Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are currently on day twenty two of race seven, from the Gold Coast to Singapore.
The first five teams have crossed the Celebes Sea gate, entering Stealth Mode in the process. Acting upon instructions set out by the Race Committee, the ten internationally backed teams will transit in Stealth Mode through the potentially hazardous area.
'The Celebes and Sulu Seas 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,' explains Race Director, Joff Bailey.
After careful planning in conjunction with the regional Navy forces and the Royal Navy the Race Committee decided to enforce a number of precautionary measures for the Clipper Race fleet.
'Once the teams enter the Celebes Sea 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 website and following the boats.'
During this time the Race Office Team will suspend racing so that the teams can group together and cross the higher risk areas in company to significantly reduce the risk of attack. The Race Team will continue to track the yachts every hour and news from on board will be included in the daily report.
'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,' adds Joff.
Gold Coast Australia were the first entry to cross the Celebes Sea gate and entered Stealth Mode at 2154 UTC.
'The timings for the first five yachts to cross the gate were very close, and the next three yachts passed the gate only a couple of hours after Derry-Londonderry,' reports skipper of the Australian entry, Richard Hewson.
'This is a fantastic achievement for us on Gold Coast Australia and we worked incredibly hard to get back to first place in a race where we have seen our fair share of problems. Three days ago we were over 70 miles behind the leading boats with a torn mainsail and spinnaker, and now we are leading the race. I am immensely proud of my crew who worked very hard through very difficult conditions.
'Over the past few days conditions have ranged from 40 knot squalls coming out of blue skies without a warning to pitch black sky, no wind and lots and lots of rain where the Windex would turn a full 360 degrees every minute,' continues Richard.
The temporary suspension in racing will give each entry a welcome opportunity to catch up on sleep as well as general maintenance ahead of the second phase in the race to Singapore.
'Today everybody is having a day off relaxing and enjoying the scenery of the Philippine islands as they drift by. Tomorrow we will commence some maintenance tasks and get as much work done to the boat as possible in three days so we are ready for the final 900 mile sprint to Singapore,' signs off Richard.
Hoping to continue their excellent form is Mark Light and the crew of Derry-Londonderry, who crossed the line soon after their Australian adversaries.
'This morning, just before breakfast, we crossed the Celebes Sea gate (2314 UTC) where we officially finished the first section of Race 7. We crossed in second place about an hour and twenty minutes behind Gold Coast Australia - amazingly close after approximately 3,500 miles of ocean racing!
'This puts us in a good, strong position to consolidate and hopefully achieve a good result at the end,' continues Mark, hoping this race will deliver the team’s first podium finish.
'We now have 95 hours to transit the Celebes and Sula Seas arriving ready and recharged to re-commence racing through the South China Sea down to Singapore.
'We have had a fantastic race so far and I would like to say a huge well done to my crew, they have worked incredibly hard and deserve a podium position in Singapore.'
Joining Gold Coast Australia and Derry-Londonderry in Stealth Mode are Geraldton Western Australia, Qingdao and Singapore after the three teams enjoyed competitive racing through some challenging conditions over the last 24 hours.
'Well Friday the thirteenth served up all sorts of fun and games for us yesterday and last night,' reveals Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley.
'At around 1700 we were hit by a squall of monstrous proportions. Having spent the day riding out a squall on average every other hour we were not concerned to see another looming up on the radar astern of us. However, unlike previous squalls that carried no more than 35 knots of wind, this one saw an increase from 18 knots to 55 knots in the space it has taken you to read this sentence.
'As we were preparing for the drop, the spinnaker pole beak snapped and the kite jumped skywards and to leeward. I happened to be on the helm at the time and we were lucky not to broach; trying to keep ‘Vicky’ under control and in front of the boat was not unlike taking a pack of famished, harnessed wolves for a walk through a petting zoo,' continues Ben.
'By this stage most of the off watch had been literally thrown out of their bunks and were able to assist in a guy run drop. We were very lucky to get the kite down in one piece but as I have said before, Vicky's a tough bird.
'Not for the first time this trip; we were stalked by numerous squalls through the night. We decided to run with a poled out headsail for the sake of preserving gear (it's much quicker to gybe the headsail across and off the pole when required than it is to drop a kite.) Our prudence was rewarded by a night of squalls, becalmed, 30 knots, becalmed and sailing backwards! I have rarely seen such confused weather and sea state. Our only comfort was that our nearest rivals Qingdao and Geraldton Western Australia were going through the same washing machine cycle,' signs off Ben.
Qingdao races past Surfers Paradise 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 Qingdao, skipper, Ian Conchie was indeed also left frustrated by the same conditions.
'We crossed the gate this afternoon just behind Geraldton Western Australia and just ahead of Singapore! It was a frustrating night of wind squalls and wind holes which kept changing the leader board.
'Unfortunately for us though when the last of the squalls cleared the wind filled in for Geraldton Western Australia first and we had to again sit and watch them sail past again. We then had a drag race between the three boats keeping the crews on their toes all the way to the gate. We even hoisted the kite with just four miles to go as the wind changed to try and make the best time we could,' reports Ian.
'We have put a plan together for the next few days involving maintenance and boat cleaning to try and get as much done as can before Batam. We will also be running through some training to try and make sure we are at the top of our game for the second part of the race.
'We will be making the passage in the company of Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore so I am looking forward to lots of Skipper FM and inter crew challenges!'
Crossing the gate ahead of their closest rivals will no doubt of added to the team’s high morale as Geraldton Western Australia join a group of teams chasing their first podium finish of Clipper 11-12.
'After all the craziness and mayhem of yesterday, we re-focussed and used every wind shift to our advantage, just to get ahead of Qingdao,' explains skipper, Juan Coetzer.
'Sailing into a rather dark moody sunset, the wind began to increase radically. It almost felt as if we and everything else around us were being sucked in to a massive big nasty black cloud. The wind rose from 18 knots to 34 knots in a matter of seconds.
'Great for boat speed, however I had this feeling it was going to get worse. A quick drop on the kite resulted in minor damage to it. For half an hour we sailed with the poled out Yankee 2 doing an average of 10 knots. Then all of a sudden the wind shifted 180 degrees, resulting in us sailing backwards with the main all the way out on two preventer lines and the Yankee poled out. After surviving this, the rain came pounding down for two hours, and wind was shifting 40-90 degrees at a time. Keeping our focus, we over took Qingdao and built up a small lead over them. We crossed the gate this morning at 0229 UTC.'
Having spent 22 days racing at sea, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper Gordon Reid, likened the conditions to 'Groundhog Day' in this morning’s report.
'Usually every day, in the dynamic game of ocean racing, brings something different but recently the days have started to merge.
'We get squalls in the morning as the sun rises, the wind veers and we come up to a more northerly course, it eventually backs as the squalls pass through and we bear away on to our desired course, as this is happening we hold on to the spinnaker for as long as possible or a long as our nerve lasts.
Which is usually when it hits 20 plus knots for the ‘Big Frank’, our medium weight kite and sometimes 25/30 knots for the big guns (heavyweight).
'Now this approach is all well and good but bearing in mind this is a marathon not a sprint and we want to keep our sails in good repair, so inevitably we drop the kite and hoist the Yankee 1 and the staysail, whilst repacking the spinnaker and re-hoist once the squall has passed and the wind backs once more. This has become the norm and is starting to feel like every day is Groundhog Day now,' explains Gordon.
'We are doing what it takes to maximise our boat speed, even in the frequent wind holes we are encountering all sail permutations are tired in a valiant effort to get the Purple Beastie moving, so far our wind-seeker has proved invaluable in these conditions.
'This race is proving to be a real challenge in the fickle and constantly changing conditions but with a fighting spirit we will crack on to the finish, every cloud has a silver lining and the tans are coming along nicely. Keeping the faith is what we do.'
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
Also finding the erratic conditions an ample challenge is Rupert Dean, skipper of Welcome to Yorkshire, after a testing 24 hours.
'Whenever I write my daily report, I always try to put a positive spin on things, but this morning I am finding it very hard to do so as we had a properly awful night on Welcome to Yorkshire.
'For over eight hours we sat in a windless hole under pouring rain. Whenever we got a puff of wind, it would last only a few minutes, changing wildly in direction over that time, keeping up with these constant changes and general lack of breeze, demanded constant sail changes and evolutions.'
Currently in ninth place the Yorkshire entry will hope the second phase of race seven brings them greater fortune.
'For all the progress we were able to make it felt like a hiding to nothing, revealed at this morning’s position update when we learnt that all our competitors had made big gains,' continues Rupert.
'How on earth does one defend against that? All we can do now is try our best and hope the boats ahead have the same misfortune, enabling us to claw back some miles. This is very unlikely at this late stage of the race.'
Expecting to cross the Celebes Sea gate later this morning, De Lage Landen skipper, Stuart Jackson reflects on the race so far.
'Looking back it is hard to believe that we have been racing for three weeks, having spent Christmas and New Years at sea and having crossed the Equator back in to the Northern Hemisphere.
'It is also surprising how close the yachts are considering the variety of conditions we have experienced,' comments Stuart.
'Having more time at sea has allowed the new leggers to integrate fully into the crew and it's great to see their individual areas of expertise being fully utilised. I'm very much looking forward to the next phase of the race and then the race to Qingdao thereafter with a crew who are equally focused and entertaining to sail with.
'All the crew are keen to cross the gate and enjoy a bit of down time before we recommence racing.'
Also due to join the Dutch entry in Stealth Mode today, will be New York, skippered by Gareth Glover.
'At last we have found some wind and now making good time towards the gate. Our goal was to be at the gate in the top five yachts but now we find ourselves after a few days of poor boat speed getting to the gate outside of that.
'There is still a second part of this race to go, so we just need to get to the gate ASAP to keep the time ahead of us down so we can work on pulling that back later on,' reveals Gareth.
'With around 500 miles to go until we start racing again this will give us time to do any repairs and start work on repairing our medium weight kite, this will also see the crews getting a lot more rest. The race is never over till you cross the finish line!'
The fleet is expected to arrive in Batam, Indonesia, between 24 and 27 January, where they will muster before a ceremonial arrival at Marina at Keppel Bay in Singapore on 28 January. Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 14 January Boat - DTF*
1 Geraldton Western Australia - 1355nm (Stealth Mode position at 14/01/2012 0600)
2 Qingdao - 1355nm (Stealth Mode position at 14/01/2012 0600)
3 Singapore - 1355nm (Stealth Mode position at 14/01/2012 0600)
4 Derry-Londonderry - 1364nm (Stealth Mode position at 14/01/2012 0000)
5 Gold Coast Australia - 1370nm (Stealth Mode position at 13/01/2012 2200)
6 De Lage Landen - 1374nm (+19nm)
7 New York - 1423nm (+68nm)
8 Visit Finland - 1477nm (+122nm)
9 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1525nm (+170nm)
10 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1745nm (+390nm)
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