'The Clipper 11-12 Race fleet departs Qingdao, China to start Race 9, to Oakland, San Francisco Bay.'
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet are on the twentieth day of race nine from Qingdao to Oakland, California. All ten of the 68-foot yachts have broken through the 2,000-miles-to-go barrier and all are now beginning to enjoy a much anticipated change in routine.
The high pressure system that has dominated racing in the last four days is beginning to move off to the east, allowing a cold front to move in behind it and bring with it a chance for a shakeup in what has essentially been an identically matched drag race during that time. Gains have been nigh on impossible to come by as all of the teams have been focused on drawing out every last fraction of a knot of boat speed, having been on the same tack, running with essentially the same sail plan for the last 72 hours and more.
Gareth Glover, skipper of the American entry, which has been flip-flopping with Qingdao in the standings, says, 'It’s been a bit like Groundhog Day here on New York. We are still on the same tack as four days ago and still in around the same wind and sail plan. But as the wind rolls in tonight it brings a feeling of change in the air. As we all wait to see how much longer we can ride this high and the low moves in we are sure there is going to be a change soon.
'We are still working the yacht trying to get a few more miles per watch and a little more speed. We have been holding our own for the past few days but with most of the fleet sometimes only a few miles away you’re always mindful of the need to keep pushing and racing hard.'
'Life on board Visit Finland has been very pleasant for the last 24 hours as we enjoy the last of the southerly reaching breeze,' comments Olly Osborne. 'The helming is exhilarating and the sail plan easy to manage on this point of sail. It is certainly the fastest run we have had so far and waking each watch to find the boat still powered up on the right course is very satisfying.
'The temperature on deck is noticeably cooler as we near the northernmost point of our route, and the constant spray over the deck keeps things below fairly soggy. But we are going well and it is a small price to pay for such fantastic mileage. The lurgy which has plagued the crew seems to have done its worst now and we are back up to two full watches again, and as we enter the final 2,000 miles of the journey the racing is still as close as ever.'
To the north east of Visit Finland, the English entry is the most northerly yacht in the fleet.
'With the cold front yet to hit us, it's anyone's guess how the fleet will be shaken up over the next few days,' comments Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, Rupert Dean. 'As one of the most northerly boats, we naturally hope our strategy will win through.
'In the meantime the crew on Welcome to Yorkshire happily celebrate passing the 2,000 miles to go mark and remain focused for the challenges and changing conditions ahead. It’s been another day of sailing under leaden skies in the North Pacific. At least the winds remain favourable and we continue to make good speed towards Oakland. Marine wildlife, however, remains curiously absent so far.'
Welcome to Yorkshire - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - onEdition ©
Welcome to Yorkshire is very close to the northern limit of this course, approximately 20 miles south of the 42 degrees north boundary set by the Race Committee. The limit was put in place to protect the fleet from the worst of the destructive late winter storms in the North Pacific and, if you click through the wind overlay on the Race Viewer today, you will see a perfect example of those forecast deep low pressure systems lining up further to the north of the fleet.
On the up side, the bottom edge of the low should give all the teams a chance to air their spinnakers and enjoy some downwind racing.
In sunshine for the first time in 'what seems like forever' Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid, says his team is powering along under full mainsail and the Yankee 1, the largest of the headsails but they are already seeing indicators of the change ahead.
'The barometer is dropping slowly as the high pressure system we have been in for several days eventually moves off to the east. The weather will be briefly interrupted by a small low before the next massive high descends upon us from the west, bringing with it some strong tail winds and hopefully a decent bit of ocean swell. We are all very keen to get our surf on and enjoy a bit of downwind racing for a change in this so far upwind race across the Pacific.
'Now with around 1,900 miles to the finish line in San Francisco Bay, our ETA should hopefully improve dramatically as we catch the big ocean surf brought our way by the approaching weather system.'
De Lage Landen’s skipper, Stuart Jackson, is also looking forward to some downwind sailing, but, he says, 'I'm not sure how we are going to cope when we have to sail on a different point of sail as it seems like we have been close reaching for an eternity! In around 24 hours it looks like the wind is due to make its way round to the north west giving us downwind sailing for a while and the luxury of a relatively flat boat, so I'm sure there will be a run on the showers.'
Geraldton Western Australia’s crew have not waited for the boat to level out to treat themselves – but it is all part of their ‘go faster’ strategy.
'We’ve had great sailing angles today, surfing along on the crest of the two joining highs,' says skipper, Juan Coetzer. 'The crew’s highlight today was hot showers. The thought process was one of being fresh and rejuvenated for when we break the back of 2,000 miles to go. The two watches have had a minor swap of crew, and we are hoping this new dynamic will increase boat speed and performance.'
The need to finally change a headsail was enough to reinvigorate the Singapore crew and, while the team on board Welcome to Yorkshire have seen little in the way of wildlife, Ben Bowley describes how his team were treated to a rare sight none of them will forget.
'Two sail changes and the shaking out of a reef have brought a day of activity to what was before a rather lethargic crew. We have also inventoried all our remaining food to establish what has been water damaged and even charged through a pod of what I think were grey whales!
'Slowly the wind has continued to veer round and this has allowed us to carry a little more canvas. Executing some proper yachting tasks today has got the crew's blood pumping again and helped break the monotony of just existing in a 68-foot bubble. Good news on the food front too: not too much rice and pasta has been water damaged and as we are making excellent progress, it is unlikely we shall have to break into the emergency rations or start looking longingly at that old pair of sailing boots... leather is protein, right?
'Sighting the whales and sailing amongst them (at times you could almost lean down and touch the oceanic leviathans) was a really special treat for all today and another of those memories that will last forever.
'Our progress amongst the fleet is still frustratingly stagnant, but this is due to the fleet sailing along roughly the same parallel at consistently good speeds in the same weather. The time to make big gains or losses will be deciding how soon to start the curve southwards to San Francisco Bay. We have a plan, but it could be a few days yet before we start to set ourselves up for the final play in this ocean racing epic.'
With his team stubbornly maintaining their lead over Singapore, Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, says, 'The weather continues to moderate, and the boat continues to dry out as we sail east towards the finish at the Golden Gate Bridge and the stopover in Oakland.
'We are now reaching away under full power and making ten knots towards the finish. The crew are sailing the boat very well and trimming away for peak performance. It is getting to the stage now that as skipper I have very little to do, allowing me to catch up on jobs that have been put aside in the rougher weather and also allowing me some time to relax!
'While thoughts on board drift towards Oakland and the finish we must still focus 100 per cent on sailing well. As I said to the crew during happy hour today, all the yachts in the fleet are still relatively close, and all it takes is one little slip up of concentration and our race could be over. If, however, we sail well, at this speed we should be arriving in Oakland in seven days’ time for a weekend arrival and another yellow pennant which would be very special and hopefully attract a vast number of spectator boats to welcome us in.'
You can follow Oakland’s plans to welcome the teams at the end their 6,000-mile race across the planet’s biggest ocean on Facebook. The fleet will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific Boat Show in Jack London Square and the Strictly Sail Pacific Clipper Race Cup will be presented to the Race 9 winning team on the opening day of the show, Thursday 12 April.
'The North Pacific has been very kind to us so far and we are making great progress towards Oakland,' says Derry-Londonderry’s skipper, Mark Light. 'It is good to see the distance to run figure reducing at such a rate and we are still managing to hold on to our third place. The competition is hotting up behind us and this is proving to be a very close race indeed – every day the pressure and levels of nervous energy increase. The anticipation of the position reports is very high and creates a buzz of excitement. This is quickly followed by elation and satisfaction if the report is good, or horror and new-found determination to improve should the report prove to be less pleasing on the eye.
'With the good progress, inevitably come thoughts of dry land, seeing loved ones, showers and beers. We have also been busy thinking about our stopover plans, checklists, maintenance schedules and victualling, all things necessary before we can set sail again. All crew are now very experienced and know exactly what to do in the stopovers so that most things happen automatically as we look to maximise our down time.'
The teams are expected to arrive between 1 and 7 April but predicting exactly when yachts are likely to reach port at the end of such a long ocean race is an inexact science and, says Clipper 11-12 Race Director, Joff Bailey, 'It’s a bit like looking into a misty crystal ball.' Factors to take into account include wind and weather, sea state, currents and localised weather patterns as they approach land.
'The ocean winds over the next five days look favourable but as they approach the finish line the effect of the North American land mass will make the winds a bit unpredictable,' adds Joff.
Stuart and the De Lage Landen crew have their own predictions as to when they might arrive. 'With such good mileage being made over the past week thoughts are turning to our arrival in Oakland and itineraries for our stay there, so a book is now being run for when we will cross the finish line,' he tells the Race Office this morning. 'It seems that I am being the most optimistic with Dr Sophie (Childs) being the most pessimistic, or as some would say, realistic!'
Qingdao crew in China ahead of Race 9 start to Oakland, San Francisco Bay - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race - onEdition ©
On board Qingdao the crew have cause for celebration after finally coming to grips with a few of the gremlins that have been testing them.
'We have found the source of some of the leaks filling the bilges. One of the air scoops on the foredeck had been carried clean away by a wave! This shows the force with which the water has been hitting the boat over the last few days,' says skipper, Ian Conchie.
'In addition we have found some movement in the steering gear this morning which we traced back to one of the support brackets. We managed to tighten this to stop the movement but this did involve getting to the back of some of the deepest cave lockers in the stern. Not an easy task on a bouncing boat, I can tell you.
'All of this, plus sail changes to keep the speed up, has given us a busy day and as dusk fell the wind has picked up again requiring more sail changes as I type! We may be two thirds of the way there (we also passed the 2,000 miles to go mark today) but there is still a lot of ocean out there to deal with.'
Positions at 1200 UTC, Saturday 24 March 2012
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 1,641nm
2 Singapore - 1,715nm (+74nm DTL**)
3 Derry-Londonderry - 8,822nm (+181nm)
4 New York - 1, 833nm (+192nm)
5 Qingdao - 1,850nm (+209nm)
6 Welcome to Yorkshire - 1,854nm (+213nm)
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 1,867nm (+226nm) Position at 1100 UTC
8 Visit Finland - 1,887nm (+246nm)
9 De Lage Landen - 1,915nm (+274nm) Position at 1100 UTC
10 Geraldton Western Australia - 1,929nm (+288nm)
*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
by Heather Ewing
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2:54 PM Sat 24 Mar 2012GMT
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