Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on day fourteen of race eight from Singapore to Qingdao and have entered into the challenging conditions forecast by the Race Office team as they head further north past Taiwan towards the East China Sea.
Joff Bailey, Clipper Race Director, says, 'The crews and skippers were briefed in Singapore that at some point during the race to Qingdao, most likely near Taiwan, the strong winds and strong currents would act against them to create dangerous sea states and very difficult sailing conditions. This is exactly what is happening to the fleet at the moment. Sir Robin’s wise words at the crew brief in Singapore emphasised the point that ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’ - and during this race you may have to throttle back and look after the boat and crew and wait for conditions to improve.'
As the leading boats stretch away from the pack with over 200 miles separating the frontrunners from the yachts at the back of the fleet, Joff adds, 'Unfortunately as is very often the case in yacht racing with meteorological events that the most disadvantaged yachts are those towards the back of the fleet, this sounds unfair but it is certainly true in this case. The leading yachts have probably escaped the worst of the conditions but will still be having a difficult time, but as you go down the leader board the wind strength and consequent sea state conditions will be deteriorating and Qingdao and Welcome to Yorkshire who are still in the Luzon Straits south of Taiwan will most likely see the worst conditions.'
Welcome to Yorkshire skipper, Rupert Dean, agrees, 'The Luzon Strait is living up to its reputation. Strong winds from the north east against a north-north easterly going current have developed short sharp seas on a large scale.
'Total concentration is required from all helms to minimise potential damage and speed loss, through slamming the hull as it falls over the backs of the waves. On board the crew are working well, although we currently have three out of action due to sea-sickness,' he continues.
'Reading the blogs of Juan and Olly yesterday, I'm amazed they had the opportunity to fly a spinnaker, for as we approached the straits on Welcome to Yorkshire the winds grew very quickly from the north east from Force 3 up to Force 7 on the Beaufort scale. This demanded a flurry of reefs and headsail changes to balance our 'Pink Lady' accordingly. Our proximity to Cape Bojeador, however, gave the team some great vistas to appreciate, between those evolutions!'
On board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, skipper, Gordon Reid reports that the adverse weather has seen a change of wardrobe for the Scottish entry.
'What a contrast from yesterday morning, sailing along on flat seas and a nice consistent breeze wearing a t -shirt and board shorts. Now today we are rigged out in full foul weather gear, with the wind blowing a constant 30 knots and up to 40 in the gusts, with a three to four metre swell causing the boat to slam constantly and great surges of warm sea to bury the bow.
'We are still playing cat and mouse with Visit Finland and early this morning Derry-Londonderry and New York reappeared on AIS, we sailed on a parallel course for a time until it became very choppy as we closed in on the coast of Taiwan. We have gone offshore again to avoid the nasty short chop caused by the wind blowing over the strong current, we are riding the ‘Japan current’ aka Kuroshio on the edge of the 1000 metre contour where we are still getting a good two to three knots but without the nasty sea state, ultimately making for a smoother faster ride,' the yachtsman adds.
'The next few days are going to be very interesting as we approach the Ocean Sprint, the conditions are not ideal for pushing too hard, we still have over 800 miles to go and in this sea state one mistake could cost you dearly, we will continue keep focused and push ourselves on our quest for speed, looking to gain back fifth place in the short term and to keep reeling in the others. The harder you work the greater the rewards.'
Meanwhile, maintaining its position eighth in the fleet is New York, who has seen a plethora of sail changes in the last 24 hours.
'The wind has steadied out to around 30 knots apparent and we now are racing under a reef main and staysail, we were beating under two reefs and Yankee 3 but as the wind built the presser on the rig intermeshed so we drop the three after a Yankee sheet snapped and put the staysail back up which is easier to tack,' skipper, Gareth Glover, reports.
'If dropping the Yankee 3 and under hacking it in four metre seas was hard, we also sailed through some flying fish which peppered the crew at the time hitting them like bullets, which was very funny from the helm all this takes time and wasted miles on the other yachts. The crew are getting very tried after a few sail changes and just the need to move around the yacht saps you dry.
'We now have Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Visit Finland and Derry-Londonderry back in our sights after heading east to pick up the currents to the north and we are working hard to get in front of them by the end of the Ocean Sprint.'
Many of the skippers will be taking heed of Sir Robin’s wise words from back in Singapore over the next 48 hours. As a result you may see some strange course changes on the Race Viewer as the teams weather the worst of the stormy winds currently battering the yachts.
Already being vigilant against the demanding winds and taking a more guarded course is team Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie, says, 'As we entered the Luzon straits last night the winds continued to build as did the sea state. Remembering Sir Robin's words of advice we decided to slow the boat down to try and reduce the amount of slamming the boat was subjected to (slamming is where the boat crashes down off the waves putting a lot of load on everything).
'To do this we had to change down to our storm jib however to do this we decided to heave to and stop the boat as there was so much water coming over the foredeck it was the safest option, but this did cost us in terms of distance as for the time it took we were actually drifting the wrong way allowing Welcome to Yorkshire to catch us up!' he continues.
'Since then we have continued to beat our way north and we expect this wind to continue for another 24 to 48 hours. The interesting decision will be the route past Taiwan as we expect the sea state to be even worse there! As we start to get details of the stopover in Qingdao our thoughts turn to some of our injured crew mates and hoping that they will be fit enough to re-join us there.'
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In the last 24 hours teams Geraldton Western Australia, Gold Coast Australia, Singapore, Derry-Londonderry, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, New York and Visit Finland have passed the Ocean Sprint start gate.
The fastest team to cover the distance between the latitudes of 22 degrees north and 25 degrees north will score one bonus point. However in this race the decision for the skippers is whether to risk pushing the yacht too hard in the gruelling conditions in the quest for the extra point.
Geraldton Western Australia is currently lying third with team Singapore, fighting against the strong winds and making ground overnight in a grapple to occupy a podium position.
'Crash, bang, smash is what ‘Sailing Boat Geraldton Western Australia’ is doing,' reports skipper, Juan Coetzer on board the Australian entry.
'As we sail into weather the wind speed varies from 24 knots to gusts of 40 knots. The sea state is just as tricky. We'll be sailing in the current doing a speed over ground of ten knots, the sea state ideal, and then all of a sudden there is a mogul field of ramps and hills. Down below decks, life is rather interesting, and moving around can be tricky. Timing is the key, you almost have to crouch, pause and then pounce,' he adds.
'Life in the 68-foot washing machine continues,' Ben Bowley, skipper on board Singapore, reports. 'We have been smashing our way up wind for nearly 36 hours now and it has been rather relentless. With the confused seas it is tricky to keep the ‘Big Red Bus’ on her feet and with literally tons of water coursing down the deck at regular intervals, rather a large amount is working its way below decks. It is common knowledge that water and electrics don't mix and we are running with limited systems now, making life aboard a touch ticker than it need to be.
'We do have some company to share our tales of woe with at least. Geraldton Western Australia took a different route between the main land of Taiwan and the island of Lu Wan last night and got a good kick north from the tide. This has enabled them to make good ground on us and presently they are approximately one mile to leeward of us and giving us a good run for our money. Prudence dictated the outside passage for us yesterday as already mentioned we have limited systems. Plenty of miles still to go and we hope to be able to pull away over the coming days, a parting thought for those reading this in comfort of their front room.
Contending with the strong winds, Ben adds that, 'Negotiating these waves at night is rather like driving down a country lane with no head lights on at 40 miles per hour using the hedges for guidance in a convertible with no windscreen in the middle of a torrential salty rain squall. The fun continues...'
It has been an interesting 24 hours for current front runners Gold Coast Australia, who have been fighting neck and neck with rivals De Lage Landen against the rough weather and big seas with only six miles separating the two teams. Tasmanian skipper Richard Hewson reports, 'Though the current sea and wind don't really dictate racing conditions, it is more sailing to keep the boat and crew in one piece. The best news for the day is that the conditions are set to worsen as we near the tip of Taiwan tomorrow morning.
'It is hard to believe only a few months ago we were sailing downwind with the kite up in 30 knots of wind and thinking nothing of it. It’s an entirely different ball game when you’re sailing to windward, especially when there are big seas and lots and lots of water coming over the deck.'
As the Australian entry continues to sail upwind, Richard says that the punishing conditions are taking its toll on the team.
'The crew are suffering high fatigue as it is impossible to sleep when the boat is crashing over (and through) waves every four seconds. The only time the crew do get to sleep is through complete exhaustion. These conditions also become very demanding on the skipper, with winds varying from 20 to 35 knots, monsoonal storm clouds, large waves, and a high level of shipping there is a lot for the skipper to monitor to keep the boat and crew safe. Consequently my sleep pattern is non-existent and I am just resting when I can until next called to the deck by the crew to assess another situation. Preparing food also becomes a mission in such conditions, and consequently the meals have become a lot simpler and less nutritious which also adds to the low energy levels.'
'Well any doubt as to when we were going to get consistent wind and see the start of the monsoon weather is now over!' skipper, Stuart Jackson, reports. Beginning the Ocean Sprint yesterday, Dutch entry De Lage Landen has been pressing hard as they maintain pole position.
'The last 24 hours has been a test in challenging conditions, both on deck and below for the crew. Winds in excess of 30 knots and large seas have truly tested our helms to the limit. We are still continuing our game of cat and mouse with Gold Coast Australia and are often seen heading to the north of Taiwan in a scissors movement, often crossing in sight, within a mile or two of each other.
'The intense racing is exciting, but clearly keeping us on our toes at all times.Below decks is as much of a challenge with endless weightlessness in our bunks as we try to sleep and get thrown in the air wave after wave.Nevertheless the end is in sight and we are enjoying the race to Qingdao.'
Taking heed of Sir Robin’s advice is Derry-Londonderry who has retained their fifth place.
Skipper, Mark Light reports 'Well, we are well and truly in the rough stuff! Currently 15 miles east of the southern tip of Taiwan and the weather is definitely living up to its reputation. The sea state has worsened noticeably and it is very difficult to avoid the inevitable and sickening crash as our four boat descends rapidly off the peak of another wave. We have tacked offshore to try to avoid the worst of it and we are carrying a fairly modest sail plan given the wind strength. We have our thirdreef in the mainsail, staysail and the storm jib flying and are making way beating into up to 35 knots apparent wind. With a flat sea this would be fantastic but we have certainly slowed a bit to make sure our boat (and crew!) stays in one piece due to the power and strength of the sea. ‘To win a race - you must first finish the race!’
'I think we have about another two days of this before conditions moderate slightly and by then we will be in need of respite from the continual hammering we are receiving at the moment. Things are made slightly more difficult by the constant flow of large ships transiting the area and the need to keep look out, monitor AIS and radar, contact them on VHF and finally avoid physical contact!'
Mark adds, 'We are just about to enter the Ocean Sprint phase of this race between latitudes 22 degrees and 25 degrees north. So enough typing and back to the racing.'
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Hot on the heels of the Northern Irish entry is Visit Finland who has crossed the Luzon Strait in the last 24 hours and are in sight of the southern tip of Taiwan and their rivals.
Skipper, Olly Osborne reports, 'The wind has been on the nose from the north east leading to more upwind sailing.The winds and the waves are the highest we have seen on this leg leading to some exciting sailing. We are being pushed along by the Kuroshio Current (the black snake) which is running at about two knots in our favour.This runs along the east coast of Taiwan before heading along the south coast of Japan so we will get acquainted with it again on Leg 6.
Olly adds, 'Life on board can be a challenge with the pitching waves and rolling boat but the crew is looking forward to Qingdao!'
With less than 1000 miles to go on this drag race to the finish in Qingdao, the teams will be tested to their limits in the extreme conditions that face them.
The first teams are expected to arrive to a spectacular welcome in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February. Positions at 1200 UTC, Friday 17 February Boat DTF*
1 De Lage Landen 675nm
2 Gold Coast Australia 680nm (+6nm DTL**)
3 Geraldton Western Australia 737nm (+63nm)
4 Singapore 738nm (+63nm)
5 Derry-Londonderry 809nm (+134nm)
6 Visit Finland 809nm (+134nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 824nm (+150nm)
8 New York 835nm (+160nm)
9 Qingdao 914nm (+240nm)
10 Welcome to Yorkshire 915nm (+240nm)
*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