Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day twenty of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore. A mixed day of sailing has been had by the ten international teams competing in the race in the last 24 hours, as they continue to battle with the varying weather conditions on their approach towards the restart gate.
In addition to the unpredictable winds, Race Director Joff Bailey reports that over the next ten days or so the Clipper Race fleet will have to negotiate three particular hazards, and as a precaution, the Race Viewer will not operate as it usually does.
'The fleet will soon be entering the Celebes and Sulu Seas which has an increased risk of piracy. The piracy in this part of the world should in no way be linked to the piracy that you hear of on the TV near Somalia which is on an almost industrial scale. The risk on the Clipper Race route can be better described as a mugging at sea, but it is still a risk that we take seriously. This is one of the main risks that the Race Team has been considering and in conjunction with the regional Navy forces and the Royal Navy liaison in Singapore mitigating plans have been put in place to reduce the risks to an acceptable level,' Joff says.
'The first action that we will be taking is that once the teams enter the Celebes Sea (approximately 48 hours away) they will go into Stealth Mode for approximately four days whilst they cross the area of risk. The gates in which they pass will also be removed. This will prevent any clever pirate from looking at the web site and following the boats. Don’t worry, the Race Team will still be tracking the yachts every hour and will put information in the daily report and on the web site so that you know what is going on.'
During this time the Race Office Team will also suspend racing so that the teams can group together and cross the higher risk areas in company to significantly reduce the risk of attack.
Joff continues 'By suspending racing it will also allow the skippers to use their engines in periods of light winds which will allow the race team to schedule the boats more efficiently and also will allow the skippers the full freedom of navigation to give significant sea room to any navigational hazard.
'After about four days in Stealth Mode you will see the teams pop out and start racing again in the South China Sea with approximately 900 miles, of racing to complete.'
Meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2002, Simon Rowell has forecast that the teams may be greeted by reduced and confused trade winds over the next few days in the wake of Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) that is moving eastwards, and adds, 'Hopefully all the teams will reach the Celebes gate before that happens'.
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
On board New York, skipper Gareth Glover reports that the American entry is experiencing 'tough times' in the light winds which has seen them slip to sixth place within the fleet.
'With light winds for the past few days and ocean currents against us, we have very low speed over ground (SOG), lower then we were thinking and the yachts to our north are now making their way down to the gate at a much greater speed than we planned they were going to.'
As the teams yo-yo around the leader board, Gareth admits, 'Keeping focus has been hard in the light winds and sees us drop down the leader board fast, and keeping motivated is just as hard. We just need to tell ourselves there is still over 400 miles to the gate and the rest of the race and that what has happened to us with the light airs and wind holes can happen to the other yachts racing too.'
Sitting firmly in the top spot is Derry-Londonderry, which has been experiencing the fluctuating wind patterns that have plagued the yachts to the south.
'We have had a very mixed bag of weather in the last 24 hours which has seen all three spinnakers in use plus the Yankee 1 and staysail. We had a very good run through the night with our heavyweight kite, making some good progress. (This definitely seems to be the trend - lots of varying weather by day and more grey and towering clouds, bringing steadier winds after dark!) We passed to the north of the Sonsorol Islands during the dawn and then as the wind strengthened and moved forward we changed to white sails. Within 45 minutes the wind had almost deserted us so we re-hoisted a spinnaker, this time the lightweight variety. As the wind increased steadily, throughout the morning we peeled to our medium weight kite, showing the battle scars of six and a half months of ocean racing,' says skipper, Mark Light.
With their competitors in sight, Mark is all too aware that such dynamic races can be won and lost in a matter of minutes. 'We are now making very steady progress, although mindful that the rest of the Clipper Race fleet are closing in on us! One thing’s for sure, this is going to be a very close run thing as the fleet converges for the final approach to our next waypoint, the Celebes Sea gate.'
Occupying second place within the fleet is Geraldton Western Australia. With just over 20 miles separating them and the front runners, skipper Juan Coetzer knows there is still so much to play for in this cat and mouse sprint to the Celebes Sea gate.
'Looking at the Palau Islands and the weather forecasts, I could see that the wind was going to help us out in a big way once we had sailed around the bottom. We got a glimpse of the island just before a colourful sunset,' Juan said.
'Gybing our way around the bottom of the island we picked up Qingdao on AIS (Automatic Identification System), and we had extended our lead over them. During the night the wind shifted from 70 degrees to 40 degrees true. This is what I was looking for. The sea state was flat with a slight current, and Geraldton Western Australia went flying along towards the waypoint at good speed. Call it luck or understanding, it paid off and currently we are second again, pushing hard to catch Derry-Londonderry and stay ahead of Qingdao.'
Meanwhile, on board Gold Coast Australia, repairs on the team’s ripped medium weight spinnaker have been completed as the team leaves behind the lull in weather that has hampered their progress over the last couple of days.
'Gold Coast Australia finally got our wind back and made some great progress overnight and throughout the morning. At noon we gybed towards the south and we are now making our way down the Philippine coast to the gate between Sarangani Strait and Marore Island,' explains skipper Richard Hewson.
'One of the greatest achievements so far this race was reached today when our medium weight spinnaker repair was finally completed. This repair has taken almost seven days of sewing in the intense heat of the cabin with a very temperamental sewing machine and limited cloth and other tools on a ‘loft’ floor that is moving, banging and twisting with every wave. Not only have we fixed the repair but also re-enforced the clews and luff tapes, so hopefully now the sail is better than new.
This sail will be very useful as we race through the lighter winds of the Celebes Sea and down to Singapore so it is fantastic that it has been repaired so well,' he adds.
Keeping a close eye on the changeable weather and their opposing neighbours is Singapore, whose tactic to race north seems to be paying off as they try to glean back the miles lost at the beginning of this stage.
'The tactical element of the race is still unfolding as we all sprint the last 400 miles to the next gate there will be a real mixed bag of currents to play with. We are sticking a bit more to the north and do not plan on diving south down the coast of Mindanao until the current starts heading in that direction too. The temptation at the moment is to head straight for the gate but I fear that the boats to the south could possibly end up down current having to climb back north as we approach the coast. Staying a little higher on the wind is also allowing us to keep slightly better speed and hopefully in some more consistent breeze,' skipper, Ben Bowley, reports.
'As is so often the case, a lot of this conjecture is based on educated guess work as we have no detailed information as to what the current had been doing over the last week or two. Time to roll the dice again and hope that lady luck favours team Singapore for a change. For the moment though it is fantastic to see VMG (Velocity Made Good) in excess of 9.5 knots and to be powering along with ‘Sticky Vicky’ (heavyweight kite) urging our 32-ton ‘big red bus’ to the west with all expediency!'
On board De Lage Landen, skipper, Stuart Jackson reports, 'The last couple of days have been filled with some of the most amazing sailing we've experienced so far.'
The Dutch entry has worked hard to make the most of the favourable conditions that have greeted them over the last 24 hours and continue to claw their way back up the leader board.
'With average speeds over nine knots for most of the time, we are finally starting to close the gap on the rest of the fleet. We are now approaching the Celebes Sea where the next stage of the race will start. Hopefully the winds will stay favourable for us until the gate so that we can continue to catch up with the leaders,' Stuart adds.
After an exhausting 24 hours of sail evolutions and repairs, Qingdao’s efforts to push forward in the diverging winds are paying off.
'We continue to run westwards with our medium weight spinnaker up. And after yesterday’s problems I am glad to report no further spinnaker damage yet.
'It has turned into a drag race to the gate between the lead boats. Any wind hole or problem and you will lose ground. We have our old sparring partner Geraldton Western Australia back and have been chasing hard all night so it was good to be able to see them visually this morning; now we just have to overtake them. We have both made ground on Derry-Londonderry but not enough yet!'
Visit Finland skipper Olly Osborne reports that his team has been experiencing the 'troublesome squalls' as they continue to contend with the Celebes Sea.
'There seems to be little solid breeze to get our teeth into and we have seen another run of disappointing scheds. This may well be the effects of our more southerly position but we are hoping to reach the Helen Islands tomorrow morning.
The furthest team south, the Finnish entry is sailing the closest to the Indonesian coastline and in the last 24 hours has encountered signs of land.
'Visiting gulls and terns are becoming more frequent as well as a fairly large raft of timber floating by just before lunch. We also saw a series of small LED lights pass down our starboard side last night which must have been fishing gear, but we stayed a good couple of cables away from it and had no trouble,' says Olly.
Feeling the frustration of the varying weather, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is pushing hard to make any small gains they can after spending 24 hours in a wind hole. 'This morning after seeking hard we found some wind and got moving again, flying the Yankee 1 and staysail and full main, moving to the big guns (heavyweight kite) as the wind veered, for a while we cracked along at over eight knots and even reached eleven knots some of the time,' comments skipper, Gordon Reid.
'For the third time in this race one of our Gibb snap shackles just blew apart, sending our spinnaker flying around to the port side. We managed to get it down with no damage to anyone, only a small eight inch tear which will be easily patched and stitched. Once more we need to make up a new spinnaker guy.
'We have just driven into a squall where the wind increased to 38 knots and backed over 100 degrees, so with one reef in the main the Yankee 1 and staysail we are on a very similar course on the opposite tack,' Gordon adds.
Welcome to Yorkshire at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Steve Holland/onEdition
On board Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean praises his crews sail repair team as the Yorkshire entry’s lightweight kite is back in one piece.
Hot on the heels of Visit Finland with only two miles separating the two teams, the English entry continues to jostle with their rivals and remain focused as they fight for a higher place on the leader board.
'Squalls, squalls, squalls, continuously developing and fizzling out, hitting us on Welcome to Yorkshire with increasing regularity, particularly in the mornings,' describes Rupert.
'Sailing in this area has, therefore, demanded increasing vigilance on spotting them and rapidly changing between the heavyweight kite, Yankee 1 and back again.' Only time will tell if the tactics will have benefited the team in the drag race to the Celebes Sea gate.
On land, Welcome to Yorkshire is celebrating its success as the winner of the World Travel Award for the World’s Leading Marketing Campaign for the second year running.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said, 'Yorkshire is a world beater and winning this award for the second year running proves it. We have gone head-to-head with some of the best brands with bigger budgets than us and come out on top again.
'The award is testament to the 25,000 brilliant businesses that make up Yorkshire’s tourism industry; their quality ensures we are able to compete on a global scale with the best in the world. It also shows how far we have come in three years since Welcome to Yorkshire launched, that we now judge ourselves against the world’s best and not just our competitors in the UK.'
Clipper Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston says, 'I would like to congratulate Welcome to Yorkshire on their success in winning this prestigious award and am pleased that Clipper has been able to play a small part in their achievement.
'The Clipper Race creates a powerful platform at ports of call around the world where our destination sponsors and their partners can network together to develop international trade, promote tourism and celebrate culture.' Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 11 January
1 Derry-Londonderry - 1672nm*
2 Geraldton Western Australia - 1694nm (+23nm**)
3 Qingdao - 1696nm (+25nm)
4 Gold Coast Australia - 1706nm (+34nm)
5 Singapore - 1715nm (+43nm)
6 New York - 1736nm (+64nm)
7 De Lage Landen - 1793nm (+122nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1814nm (+143nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1817nm (+145nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2021nm (+349nm)
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