Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day twelve of race eight, from Singapore to Qingdao.
The competing yachts continue in stalemate against the light airs on their route through the South China Sea. Anxious to cross the Luzon Strait where they will be greeted by more favourable winds, the teams are doing all they can to make up the miles.
Current front runners De Lage Landen have had a testing 24 hours which skipper Stuart Jackson says has, 'exhausted all of our sail options' in the light conditions.
'Overnight we had both the lightweight and medium weight spinnaker up and were forced to gybe to maintain course. Our crew have worked tirelessly to eke out every last knot of boat speed but this morning we find ourselves becalmed. This is particularly frustrating as we had built up a small lead over our nearest rivals but are now powerless as we drift along in the swell.
'All we can do now is trim, trim, trim and await the next set of boat positions to see how everyone else if fairing. Conditions on board are sweltering and the crew are all now looking forward to getting into colder climates with the Pacific winds, which will lead us onwards to Qingdao.'
After an excellent day of racing yesterday, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is keeping its eye on the lead pack and with everything to play for in this cat and mouse race to the finish.
'Overnight we raced in very close proximity to New York and Visit Finland. We worked very hard to maintain and improve our position amongst the fleet, with the level of focus and determination enhanced by the fact that we were very close to and could see both of our nearest competitors,' skipper, Gordon Reid, reports.
'This morning in the light winds we managed to keep the ‘Purple Beastie’ going in the zero wind speed by seeking the stronger currents and at times moving at two knots in no wind! As we approach the Luzon Straits we are determined not to let the boats ahead get into the favourable current too far ahead and if we maintain our course and speed now that the wind has filled in again we might just make it on the shortest distance.
'Keep watching and whatever else you do, keep the faith for the ‘Purple Beastie’ and her crew,' Gordon adds.
'The weather around Welcome to Yorkshire has become far more settled lately,' reports Rupert Dean. 'Both winds and seas have calmed down, enabling hatches to be opened, cabins aired and kit to be dried out. Assistant watch leader Matt Cornall took the opportunity to scale the mast and replace the blown tricolour bulb. A simple yet highly effective gesture, that will help the helms steer more accurately to the wind. A working masthead light was certainly missed the previous night, during a cantankerous period of squalls and variable winds,' continues the Taunton-based yachtsman.
'At our cockpit meeting the Welcome to Yorkshire team took stock of our present situation and started planning for heavier weather ahead. We discussed our strategy for winning miles back from the boats ahead, and options open to us when we encounter the steep seas off the east coast of Taiwan and the cold in the approaches to China. Some emergency drills were revisited as were the locations of key items of emergency kit, including the searchlight and bolt-croppers. Storm sails are being relocated from the lazarette to the ghetto (the crew’s nickname for the forward accommodation) and kit is being re-stowed in more secure locations. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed. It is good for all of us to be mentally prepared for the challenges ahead,' he concludes.
Vying for poll position is Gold Coast Australia which has been in a close duel with De Lage Landen, but as the team find themselves in a wind hole after a large knock in the weather that caused them to veer west, the team have regained some ground and only one mile separates them from the lead.
'Yesterday saw light to moderate conditions: fantastic for maintenance,' Richard Hewson reports. 'Whilst the conditions forecasted over the coming week are not as extreme as first expected it will no doubt still be rough and it is important for Gold Coast Australia to be in tip top fighting condition.
'The forecasted wind for this exact position at this point of time is for 20 knots from the east, however at the moment we are drifting north at two knots in seas that resemble millponds. Our only comfort is that the only yacht ahead of us, De Lage Landen, appears to also be in the same predicament ten miles to our north,' he adds.
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Crestfallen at yesterday’s lack of ‘love-ly’ wind are the crew of Geraldton Western Australia who continue to occupy fourth place.
'Yesterday was Cupid’s turn to say hello. Sadly his arrows missed our lovely boat and took all the precious wind away. We sat bobbing in the South China Sea looking for some breeze to get us moving, but alas De Lage Landen and Gold Coast Australia lucked in and extended their lead on us,' skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports.
Despite the rivalry in this race for a podium place, Juan adds that the Australian entry has been sharing its affections with its fellow competitors. 'I received a beautiful Valentine’s message from Qingdao yesterday - thanks guys, you have a special place in our hearts.
'This morning we put up the lightweight kite and started to make head way again in the right direction, eating some miles out of Singapore. As soon as we are north of this island on our right, the breeze should pick up, and we'll be off.'
'The last 24 hours has seen no improvement in the breeze or our position relative to Gold Coast Australia,' Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, reports.
'We managed to reel them in to within a couple of miles on a few occasions but then promptly fell into the same wind hole they had just been sitting in whilst they sailed off again. Frustrating as this was, it has been excellent to have a bit of friendly banter over the VHF and someone to pace ourselves against. This morning however they caught a good puff of wind that carried them well to the north east whilst we spent the next three hours going nearly nowhere.
'Luckily the current is giving us a good push in the right direction at times up to 1.5 knots. Bizarrely the wind has been blowing from the southern side of the compass rose throughout the morning requiring us to hoist Josie (our lightweight kite) for the first time in weeks.
We have been flying her off a tack line (no pole) asymmetrically and recently completed a textbook outside gybe for the first time since training,' Ben continues. 'This satisfying manoeuvre has piqued my interest in getting my hands on one of the new Clipper 70s with their large bowsprits and powerful full asymmetric kites when we get back at the end of the race.
'We just need to hold our position now until the end of the day when we should hopefully come out of the lee of Luzon and catch the steadier east north easterly wind sweeping round the north of the island. We hope that the moment it happens will be akin to a champagne cork popping out from a bottle and we can stretch our legs northward, opening up a healthy buffer on the yachts behind.'
Meanwhile, on board Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie and his team are working hard against the ‘Clipper Home Port Curse’ as they try to glean back miles lost.
'After a good day’s sailing yesterday we managed to pull away from Welcome to Yorkshire and make some ground on the fleet for the first time in days. Unfortunately the Clipper home port curse then kicked in again and we sailed into a wind hole last night. Try as hard as we could we couldn't make a good course out of it and lost all the ground plus more that we had made, so much so that this morning Welcome to Yorkshire was only one mile behind us and I suspect by now will be ahead of us.
'We finally made it into good wind this afternoon to allow us to lay a reasonable course and speed towards the next waypoint. We will just have to wait and see how bad the damage is in terms of the race!'
In the meantime Ian adds that, 'the crew is using the fair weather to clean both the boat and their kit in anticipation of the weather forecast by meteorologist Simon Rowell, which will hopefully give us a chance to play catch up again!'
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Also maintaining their position in the fleet is Derry-Londonderry where skipper Mark Light reports a day of slow progress and high levels of concentration from the team in a bid to keep the boat moving in the light airs.
'About 35 miles to the north of us the wind is plentiful and coming straight from the east through the Strait between Luzon and Taiwan. As a result, our main aim is to get north as quickly as possible to enter the new breeze first. Whichever boats manage to find the new wind will take off and therefore have a huge advantage for the second half of this race up to Qingdao. It is our aim to be among those first few boats into the new territory!
'We have spent the morning under windseeker, gliding along accompanied by a beautiful silver and blue fish swimming near the surface along the port side. But as I type the wind seems to be gradually building in strength and we have managed to hoist our Yankee 1 and staysail. Hurrah! We have just crept up to 7.1 knots speed over ground! Hopefully it won't be too long before we make some ground in advance of some pretty heavy weather further north.'
Currently north of their two nearest competitors, New York and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Visit Finland skipper Olly Osborne reports, 'the focus now, as ever is to make further gains on the lead pack as the weather worsens,' as the Finnish entry betters their position up the leader board, moving from eighth place to sixth. More than once during the course of Clipper 11-12 Visit Finland has made a significant move up the leader board mid-race.
'Today sees us ghosting along under our wind seeker and pitting our wits against the crews of the nearby yachts. The weather has been unusually calm as we fall into the lee of Luzon, and it seems to be as hot as ever. The forecast for the coming days is very different though and I think the conditions will be in sharp contrast to today's pace. The racing has been incredibly close even during the light airs, and although we are only making speeds in the region of four knots, the tension runs high among the crew as we eke every last ounce of power out of the tired mainsail.'
Trading places with Visit Finland is New York, which has slipped down to eighth place from sixth yesterday after a frustrating 12 hours trying to seek out some wind.
'New York has been bobbing around in no wind moving at around a knot of speed covering only a handful of miles in this time and giving away a few miles to Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Visit Finland which are now both to the west of us. We can see Edinburgh Inspiring Capital,' skipper, Gareth Glover, reports.
'With the leaders making more miles away from us to the north and into more wind we will see a big gap open up between the boats again. There is still a long way to Qingdao and we will continue to try hard to pick up our pace when the wind returns.'
The teams are due to begin arriving in the Qingdao International Marina and Olympic Sailing Center between 22 and 25 February. Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 15 February Boat DTF*
1 De Lage Landen 1,045nm (as of 0600)
2 Gold Coast Australia 1,046 (+1nm DTL**)
3 Singapore 1,066nm (+21nm)
4 Geraldton Western Australia 1,1071nm (+26nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry 1,084nm (+39nm)
6 Visit Finland 1,096nm (+51nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 1,101nm (+56nm)
8 New York 1,104nm (+60nm)
9 Qingdao 1,164nm (+119nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 1,182nm (+138nm)
*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