Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day four of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao. After a steady start the ten-strong fleet of ocean racing yachts have had a mixed 24 hours sailing in the South China Sea as they are becalmed by the arrival of light winds.
With the fleet split into three groups, the majority in the north west, front runners Richard Hewson and his team on board Gold Coast Australia are all too aware that this race is becoming increasingly tactical as they try to make best course in the varying conditions.
'The winds in this area are notoriously fluky and so it becomes apparent as the schedules come in every six hours when we watch different groups of yachts accelerate in localised wind and then fall away again when the wind disappears. Occasionally the yachts become visual, or at night we see a light in the distance and the AIS (Automatic Identification System) lights up, but for most of the time we are on our own, sailing as best we can with the performance of the other yachts unknown until the next schedule,' Richard says.
Without wind, Richard reports that life on board can be likened to living in an oven and the on board appliances to help alleviate the heat and keep the team hydrated have been working overtime. The Australian entry has taken this opportunity to carry out maintenance on the boat and make some small light weather improvements in anticipation of the stormy weather to come, however Richard adds, 'There is always time for a laugh and a smile, especially during air guitar competitions in happy hour as we train ourselves up to be Karaoke rock stars on our arrival in Qingdao.'
On board De Lage Landen, light and fickle winds have also been the order of the day, as the Dutch entry maintains second place just 17 miles on the starboard side of its rivals.
'We have been seeing large clouds come over us which can give huge wind shifts and differences in the wind strength. We are all looking forward to getting further north to experience the more reliable weather systems,' skipper Stuart Jackson, reports.
'All the yachts have split up now into different groups so the radio chat has now ceased, although I’m sure it won't be long until we see someone again.
'We have preparations to do tonight for Tommy's (Tom Ross) Birthday party tomorrow with cakes to bake and presents to wrap. These celebrations are always a good opportunity to get the whole crew together for an hour to enjoy each other’s company,' he adds.
'An abundance of frustration has enveloped the ‘Big Red Bus’ today,' reports Ben Bowley, skipper of Singapore, who continue to occupy third place in their more north westerly course, despite grappling with the infuriating light winds.
'Currently we have a choice between a VMG (Velocity Made Good) of -0.5 knots on starboard tack or -1.0 knots on port. We have fallen into a nasty wind hole and are powerless to do anything about our predicament.
'The wind was forecast to go light but not this light, 4 knots of true would normally be enough to just get us moving up wind with the wind-seeker in flat water but the residual swell keeps knocking all the air out of the sails and all way off the boat. Our only hope is that this is not just a localised hole and that the whole fleet is becalmed,' Ben adds.
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Hot on the heels of team Singapore is Geraldton Western Australia, who despite sailing into the same wind hole have made gains as they move up to fourth place in the last 24 hours with only one mile separating the two teams.
'Happy days, we made it around Pulau - Pulau and sailed into a massive wind hole. We now have a visual on Singapore, and by the looks of things, we may drift past them, trying everything to keep the boat moving. I mentioned to the crew we may get a kite up some day and they laughed at me. Well, who was right?' skipper Juan Coutzer, says.
The race from Singapore to Qingdao in China is one of extremes – from the current extreme heats until the cold will arrive once the boats reach around Taiwan. The heat on and below deck is a challenge in itself as the crews try to work and sleep. Juan adds, 'It is 35 degrees outside and worse down below so today is shower day after lunch.'
On board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Gordon Reid and his team have renewed focus following a ‘cabinet reshuffle’ and have had a busy 24 hours tacking, in a bid to glean back position and gain height to the north.
'On board the ‘Purple Beastie’ the level of focus is second to none and being maintained at a high level as we play cat and mouse with the New York yacht. For this race it is all about consistent focus and commitment, pushing and being pushed, the harder we work the greater the rewards.
'In the next 24 to 48 hours we can expect the wind to start to increase, after the light winds of the previous race and the fine sailing we have been enjoying so far, we are preparing ourselves and the boat for the bouncy, ‘splishy’ and ‘splashy’ conditions, it is important to ensure all deck equipment is in fine working condition and all gear properly stowed, this will allow us to concentrate 100 per-cent on bringing our 'A' game out to play,' Gordon reports.
With only two miles separating them from the Scottish entry, skipper Gareth Glover reports that, 'It has been a slow 24 hours racing on New York.
'With the wind being very light and get lighter over time, our plan is to keep VMG (velocity made good) and boat speed and that's hard with the light winds and at times we are lucky to be moving.
'We have lost some miles over night as we are still finding it hard to point and now the wind is lighter our wind angles are all over the place. We are now just trying to keep moving until new wind fills in over the next 24 hours and hope to be in a good place to work the new angles, but getting to where we like to be in the next 24 hours is the biggest test.'
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As Derry-Londonderry jostle with their American rivals for position in joint seventh skipper Mark Light and his team is keeping focused as they continue to fight for a place up the leader board, with only six miles separating them and Visit Finland.
'We have just performed our first sail change of this race changing from our largest Yankee 1 headsail to our very lightweight wind-seeker sail. This has kept the boat moving and we have just accelerated to a blistering 2 knots SOG (Speed Over Ground).
'Helming requires a lot of concentration and a very gentle feel - once these boats lose momentum in these light airs then it takes time and effort to build it back up again. Positions can change in conditions like these and as we always say; ‘races are won and lost in light airs’,' Mark reports.
'Hopefully these conditions will not last too long and we will see the wind begin to fill in from the north east before very long. We are all eager to see the latest position reports to find out whose tactics were successful and which boats have made the most ground. Only time will tell.'
Hampered by the light winds as the most north westerly yacht, skipper Ian Conchie reports that on board Qingdao, the Chinese entry is sailing slowly in only 4 knots of wind despite making up ground on the boats around them, 'We are now heading north east as best we can as we wait for the wind to fill in again.'
As the crew settle into life at sea again, Ian adds, 'There has only been one case of sea sickness this time! And the crew have been busy getting back into the boat routine with engine and ‘genny’ (generator) checks, and the cleaning and cooking is all being done.'
As one of the more northerly boats, Visit Finland skipper Olly Osborne reports that the team had hoped to benefit from the more reliable airs towards the eastern side of the South China Sea, but is currently becalmed by the light airs that have spread through the fleet.
Olly adds, 'The outlook is more promising however and by this time tomorrow we should be making good speeds again. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the southerly group of yachts have not tapped into a different air stream and increased their lead, but only time will tell.'
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On board Welcome to Yorkshire, the team maintain their position in fifth place despite frustrating conditions and have been busy debating their tactical options in a bid to keep moving as they battle with Visit Finland and Derry-Londonderry.
'The light winds predicted north of Pulau Laut, have arrived. With true wind speed ranging from 2 to 7 knots, and significant variation in wind angle to boot, the challenge for us on Welcome to Yorkshire is to simply keep her moving in vaguely the right direction, skipper Rupert Dean, reports.
'Until the wind fills in again across the whole fleet, it is anyone's guess who will come out on top. Whilst the boats to the south east have a 'windward advantage' over those to the west, the north easterlies when they come, which are predicted to come from Charlotte Bank 12 miles to the north of us, moving south. Therefore those to the east may not get them before us – fingers crossed! Despite Gold Coast Australia being closer to the finish in Qingdao, thus technically ahead, both Welcome to Yorkshire and them are the same distance from the scoring gate. There is everything to play for the whole fleet.'
As the teams continue towards Qingdao in China, Meteorologist and winning skipper of Clipper 2000, Simon Rowell, has warned that when they enter the East China Sea, the benign weather will be left behind and they will face extreme conditions due to a north east monsoon. 'The intense monsoon is bringing gales to East China Sea, seas near Taiwan and at first over the Gulf of Tonkin, which will create significant swells and high seas.'
The teams are expected to begin arriving in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February. Positions at 0600 UTC, Tuesday 7 February Boat DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia 2074nm
2 De Lage Landen 2091nm (+17nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 2106nm (+32nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia 2107nm (+33nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire 2113nm (+39nm)
6 Visit Finland 2115nm (+41nm)
7 Derry-Londonderry 2121nm (+47nm)
8 New York 2121nm (+47nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 2123nm (+49nm)
10 Qingdao 2133nm (+59nm)
*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