Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day eleven of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao. Valentine’s Day and there’s love in the air on the ten competing yachts but it’s probably fair to say the leading teams are not feeling the love for the lack of wind they are experiencing at the moment.
'Nuclear strength coffee has helped Singapore just about keep moving in the last 24 hours,' reports Ben Bowley. 'With such varying wind strengths and directions we have had to remain constantly focused and on the ball to ensure that the big red bus keeps working her way slowly toward the Luzon Straits. It's turning into a real game of cat and mouse at the front of the fleet and all four of us are keeping an eye to leeward in anticipation of the rest of the fleet concertinaing up on us as they carry a little more wind.'
Already the back half of the fleet has begun closing in on the leaders as they hold the breeze for longer.
Singapore’s skipper continues, 'We are desperate to make it to the Luzon Strait and onto the north flowing tidal conveyor belt as one of the top three. I'm fairly sure that the first boats to get away toward Taiwan will start to open up an unassailable lead.
'This has required a lot of tweaking and continual shifting between the Yankee 1 and windseeker. Knowing when to switch between the two can make the difference between languishing in a hole for an hour or two and ghosting through with just enough speed to get out the other side ahead of our nearest competitors. Races can be won or lost in light airs and the focus it requires can be just as tiring as smashing to windward in 30 knots of breeze. Although with the deck hatches open at least it is not as sweaty!'
Richard Hewson, skipper of Gold Coast Australia, which has been usurped from its leading position in the last six hours by De Lage Landen, agrees with Singapore’s skipper, saying, 'The boat that reaches the top of the Philippines and gets into the new wind first will be at a massive advantage over all the other boats in the fleet so we are all working incredibly hard to try to utilise whatever breeze we can find.
'The wind has gradually reduced overnight and then begun to back through the morning. Now we are sailing along in under five knots of wind trying to make some sort of headway. Occasionally we will sail into a patch of wind of up to seven knots which makes a massive difference. We also have two knots of current pushing us towards the east which also helps build up our apparent wind slightly.
'Over the last couple of hours we have been sailing away from Singapore at five knots SOG (Speed Over Ground), leaving them behind in a wind hole. Now we have stopped almost still and looking at the AIS they are doing 5.8 knots towards the next waypoint. It is really a game of chance and, depending on how the dice rolls, you get wind or you don't.
'At the moment we are sailing east, trying to get into the stronger currents up the western edge of the Philippines as the forecast is for no wind on the entire course for the next day so we may as well be drifting in the right direction at two knots rather than sitting still.'
De Lage Landen 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
De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, is also grateful for the effects of the current.
He says, 'Last night saw the wind die off to a frustratingly light degree. We have been struggling to find a tack that will keep us heading in the desired direction. The current however has been a saving grace and has been gently pushing us in the right direction. It looks like we will be in these conditions for a while longer so we'll just have to stay patient and hope that the other yachts don't make too much ground on us, or sail around us entirely!'
For a short while Geraldton Western Australia did find a bit of breeze, although it was short lived, according to skipper, Juan Coetzer. But, says the South African yachtsman, they have found a useful wind instrument in the local wildlife.
'Last night was rather exciting; the wind picked up to 20 knots. Suddenly, we needed to do sail changes from the Yankee 1 to the Yankee 2 and put a reef in the main sail. Half an hour later, we shook out the reef and changed back to the Yankee 1. The sun rose this morning and the wind died. Currently we are drifting in the current, avoiding whales bobbing around. The blows when they surface make good wind indicators.'
Yesterday Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light, explained how the crew were refocusing their efforts to avoid slipping further behind the front runners. Today the team representing the UK City of Culture 2013 is about to crash the leading boats’ party having made great gains.
'We have had a fantastic run over the last 12 to 18 hours making some good gains on the leading boats,' Mark tells the Race Office this morning. 'Last night the wind increased slightly and veered to the east as forecast, allowing us to head up to a superb course of about 035°, exactly where we want to go for once! The wind further increased, necessitating a change down from Yankee 1 to 2 and two reefs to be put in the mainsail. We had great speeds of between ten and eleven knots SOG helped along by a knot of favourable current.
'As with all good things this has to come to an end and again, as forecast, the wind started to decrease during the early hours and backed to a more normal north easterly direction. By daylight today the wind had dropped off to only five knots true, making progress painfully slow.
'Then we noticed Gold Coast Australia and Singapore appear on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) and we realised exactly how much we had gained overnight. Now, unfortunately, we all seem to be stalling in the same area of light winds so eagerly await new breeze to fill in and keep us on our way north and east.'
They will not have too long to wait, according to meteorologist, Simon Rowell.
'The next 36 hours will see the winds in the Luzon Straits back from easterly through to north north easterly and the north east again as the monsoon returns. It will be different in the lee of Luzon itself with probably north easterly on average.'
Rather ominously Simon warns the skippers that the wind over current effect along the east coast of Taiwan will be ‘quite large’.
Just 20 miles behind the front half of the fleet, the tightly packed trio of New York, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Visit Finland is encountering more squally and changeable weather.
Gordon Reid, skipper of the yacht representing Scotland’s capital city, explains, 'As we make north in the race to Qingdao, the weather conditions are becoming even more variable, with lots of intense squalls, massive wind shifts and now large patches of light winds.
'The weather forecast does not predict where there will be wind, so to make the most of whatever wind we find, we have taken to doing some cloud spotting, if we can get on the right side of a bank of clouds we find the wind, get it wrong and you drift.
'Now west of the rhumb line, where we are experiencing more wind then those to our east, we are still racing in close proximity to New York. If we can stay in this wind and continue moving north it may well lead to a shake-up in the leader board.'
He continues, 'In the lighter and variable wind conditions the focus more than ever has to be on the sail trim, to squeeze out every last knot or tenth of a knot as it all counts.'
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New York, whose crew desperately want to be in the top three when they arrive in Qingdao, have been ringing the changes in their sail plan as the winds shift about.
'In the night we had to change down from our Yankee 1 to our Yankee 2 and reefed main as the apparent wind picked up to over 25 knots and now this morning sees us looking for wind as we now have only five knots to play with, with full main and Yankee 1,' reports Gareth Glover.
'The crew today are preparing New York for the heavy weather we are going to have closer to Taiwan, from re storing all the yacht’s food and moving any lose items around, sorting out their personal kit and re checking the safety equipment and their life jackets.'
Qingdao has finally found the breeze and is pulling away from Welcome to Yorkshire but both teams have gained ground on the rest of the fleet in the last 24 hours.
Skipper of the Chinese entry, Ian Conchie, says, 'The wind has finally moved around more to the east allowing us to head north. We even managed to point directly to the next waypoint for a few hours last night which raised a cheer as it’s the first time we have managed that since the start of this leg!
'This morning the wind dropped allowing us to carry out some maintenance tasks ahead of the next batch of strong wind. We have inspected and the No 2 Yankee and replaced four hanks, we dropped the main for an hour to allow us to change a broken batten and we have carried out all our routine safety checks on our emergency equipment. At the moment the crew are busy checking through the boat to ensure everything is stowed correctly.'
Rupert Dean, Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, reports, 'Feisty conditions all round last night. Intense rain and squalls dominated events, demanding numerous reefs and sail changes to balance the boat. The wind varied hugely in direction too, demanding intense concentration by the helm, trimmers and navigators alike.
'With all the rain, confused seas and cloud cover, the moon was unable to make an appearance last night, restricting our visibility severely. This made it even more difficult to pick out approaching squalls, ships and fishing vessels, requiring constant vigilance on radar and AIS.
'Hopefully as the winds reduce to the north of Welcome to Yorkshire and enable us to steer directly where we want to go (for the first time in nine days), the fleet will compress and we will take some reward for the efforts put in.'
On a more light-hearted note, the crew of Welcome to Yorkshire have been leading the way with their Valentine’s Day celebrations on board. A game of Blind Date has paired up the crew members and they are all going out of their way to make their ‘other half’ feel special on the big day.
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Qingdao’s crew all received Love Heart sweets, Gold Coast Australia’s mothers for the day have made heart-shaped scones and muffins, De Lage Landen’s chart table is adorned with love hearts and everyone on board had a secret Valentine’s present to open at lunchtime. Although, says Stuart, 'The love songs are starting to wear a little thin already!'
Geraldton Western Australia’s crew have gone the whole hog.
'Today is a special day for all on board - filled with treats,' says Juan. 'The crew have all showered and during happy hour we had a toast to ourselves - drinking a wee dram of Kinloch Anderson 12-year-old Scottish single malt whisky.'
The whisky was the team’s prize for winning the competition set by Edinburgh Inspiring Capital to celebrate Burns Night. Positions at 1200 UTC, Tuesday 14 February Boat DTF*
1 De Lage Landen 1,124nm
2 Gold Coast Australia 1,129nm (+5nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 1,133nm (+9nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia 1,139nm (+15nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry 1,148nm (+24nm)
6 New York 1,164nm (+40nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 1,171nm (+47nm)
8 Visit Finland 1,171nm (+47nm)
9 Qingdao 1,234nm (+110nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 1,260nm (+136nm)
*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