Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day sixteen of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
Qingdao cannot afford to let their foot off the gas as another team joins with Geraldton Western Australia to put pressure on the leaders.
Derry-Londonderry is now neck and neck with the WA entry, marginally ahead and in second place now while Visit Finland is only a few miles behind the team they have been sailing in close quarters with for some time.
'We have had a cracking run for the last two days and are enjoying close competition with the Derry-Londonderry team again, who seem to be a regular companion,' reports Olly Osborne, Visit Finland’s skipper. 'The wind allows us to use our spinnakers at intervals and our trusty heavyweight is holding up well after its re-profiling on the way to Cape Town some time ago. Our thoughts are now turning to the next phase of the race through the Celebes Sea, and it will be great to see which of the boats gets through the gate first, although time will tell how the different tactics play out over the coming days.'
Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, says, 'We are sailing really well, making some great ground under near perfect trade wind conditions. During the night we changed from our medium spinnaker to white sails and then during the early hours we changed from Yankee 1 and staysail to heavy spinnaker and we are reaching along at ten knots in 18 knots of north easterly wind.
'We have Visit Finland visible on our port quarter and although they have closed in on us now I believe we are both sailing in the same airs and the gap is steady. It is interesting to see that they are flying exactly the same sail plan as us, doing an identical course and our boat speeds are matching each other without much change at all. This gives us great focus and motivation because we can see them and I’m sure Olly has his crew very concentrated on taking us. We have had some great battles with the Flying Finns on previous races and this really is another 1,400-mile match race to the end of the first section of this stage. May the best team win and good sailing to all.'
Meanwhile on board the front runner Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie tells the Race Office that he and his crew have also been enjoying having another team to race against.
'The big push westwards has begun! We have been sailing with Geraldton Western Australia for the last 24 hours which has given us someone to race against as we head westwards towards the next gate. We have been flying the heavyweight kite all day and making good speed. It will be interesting to see how the different routes work out for each of the boats. We have at last lost the current that was slowing us down now so that should allow us to match the speed of the boats to the south of us. With such a narrow gate we should see the fleet converge over the next four or five days.'
Ian goes on to say, 'Hopefully we should now be clear of the convection area which gave us so many squalls so we can settle down and start covering some good solid daily runs.'
However, Simon Rowell, the race’s meteorologist and a former winning skipper himself, warns against thinking they are out of the way of the squalls completely.
'Your morning reports are full of lots of trade wind sailing – fantastic,' he tells the skippers and their navigators. 'This should carry on for a few days too, but don't forget squall watch: they're still there, just not as many.'
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital discovered that last night not long after they crossed the Equator to join the rest of the fleet in the northern hemisphere, toasting their accomplishment with a wee dram and giving a drop to the sea.
'Now very much in the north east trade winds we flew Big Frank (our medium weight kite) until we hit one rogue squall and down it came,' says Gordon Reid, the skipper of the Scottish yacht. 'It is difficult to spot squalls in the dark, so we continued under Yankee 1 and staysail at a reduced nine knots albeit a few degrees higher on the breeze and rhumb line.
'Today the wind has increased to over 15 knots and we are banging out some fierce boat speed, eleven knots at times and very much still in the South Equatorial Current, taking the shortest route in the consistent winds.'
'As you race along at high speed spare a thought for one of your predecessors, Nick Moore, who was a watch leader on Liverpool 08 in the Clipper 05-06 Race,' continues Simon.
In addition to his daily weather brief, he tells the skippers about a former Clipper Race participant who is also currently battling the oceans.
'He is half of an Atlantic rowing team (Box Number 8) about 400 miles out of Barbados right now. They've got good trades too and are screaming along at nearly three knots. They're doing really well – leading their class, second overall by about 13 miles and just knocking on the door of the fastest two-handed row for that route.'
The crews of the Clipper Race are people like you, who come from all walks of life and represent more than 40 nationalities. The only age limit is the lower one – you have to be at least 18 to take part but there is no upper age limit. What all of those who take part have in common is a thirst for adventure, and for many the Clipper Race is just the starting point for things to come.
Nick, a Singapore resident, is one of a number of former Clipper Race participants for who have gone on to row the Atlantic. In 2010 Mel King, a round the worlder in Clipper 07-08 rowed across the Atlantic as one half of a female pair and is now preparing for a polar expedition with two other Clipper 07-08 crew, while Elin Haf Davies, a children’s nurse, will join the current race in Qingdao for the Pacific Ocean leg on board Visit Finland, having previously rowed across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
You can meet former crew members and find out what it takes to get on board for the challenge of a lifetime on the Clipper Race stand at the London Boat Show from now until 15 January. We are on stand G102, between the Black and White Bar and the Knowledge Box.
Back to the South Pacific and New York and Welcome to Yorkshire are also in close competition, the US entry having the advantage over the English team.
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'The last 12 hours have given us some of the best sailing conditions so far on this race,' reports New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover. 'We are making good time and speed towards the gate and have taken back some lost miles from some of the other yachts in the fleet.
'If the wind holds its speed and direction we will be at the gate in four or five days and getting there in the top three is the goal we have set ourselves but we know there are nine other yachts racing that are going to say the same. It’s going to be down to which team wants it the most and works the hardest. We are working the South Equatorial Current which is giving us up to a knot of speed more but as we head north the equatorial current will turn against us and will take up to the same back.'
'Our lovely 'Pink Lady' is moving more purposely now that we have found the north east trades and we are making good VMG (Velocity Made Good – speed in the correct direction),' says Rupert Dean.
'To hear the bow wave rushing along the sides of Welcome to Yorkshire’s hull after so many days of drifting is a welcome tonic, lifting the spirits of all as we count down the miles towards the gate. Not only do the trades bring us speed, they also provide welcome cooling and circulation above and below decks, although the heat from the sun remains stifling.
'We're sailing a pretty direct course at the moment towards our objective. The wind is on our beam and we are reaching with the heavyweight kite at present, heading more north to build up the apparent wind strength when the wind dies and bearing away onto a more direct course when it fills. So our strategy is one of steps at the moment, unlike Gold Coast Australia, Geraldton Western Australia and Qingdao who, in their position at the front of the pack, have chosen a north at all costs route which they hope will result in stronger trade winds for the duration of their route. They are a very long way north of us now and to follow them will achieve little more than adding distance to sail, so we'll stick to our strategy and hope that it all works out.'
At the northern end of the pack Gold Coast Australia continues to slip down the rankings as those who opted for more west in their course continue to make gains. Richard Hewson, the skipper, says it hasn’t all been plain sailing as they have had more problems with their medium weight spinnaker.
'Yesterday our medium weight spinnaker was up flying again after some fantastic repair work by our team,' he explains. 'Later that afternoon I was woken up to an ‘all hands on deck’ only to discover that the leach tape of the newly repaired spinnaker had split in a completely different spot to the previous repair and the spinnaker was once again in two pieces.
'It was taken back down below and replaced immediately by a heavyweight spinnaker and the sewing team is now back down in the sauna making new repairs and thinking positive thoughts while the crew on deck work away sailing the yacht with the heavyweight spinnaker to the west. On a positive note the repairs made the previous day were spot on and had held together perfectly.
'We have been carrying the heavyweight spinnaker ever since and trying to make ground on the yachts to the south. I am intrigued to find that they seem to have more wind than we do to the north and hoping the tables will turn and we will make gains from our investment over the next few days before the fleet starts to converge at the next gate,' he continues.
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That race is going to be interesting to watch play out, according to Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'The race to the next virtual mark is going to be close,' he comments. 'The boats that went north originally had to find some breeze to keep moving. The boats that came out of the Solomon Sea a wee bit later have lucked in to the trade winds, giving them a good course. All the boats are making good gains west, so time will tell whose tactics will pay off. At the moment our closest rival is Qingdao. Ian, the skipper is very chatty on the radio and it great to hear some new stories from another boat.'
Waiting to pounce, the duo of Singapore and De Lage Landen are hoping when they turn to the west they will begin to climb through the fleet.
'Soon, very soon, it will be time to make our turn to the west,' Ben Bowley, Singapore’s skipper says. 'We cannot really make much more north without becoming embroiled in a large collection of reefs! I had hoped that by now we would be seeing less effect from the adverse equatorial current but it still plagues us, knocking up to a knot and a half off our SOG (Speed Over Ground). Wind we have by the hat full however, and progress has been good these last 24 hours while we have run west north west under full main and Yankee 1 with the wind on the beam. Both the crew and I eagerly await the moment when we hoist Vicky again [‘Sticky Vicky’, the crew’s favourite spinnaker, so called because of the amount of sail repair tape that has been used on her]; she should give us a good extra shove and with luck get us surfing on this short chop that has been building up these last couple of days. It will be nice to see the VMG matching the SOG for a change and hopefully we will see our overall position start to improve.'
Stuart Jackson hopes to see De Lage Landen benefitting as well.
'Finally we have had 24 hours with decent breeze since the start of the race. It makes such a difference to be eating away the miles and finally heading in the right direction,' he says. 'Also the increased wind has made living conditions much more comfortable with fresh air flowing through the boat.
'It's hard to believe that we have already spent over two weeks at sea, we will see how everyone is fairing after over four weeks. Hopefully cabin fever won't have set in by then, although people are already punishing themselves with thoughts of steak and ice cold beer!'
It may well be a bit too early to start fantasising about first meals on arrival in port but one thing the teams will have once they have arrived at Marina at Keppel Bay in Singapore is a massive choice of cuisines. Singapore is a foodie’s fantasy come to life, with specialities including chilli crab and banana leaf curry ready to sample in Chinatown, Little India and the central nightlife area at Clarke Quay, not to mention the fine dining on offer to tempt the palate in Marina at Keppel Bay itself.
The fleet will arrive to a spectacular welcome in Singapore after mustering on the island of Batam in Indonesia prior to the coordinated arrival in Marina at Keppel Bay on 28 January. Positions at 1500 UTC, Sunday 8 January Boat - DTF*
1 Qingdao - 2,392nm
2 Derry-Londonderry - 2,397nm (+4nm DTL**)
3 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,402nm (+10nm)
4 Visit Finland - 2,408nm (+16nm)
5 New York - 2,434nm (+42nm)
6 Gold Coast Australia - 2,444nm (+52nm)
7 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,460nm (+68nm)
8 Singapore - 2,539nm (+147nm)
9 De Lage Landen - 2,583nm (+191nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,596nm (+204nm)
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