Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day twenty one of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
Gold Coast Australia has swooped down from the north and into first place, making maximum use of the favourable current and nudging out Derry-Londonderry from the position they had been holding as race leaders.
But the team had something of a setback this morning when the yacht broached, breaking a spinnaker pole.
'The spinnaker pole is replaceable and we had the heavyweight spinnaker ready to fly again within the hour after doing some minor repairs, although we waited until the sun was properly up and there were no more rogue gusts before a re-hoist. Being Friday the Thirteenth we cannot be cautious enough!' says Richard Hewson, skipper of the Australian yacht.
Now with a little more than 100 miles to the gate, where the fleet will suspend racing to safely negotiate the poorly charted waters of the Celebes Sea, the ten teams are fully focused on achieving the best possible elapsed time.
They will resume racing as they exit the Sulu Sea. Each of the teams must report the times they cross the suspension and restart gates within three hours of doing so. The team that wins Race 7 will be the one whose time is the shortest for the first part of the race added to the time they take to reach the finish line in Singapore from the moment they start racing again.
In addition to the fixed navigation hazards, in these waters fisherman going about their daily lives also make for something of an obstacle course for the 68-foot racing yachts.
'Last night we saw the first of many Philippine fishing boats,' Richard reports. 'During the day their colourful paint patterns and interesting construction delight the crew, and at night they have a similar appearance of bright lights of various colours that rarely represent the correct navigation lights. They move randomly (as do we while we sail) and so it makes collision avoidance strategies interesting to say the least, especially when we have a squall charging down on us with a spinnaker up making our sail plan not very manoeuvrable. Still, the fishing boats have right of way so we are ready to drop the spinnaker in an instant to alter course if required,' he explains.
In addition to the boats the fisherman drop ‘fish aggravation devices’, three-metre cylinders attached to the sea floor on a two-kilometre line.
'The FADs are hard to see during the day when there is more than a one-metre swell and are unlit so are almost impossible to see at night. They act as artificial reefs in more ways than one as not only do they attract fish, but if you hit them in a sailing yacht at ten knots they have the possibility of doing lots of damage. So far today we have seen four FADs and we are keeping a close eye out for more as we sail down the Philippine coast.'
Gold Coast Australia’s crew are not the only team to have had a bit of bad luck on Friday the Thirteenth.
Geraldton Western Australia’s skipper, Juan Coetzer says their day 'Started off with a bang just before sunrise. We were holding off Qingdao quite nicely when there was banging underneath the boat.
'The helm at the time, Ian Geraghty, said he had looked behind the boat after the incident and saw a few logs adrift. This is what we must have hit.
'At the same time we got hit by a massive squall. The medium weight kite was up and we had 24 knots of apparent wind doing 12 to 14 knots boat speed. So, the crew jumped into action and dropped the kite as soon as possible. Thankfully it came down in one piece.
'The crew who weren’t on deck started in the rope locker, working their way to the aft end of the boat, looking for any possible holes or cracks in the hull. Fortunately all is well and, from a visual check over the side, all looks good as well. One of my standing orders is to check the bilges every hour and this is a good thing, because you can always spot a problem sooner than later.
'During this mayhem we managed to tidy up and hoist our heavyweight kite as we thought it may get a little winder today. Great all set, off to bed I go... I was just about to arrive in LaLa Land when there was another bang and the kite released itself from the pole. The crew did a great recovery, dropping, re-woolling and hoisting it again. All in a day’s work!'
Singapore - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - Karl Monaghan/onEdition
The current that has been proving so beneficial to Gold Coast Australia should soon start to help some of the other yachts. Singapore, to the north of the group including Geraldton Western Australia and Qingdao, may well be the first to hook into it which would please the team no end, according to skipper, Ben Bowley.
He says, 'Things are shaping up nicely for a very close section 1 finish at this up-coming gate. If we had extra 100nm I think there would be a chance for us to maximise on our position and move up into a top three spot; but as things stand now, the rate at which we are catching the guys ahead is not quite fast enough!
Spinnaker dramas and squally conditions have not helped our cause either. It appears that all our spectra loops around the boat and on our kites are starting to fail. The ‘cruise’ phase of this race will be a good opportunity to renew the lot and prevent any more ‘surprise’ kite drops. The squalls have been a mixed blessing; sometimes driving us in exactly the right direction at 14 knots and sometimes leaving us bobbing in light airs, forcing us to come up on the wind just to keep some air in the kite.
'Another factor serving to compound our anguish is the fact that all eyes are expectantly glued to the Course Over Ground and Speed Over Ground waiting for the magic switch in direction of the current from hindrance to help. I had hoped we would be starting to see this by now. By the looks of it we may end up running fairly deep downwind along the Mindanao coastline which will have the effect of slowing our progress somewhat. Crucially, so long as we put in a respectable finish in this part of the race, we still have every opportunity of coming into our home port standing on the podium. This is something we would dearly love to do and something that I feel that we deserve this race, given how well the crew have been sailing our big red bus these last two and a half weeks.'
By the 1200 UTC update Singapore had climbed to fourth place and appears to have finally found the lift from the current that they were looking for.
Seeing the Singapore team on the podium when the fleet arrives to a spectacular welcome in front of a VIP audience in Marina at Keppel Bay on 28 January would be a special moment. The team still has a chance to be the first since Clipper 07-08 to win a race to their home port – and only the third in the event’s history to achieve such a feat.
Their Chinese rivals, Qingdao, who are also just two miles ahead of them but slightly further to the south, are doing their best to prevent them getting there and, says skipper, Ian Conchie, 'We are continuing to push hard towards the gate. It’s been a busy 24 hours on board with lots of kite changes, lots of squalls and a few breakages to deal with.
'Today both the shackle that holds the top of the vang and a block that is part of the vang broke but with some lateral thinking and swift repair work it is all now fixed.
'All we can hope is that our competitors are getting the same mix of squalls and lulls as we are. The current plan is to keep heading west to try to take advantage of the current running down to the gate. Also the wind should back as we get closer allowing us to head more directly towards it.'
The teams are indeed getting the same treatment, including back marker Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
'We are very much in the area of increased convection and are constantly being bombarded by one squall after another,' reports skipper, Gordon Reid. 'With sail changes a plenty, we are working hard just to keep the Purple Beastie moving in the challenging conditions.
'After hoisting the big guns (heavyweight kite) and flying it successfully through a nasty squall we noticed it had a small tear, probably as a result of yesterday’s shackle incident, so in the interests of maintaining our sails it had to come down for a quick repair. Now the wind has backed and we are back under white sails until the wind veers to allow a more favourable course.'
'We are battling ever changing conditions as we endeavour to keep Derry-Londonderry moving, at pace, in the right direction,' says Mark Light, skipper of the team representing the UK City of Culture 2013.
Having been ousted as the leading yacht, Mark continues, 'Being in top spot is definitely the place to be but it is not without its own pressures. We are constantly looking over our transom wondering if we are doing enough, or if other teams are in better conditions, or if we might make that mistake that will cost us. A quick reality check and we soon understand that these pressures are all self-imposed and we are, in actual fact, having a great race and making the most of the conditions presented to us. We know all the other teams are working incredibly hard to overtake us and with that in mind it only serves to enhance our own racing spirit and focus our minds further.'
The top five teams are so close in terms of distance to finish that the smallest mistake, misfortune of finding a wind hole or lapse in concentration will have big consequences.
It’s something Gareth Glover’s team on New York is all too aware of as they hover in sixth place, waiting to pounce.
'The New York crew are still in the race,' writes this morning. 'Over the last day we have come north and picked up more wind and boat speed towards the gate.
'As all the skippers and crews know, a lot can happen in that time and we plan on working hard to get back into the top five and then top three by the gate. All that needs to happen is for them to find a wind hole or for us to find more boat speed and we can pull back the lost miles.'
Having seen how Gold Coast Australia has played the current, De Lage Landen may well find themselves in an advantageous position to the north of New York.
'In the last couple of days we have managed to make up some miles on the rest of the fleet which puts us back in the race for the podium,' notes skipper, Stuart Jackson. 'With less than 250 miles to go the crew is giving everything they’ve got to close the gap with the frontrunners even more. New York is the closest to us at this point and they are also just behind us in the overall ranking, so there is a lot at stake to make up some miles on them.'
New York and Welcome to Yorkshire have been penalised a point each following the Gold Coast stopover.
The rules of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race are designed to foster safety at sea and develop high levels of seamanship by encouraging crews to sail conservatively as well as competitively. The Race Committee imposes penalties when teams exceed financial limits for sail and equipment repair and replacement that could have been avoided.
New York’s penalty point is for equipment damage while Welcome to Yorkshire’s is for sail repairs.
Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit Finland are also very close in terms of distance to finish but again there is a north-south divide, with the English team further to the north.
'With lighter winds forecasted to the southwest, we have taken the decision to head north a little in search of a stronger pressure gradient, which we hope will more than compensate for the extra miles sailed,' explains skipper, Rupert Dean.
'In a one design fleet such as this it's always difficult to overtake others on boat speed alone, necessitating a calculated strategy to out-flank them instead. Certainly that's what Gold Coast Australia has been dramatically doing to the fleet over the past week, with spectacularly successful results.'
While the teams are racing there is always an opportunity, no matter how busy they are, to mark special occasions.
'Today has been a particularly memorable one for one of our team: Peter Crooke is our first round the world crew member to have a birthday on board. He's been celebrating in some style with a delicious cake made on board, a homemade card and a large packet of cashew nuts from the team. We've got three more of these on this leg and it's always fun to make a fuss over shipmates celebrating special occasions far from home.'
At 40,000 miles, Clipper 11-12 is the world’s longest ocean race and the teams are now half way through their epic adventure, the maritime equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
Calling at 15 ports on six continents, the race not only showcases the tourism offerings of the cities and states that host the event, but allows sponsors to develop trade links as well as cultural and educational connections.
In Canada the fleet will return to Halifax where they will be hosted by Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron as they prepare for their final transoceanic crossing of Clipper 11-12.
'We are delighted to be hosting the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron and look forward to working with the race organisers to plan a memorable stopover,' says George Archibald, Commodore of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
Fresh from a short yet challenging sprint from New York the crew members will receive a warm Canadian welcome on their arrival for the pit stop. The yachts are expected to arrive there between 11 and 12 June before beginning the race to Derry-Londonderry on 15 June.
'Everyone at the RNSYS is excited to be involved in such a major international event and the ten teams can be assured of a warm Nova Scotian welcome when they arrive ahead of their final transatlantic sprint next June,' he continues.
The fleet was previously welcomed by the RNSYC during the Clipper 07-08 Race.
Find out more about how to get on board for Clipper 13-14 and beyond by visiting the Clipper Race stand at the London Boat Show from now until 15 January. We are on stand G102 in the North Hall. Positions at 1200 UTC, Friday 13 January Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,483nm
2 Derry-Londonderry - 1,493nm (+10nm DTL**)
3 Qingdao - 1,506nm (+23nm)
4 Singapore - 1,508nm (+25nm)
5 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,513nm (+31nm)
6 New York - 1,564nm (+81nm)
7 De Lage Landen - 1,569nm (+86nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1,630nm (+147nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,640nm (+157nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,882nm (+400nm)
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