight emanating from the nav station this afternoon one would think that we had moved into first place,' reports Ben Bowley on third placed Singapore. 'It was, however, the sound of a delighted skipper succeeding in getting our AC power working again after days of sweat and frustration. Unfortunately this coincided with the disappearance of the solid west north westerly wind and a tumble in VMG (velocity made good). The sea state is still rather choppy after the last 24 hours of good breeze and this has the effect of shaking what little wind there is out of our sails, making forward motion tricky to say the least.
'Overnight the wind was up and down necessitating numerous sail evolutions between the Yankee 1 and Yankee 2, reefs in and reefs out. All credit to the crew they performed these regular and consecutive manoeuvres splendidly and with very little in the way of grumbling! All their hard work paid off today though and at the last set of scheds we had pulled in between seven and nine miles on the front runners. I fear that we now have a day or two of crawling our way out of the Solomon Sea before we can start making our way westwards and on to Singapore. We have been reminded these last few days how tedious and frustrating it is working a large heavy yacht to windward in light airs, it will be good see the SOG (speed over ground) and VMG reading the same again, hopefully sooner rather than later!'
Mid-fleet Derry-Londonderry and De Lage Landen are also neck and neck and Mark Light, skipper of the entry representing the UK City of Culture 2013, says his team is coping well with the constant dampness caused by the squalls and sweaty atmosphere on board.
'The weather and conditions are typically tropical, last seen on Leg 1 down to Rio. We have very fluky winds, sweltering temperatures (especially below decks), high humidity, lots of very unpredictable squalls, thunder and lightning and copious amounts of precipitation. What this means for us all on board is lots of headsail changes due to approaching squalls, reefs in and out, frequent tacking to make the best VMG (Velocity Made Good) towards our waypoint, cooling fans running almost continuously down below decks, lots of fresh water showers above deck and hatches opened and closed depending on wind strength and rainfall,' he explains.
All of the teams are looking forward to getting out into the open ocean once they pass the next waypoint on the course.
'After a couple of days spent in the Solomon Sea, we are finally closing in on the northern marker, east of New Ireland. Tacking our way up dodging squalls at night and avoiding light airs during the days, we are very excited to get past New Ireland in our pursuit of those north easterly trade winds,' says De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, as they match the Northern Ireland team mile for mile.
<:img Alt_CLR1112GCsh_M69621.jpg :>
Visit Finland, who toppled Gold Coast Australia from their winner’s perch in the last stage, are following a central course and are currently in seventh place. But, says skipper, Olly Osborne, 'With so many miles still to come the race is still young.'
He continues, 'The squally conditions have persisted throughout the night making the wind very variable in strength and direction. This makes for much more exciting sailing in many respects as tacking at the right time can mean significant gains, and the lightning is quite spectacular in the pitch darkness. Today we caught a glimpse of the Solomon Islands as we tacked inshore and the rugged skyline made a great backdrop to the morning’s sailing.
'The rumble of distant thunder is becoming a familiar sound on board, and often brings the off watch up with their shampoo and towels for a fresh water wash in the tropical downpours.'
Out to the east, New York, Welcome to Yorkshire and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital are searching for the elusive wind that will allow them to close the gap on the leaders.
'Looking at the forecast weather over the next few days it is going to be very light and some yachts are going to get squalls passing over them and get moving while others will sit there waiting for wind, so I think you will still see some movement in placings until we get out of the Solomon Sea,' says Gareth Glover on board New York.
'Over the past 24 hours we have been racing close and at one point we nearly had to duck Visit Finland. The wind has been up and down going from five to more than 35 knots as very big squalls pass over us.'
The conditions have made for a busy 24 hours on Welcome to Yorkshire.
'After a settled night (for a change) of gentle sailing under starry skies, we found ourselves west of Bougainville Island, reacquainted with Edinburgh Inspiring Capital at 0600 local time. Since then it's been a day of squalls, interspersed with calms, meaning rapid evolutions changing reefs and headsails,' describes Rupert Dean.
'With the wind basically coming from where we want to go (doesn't it always?), maximising VMG towards the next waypoint is key, making the navigational choice of tack very important in these constantly shifting winds. The situation is made more complex by the fact that we have been sailing near an 'Unsurveyed Area’, entry into which is strictly forbidden under Race Instructions, in the interests of safety and good seamanship. Consequently we have had to time our tacks accordingly, to avoid this area, yet not be stuck on an expensive dogleg for more than necessary to maximise our VMG.
'To the credit of both watches, the crew have responded to these demands magnificently, putting in a very impressive work rate. As their skipper I thank them for this. A special mention today for Matthew Diggle, who located and replaced the blown fuse that was preventing our generator from starting today. It goes to show that more than sailing skills are required for a successful round the world racing campaign, proving again how normal people working for the good of a team, can achieve extraordinary things.'
<:img Alt_Edinburgh Inspiring Capital at the start of Race 61.jpg :>
Life at home has been on the minds of the team on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital as well.
'The team is made up of an international crew from all walks of life, different professions and even geographical locations, but the general consensus was that Monday mornings were filled with dread and trepidation, but as the new day dawned through the beautiful lightning storms we watched the sun rise over the Solomon Sea, riding fast, right on the edge of a dark and ominous squally cloud bank, still very much in the monsoon trough or ITCZ. The team is loving this Monday morning, made all the sweeter by the fact we are have closed on the fleet at an outstanding pace,' says Gordon Reid.
'With the virtual race mark just off the Island of New Ireland drawing ever closer, we are pulling out all the stops to keep the Purple Beastie moving in the ever changing winds. Last night we enjoyed a bright waxing moon and the sky was full of awesome bright, shining stars in between fantastic banks of sheet lightning. This is another magical place and we are hoping the wind holds long enough to make our way out of the Solomon Sea and into the more consistent north easterly trade winds.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Monday 2 January Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 3,183nm
2 Geraldton Western Australia - 3,186nm (+3nm DTL**)
3 Singapore - 3,213nm (+30nm)
4 Qingdao - 3,224nm (+41nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry - 3,236nm (+53nm)
6 De Lage Landen - 3,239nm (+55nm)
7 Visit Finland - 3,262nm (+79nm)
8 New York - 3,240nm (+85nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 3,273nm (+89nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3,289nm (+105nm)
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