Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day three of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao. There has been a division in the fleet as the ten 68-foot yachts navigate through the South China Sea.
While Gold Coast Australia narrowly holds on to their lead, putting in their first tack since race start early this morning, the trio of three yachts to the south east, led by De Lage Landen and including New York and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, have successfully utilised the local funnelling conditions around the archipelago to squeeze between the islands.
'Over the last couple of hours we have successfully navigated between the Subi Besar islands and find ourselves in a good position as we look ahead to push on up into the South China Sea,' reports skipper of De Lage Landen, Stuart Jackson. 'The crew is enjoying a very sunny day with 360 degree views of a clear horizon, blue skies and light white clouds. They are pulling together really well as we work to put in some good mileage over the next few hours.'
New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover, explains, 'Derry-Londonderry, Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore tacked off in the morning to the north to get around the island. We chose early on to try and keep heading more to the east and race though a ten-mile gap in between the islands with De Lage Landen around seven miles in front of us and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital close on our transom, taking the same route.
'As always time will tell if this was a good tactic or not but this time we have two other yachts heading the same way and timing the next tack will be the next big tactical move.'
'With our renewed focus, we have been sailing hard, alternating between the Yankee 1 and Yankee 2, to gain height and make full use of the frequent lifts,' describes Gordon Reid from on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. 'With little distance between the boats the skippers have been enjoying a bit of friendly banter with each other.
'Last night, with the moon bright and a fairly constant breeze of around ten to 12 knots, it was a fantastic night sail with some interesting light configurations on the local fishing boats, one displaying an intermittent red, blue and yellow flashing light.
'As we made best course, whilst waiting for the wind to veer as forecast, it became apparent that it was not going to veer so much. Making best use of the breeze as it was, we passed the island of Pulau Subi Besar to the south via the narrow Alur Pelayaran Kota channel, navigating carefully past its outlying reefs and islands. We made excellent progress to the east utilising the wind acceleration zone between islands and the favourable current, making well over ten knots under full sail.
'As a result of some solid focus and commitment, the Purple Beastie is on her game. For the moment it's all about working hard and sailing efficiently. Through trimming sails, good navigation, steady helming and good tactics, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has managed to gradually overtake some of the other yachts. The crew have worked very hard maintain our boat speed and point high as we race through the South China Sea in some fairly fantastic sailing conditions.'
Richard Hewson, in charge of Gold Coast Australia, describes how his team is also making the most of the conditions they are currently enjoying.
He says, 'The team is sailing really well at the moment and concentrating hard to ensure the correct trim and heading is steered as we begin to tack our way up through the South China Sea in almost perfect winds that have far exceeded the forecasted conditions. GRIB files are not so accurate in this part of the world and make routing quite challenging. What we really need to focus on is the movement of the clouds and try to avoid areas of no wind.
'The winds over the past few days have been fantastic for trimming lessons and helming practice, and everybody on board has been getting involved. Crew who have had very little experience in helming are able to steer the boat for an hour at a time without the other challenges that are normally incorporated in the job such as waves and high gusting winds. It is fantastic to see everybody getting so much out of this race so far and enjoying the experience.'
Just 14 miles from the overall leaders and in third place, Singapore’s skipper reports that his team had a minor palpitation last night when they were almost stopped in their tracks.
'We had a little taste of the fickle winds last night; having tacked north after a big header we found lighter and lighter winds until the point of nearly being becalmed. Luckily, the wind hole we had fallen into was very small and within fifteen minutes we were underway again. It was a bitter reminder of just how fluky the winds can be around the equatorial latitudes until we get into the monsoon winds proper.
'The key now is to place ourselves in the best possible position for when the wind fills in again. With the GRIB files telling a different story every day, this is trickier than it sounds. Now is the time to make ground before we get up north and have to ease back on the power to preserve the crew and our big red bus.
'The next few days will show how various crews' tactics are paying off. Some yachts have taken a dive northwards already and others have paid off slightly in a bid to get to the east faster. With lighter winds forecast there is likely to be a shake-up in the standings as some boats keep ghosting along in just enough breeze and others park up. There could be a curious sense of déjà vu to contend with and on Singapore we hope that the wind gods are smiling on us for a change!'
Geraldton Western Australia - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - Steve Holland/onEdition
Close behind Singapore, Geraldton Western Australia has taken the same routing option and, says skipper, Juan Coetzer, 'We are trying to use the tide as much as we can to our favour, and the wind shifts to try and gain back some lost mileage. It has been a busy 24 hours dodging ships and little islands.'
Geraldton Western Australia’s new team member has already made himself indispensable.
'The crew have welcomed Dan on board by getting him to fix the heads (toilets),' adds Juan. 'Believe it or not, he is an expert.'
Singapore has also had a few plumbing issues. 'A blocked head, blocked sink and blocked grey water tank pump,' according to Ben. But when you’re racing across oceans you can’t just pick up the telephone directory and call for a plumber. If something needs to be fixed you have to do it yourself.
'The crew owe a huge thanks and several beers to Willy Iliffe, the on board engineer, for rectifying these rather unpleasant issues,' continues Ben. 'Spirits are generally good however and there is a real determination to claw back some miles on the Aussies who, frustratingly, seem to have once again found an extra gear, climbing over the whole fleet in the space of 12 hours.'
Now furthest north, the group of three comprising Welcome to Yorkshire, Derry-Londonderry and Visit Finland are hoping their tactic will be the one that finds them the wind first.
'A fantastic tactical battle has been played out amongst the boats over the past 24 hours,' Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, Rupert Dean, enthuses. 'The fleet has essentially split into three groups. All are where they are for good solid reasons, which ultimately include local wind conditions and long-term strategies.
'For us on Welcome to Yorkshire, we have a geographical area we are aiming for in three days’ time. For the first two days we headed in an east north easterly direction on port tack, with Gold Coast Australia four miles to the north of us. Late last night the wind veered and headed us, making it difficult to sail north of east, resulting in poor VMG (velocity made good) and a projected path that would take us into an area of predicted light winds. This gave us enough reason to tack onto starboard sailing between the islands of Pulau Anambas and Natuna Besar.
'Looking at our daily GRIBs, the winds appear to get lighter the further east you go, which is what one would traditionally expect. However, fresh breeze is expected to fill in from the north east within the next two days, meaning boats positioned well to the east will be well placed to get it first, providing they have not been trapped in the lighter stuff in the meantime. We wish to go east, too, for the same reasons, but not at the expense of being trapped in light airs.
'It's going to be a very interesting and tactical two days,' he concludes.
Visit Finland’s skipper, Olly Osborne, agrees. 'The next couple of days should be very interesting from a tactical perspective as each boat picks a course through the islands of the South China Sea with the two tacks giving us a choice of going essentially either north or east. The crew are always on the lookout for a possible wind shift which could favour one course over the other. We have opted for a more northerly course between the islands which should see us emerge above Pulau Laut toward the end of tomorrow. This early choice will be key to determining who gains the most ground along the rhumb line, and toward the Scoring Gate.
'On Visit Finland we have had a pleasant start to the race with gentle conditions, and it is great to get our teeth into some solid breeze again. We had a surprise this morning though when the strop holding the staysail to the deck parted and we had to quickly drop it to fit a new one, but on the whole we are in good shape. The focus now is to work the wind shifts effectively and keep making ground.'
Mark Light, skipper of Derry-Londonderry, is pleased with his team’s progress over the last 24 hours.
'During the night we have worked very well maximising our VMG towards our destination and the continual presence of the moon, as it gets to full, helps to make life easier and enjoyable. We do need to make the most of this as we are all fully aware that conditions will deteriorate the further north we travel - colder, darker, wetter and bigger seas.
'At present we still have visual contact with Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit Finland and this serves to keep everybody fully focussed and concentrated. We are generally pretty competitive upwind and in lighter conditions so this race is suiting us at present. We have good levels of sail trim and our helming has been very consistent.'
Now half way through their 40,000-mile circumnavigation, the world’s longest yacht race, Mark notes how far his crew have come in terms of teamwork and skill as well as physical mileage.
'From a personal point of view, it is great to see how the team has really evolved and come together since we left England and people are developing into very competent ocean sailors. I have a lot of faith and respect for my crew and they have responded very well over the last few races,' he says.
Qingdao leaves Marina at Keppel Bay, Singapore, at the start of Race 8 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. - www.howiephoto.com/onEdition
Qingdao, alone in their decision to round the islands to the north, have not yet seen the benefit of the decision, but there are still more than 2,000 miles to the finish line and much more tactical intrigue to come.
'So far our tactic of heading north early has failed to pay out but we are still hopeful that it will and with only 40 miles separating the fleet it is still tight,' confirms skipper, Ian Conchie. 'We should clear the last of the islands tonight and as the fleet heads out towards Taiwan we will see where we end up.
'It is nice, however, to leave behind the shipping lanes that we have had to deal with for the last few days. In the meantime the temperature remains high and working in the galley during the day is the worst with the heat and a heeling boat to deal with.'
There are two opportunities for the teams to gain bonus points in this race. The first is at the Scoring Gate in the South China Sea, where there are three, two and one points on offer for the first, second and third teams respectively to reach the Gate. The second is in the Ocean Sprint where the fastest team to cover the ground between two pre-determined latitudes will receive one point to add to their overall tally.
The teams are expected to begin arriving in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February. Positions at 0600 UTC, Monday 6 February Boat DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia 2,189nm
2 De Lage Landen 2,201nm (+12nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 2,203nm (+14nm)
4 New York 2,207nm (+18nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire 2,208nm (+20nm)
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 2,210nm (+21nm)
7 Geraldton Western Australia 2,211nm (+22nm)
8 Visit Finland 2,213nm (+24nm)
9 Derry-Londonderry 2,214nm (+26nm)
10 Qingdao 2,230nm (+41nm)
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found online
. Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website