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Clipper Round the World Race - Close battle for lead

'Geraldton Western Australia 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

Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day fifteen of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.

Qingdao has been holding the lead through the last 24 hours but Geraldton Western Australia is gaining ground on the Chinese entry, despite their spinnaker damage, and now the two yachts, barely 20 miles apart geographically have been able to make contact with each other.

'We managed to raise Geraldton Western Australia on VHF so we were able to congratulate the crew on their spinnaker repairs,' says Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie.

'We continued heading north west under white sails until lunchtime today when we hoisted the heavy spinnaker and bore away to try and make some ground on them to the west. The wind keeps changing direction so it is hard to decide if it is better to head west with spinnakers or north west with white sails.

'In the meantime we have received lots of messages to congratulate us on holding first place for 24 hours but, as I keep saying, there is a long way to go and with boats to the south and north of us only time will tell which was the right strategy to play. We continue to push hard buoyed by the exciting news that Qingdao has extended their sponsorship for another two races. We will continue to push to try and give them a result to celebrate as well,' concludes Ian.

After ripping their medium weight spinnaker right across the middle, the WA team’s sail repair team has swung into action.

'The last 24 hours have seen the crew pushing a needle through 24 metres of sail repair. Job completed and we’re just waiting for the right conditions to put up the ‘Luff Bluster’ aka medium weight kite,' says skipper, Juan Coetzer. 'The crew have done a fantastic job and all put in overtime to get the task done as well as race the boat hard,' he continues.

The north east trade winds are now starting to benefit all of the teams. The yachts are approximately spread across a line running from north to south and at the southern end Derry-Londonderry’s crew are revelling in their third place and have really found their rhythm on board.

Mark Light says, 'We are sailing very well as a team; our new leggers have shown great enthusiasm and been integrated well to the boat by the very reliable and hard working core crew on board. Lots of our sailing evolutions have gone very well and we seem to have a new sharpness and freshness all around. Add this to the fact that we seem to be making good decisions with regard to sail changes and strategies and we have a reason to be very pleased with our progress in this race!

'We have very consistent winds from the east north east and a lovely flat sea state. We are being helped along by the South Equatorial Current which is giving us a shove of about one knot, consistently shown by virtue of our Speed Over Ground higher than our boat speed - about ten knots at present. We are making a good direction, operating about 175nm north of our rhumb line and the intense convection activity, or squalls, has decreased substantially.

'On board we are all working hard, keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for a successful finish to this very long and very tactical race seven,' concludes the skipper of the Northern Ireland team.

Just slightly further to their north east Visit Finland is nipping at their heels, with Welcome to Yorkshire and New York joining the group of four. They may well have a better angle on the wind than those to the north of the fleet.

'Today has been one of our best runs yet and spirits were high at the lunchtime meeting,' reports Olly Osborne on board Visit Finland. 'The squally weather seems to be behind us for the time being and it is great to get our teeth into some reliable breeze. We are currently making a more southerly course which is historically devoid of much in the way of consistent wind, but so far so good as they say.

'So as the fleet shapes up for the dash westward toward the bottleneck at the Sarangani Strait it will be a very interesting week from a tactical perspective. The temperature has fallen slightly which is a great relief, and everyone is enjoying a bit of settled weather.'

New York 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  

While the weather is more settled, New York’s crew are still experiencing some ups and downs, according to skipper, Gareth Glover.

'The ups at crossing the Equator and getting back into the north of the world and downs that we sailed into a wind hole and sat there for over six hours in zero wind until we picked up the forecast north easterlies which we are sailing in,' he explains.

'We tried every sail to help us get moving from the wind hole including trying to fly all three kites but in zero wind not even the lightweight kite wound fill and we had to just sit there and watch on AIS as Derry-Londonderry and Visit Finland sailed around us. We are now travelling north west under heavyweight kite and with still 1,300 miles to our next waypoint we will make back the miles we have lost overnight and get into the top three yachts.'

No less determined are the crew of Welcome to Yorkshire who celebrated their Equator crossing with a traditional Neptune ceremony. The skipper of the English entry, Rupert Dean, describes the scene.

'Our second crossing was different to the first in that half of the crew had crossed before. Known as Shellbacks, they were not required by Neptune to take part in the dodgy rituals. Instead they played an active supporting role cooking up treats, making costumes, filming and washing the accused and decks (more on that later). The Shellbacks were Jim Stamp, Steve Reid, Hannah Richards, Ann Finch, Richard Simons, Richard Williams and Peter Crooke (all round the worlders), accompanied by Richard Gould and Les Hartley, who had been 'christened' previously on other boats.

'The accused, known as Pollywogs, were James Bruegger, Kim Rolfe, Matthew Diggle, Matt Cornall, Callum Girvan, Harriet Oglethorpe and Richard Hilson. They were gathered, cowering on deck to await the arrival of King Neptune (skipper), his Queen Amphritite (Ann) and Davy Jones (Steve). After they arrived, amidst much fanfare, the court kicked into action.

'Each of the accused was called forward to sit before Neptune, Amphritite and Davy Jones. After drinking a 'truth serum' (chicken Oxo, Branston pickle, chilli sauce and Worcester Sauce mix), they were given the opportunity to defend themselves against their crimes, the evidence for which was gleefully supplied by the Shellbacks. Chief among these, of course, was crossing the Equator without first seeking Neptune's permission. After all were – naturally – found to be guilty, each had to kiss the hands of Queens Amphritite and Davy Jones, before retreating to the poop deck to be covered with ladles of gunk (tomato juice and porridge oats). They were then washed off with buckets of sea water by the Shellbacks and proclaimed to be Pollywogs no more.'

There is just one team in the southern hemisphere now but Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is in no great rush to cross the Equator as they continue on their westerly course, says skipper, Gordon Reid.

'Last night the squalls continued, presenting us with some challenging conditions, frequent reefing in and out, and numerous head-sail changes between the Yankee 1 and the windseeker as we continued to make the most of the increased wind within the black squall clouds. The moon is almost full and the night sky is bright and full of stars.

'Today as the sun rose, unfortunately the wind eased again and we were left drifting in the current for hours, however as we passed under the mini high the wind returned and we now have the north easterly trades, flying under spinnaker at a tasty nine knots.'

From the most southerly to the most northerly yacht in the race and Gold Coast Australia has also overcome their sail problems, having spent time reworking a previous repair.

'Finally the winds that we have been searching for have arrived without squalls or storms. We are now sailing along at six degrees north, nicely powered up in the direction we want to go,' comments Richard Hewson. 'To add to our luxury sail, the counter current that we were experiencing earlier this morning has turned around and is now flowing with us giving us another half a knot speed over ground.

'Our medium weight spinnaker has also successfully been re-repaired and is flying beautifully ahead of the yacht, powering her along at maximum speed for the ten to 12 knots of wind that we currently hold. Lisa Blair, Deb Miller, Deb Grant, Chris Hopkins and Brian Stamp took the arduous sewing in turns and bought the ol’ sewing machine back to life to run over the stitching a few more times. Fingers crossed, with the re-repairs it’s stronger than new and will hold up to the test for the next few weeks.'

The Tasmanian yachtsman, who had been bemoaning the dearth of wildlife in the early stages of this race, is happier with what he has been seeing in recent days.

'As we near the islands of one of the more remote regions of the Pacific there is an increase in the abundance of wildlife with daily sightings of dolphins, and flocks of birds dive bombing schools of fish. We also have the occasional bird trying to steal our Windex which we need to somehow disguise as a predator to scare them away in future. The increase in wildlife is a pleasure to watch and hopefully it remains like that for the future.'

It will be interesting to watch the race viewer over the next 12 to 36 hours as Singapore and De Lage Landen, who have continued to press northwards to position themselves for what they hope will be the best of the trade winds, begin to feel the benefits of them.

'After almost a week spent under the frustrating influence of the monsoon trough we are now feeling what could be the first signs of the north easterlies, and thank God for that. What an amazing afternoon spent reaching with the kite at speeds over ten knots at all times. The crew spirit is high and the will to fight for a podium position is stronger than ever. Let's wait and see what the next days will bring us,' Stuart Jackson tells the Race Office in his morning report.

Singapore leads the fleet 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  

Meanwhile on Singapore Ben Bowley says, 'Our more northerly course is rewarding us with some good steady winds and being becalmed for hours on end is starting to become a thing of the past. It is sorely tempting to start to edge off to the west now that we have signs of the steady trades that have been so elusive this last week. The problem with heading to the west too soon is still present however; turn too soon and we are likely to pay the price further down the line in the form of some much lighter conditions.

'The plan has always been to head north until we find the strong trades but seeing most of the fleet start to curve off the west makes our resolution waver from time to time! Time will tell the best course of action but here's still hoping that a little investment now will pay dividends further down the line.

'Today has been another blisteringly hot and humid day. The last 24 hours have seen us switch between our light and medium weight spinnakers almost as often as there is a watch change due to the constant fluctuations in the breeze. This has served to make the crew super efficient at the evolution and kite packing now takes around ten minutes as opposed to nearly half an hour at the start of the leg,' signs off Ben.

You can find out how to get on board for the Clipper 13-14 Race at the London International Boat Show from now until 15 January. Visit us on stand G102 in the North Hall to meet former crew members and to discover more about the exciting new Clipper 70 fleet which will enter service in the next edition of the race. There are presentations each day at 12.15pm in the Knowledge Box, next to the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race stand.

Positions at 1200 UTC, Saturday 7 January
Boat - DTF*
1 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,635nm
2 Qingdao - 2,636nm (+1nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 2,656nm (+21nm)
4 Visit Finland - 2,674nm (+39nm)
5 Gold Coast Australia - 2,680nm (+45nm)
6 New York - 2,706nm (+70nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,729nm (+94nm)
8 Singapore - 2,744nm (+109nm)
9 De Lage Landen - 2,804nm (+169nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,829nm (+194nm)

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

by Heather Ewing


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12:48 PM Sat 7 Jan 2012 GMT

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