In soaring temperatures the crew of Liverpool 08 have kept their cool and are clinging onto their lead at the head of the Clipper 07-08 fleet as they race towards Singapore, the next port of call on this 35,000-mile challenge.
Skipper Ben Galloway reported this morning, 'Six days with the kite up has come to a refreshing end with 17 knots blowing over the deck to cool us down. Around midnight we dropped the kite surrounded by black squally clouds. It looks like Durban 2010 and Beyond and Nova Scotia are gaining on us.Looks like we are going to have to decide which side to leave Christmas Island as it’s right between us and the gate.'
The Clipper yachts are now fewer than 200 miles from the island which lies directly between them and the Sunda Straits where the fleet will round the first waypoint of Race 5. Christmas Island is only eleven miles in diameter however its peak stands at 348 metres. This will form a major obstacle for the fleet and no doubt all of the skippers and tacticians will, like Ben, be wondering how to deal with it.
James Allen, Head of Clipper Training, says,'With the boats so close together and the weather pattern stabilising for the time being, all ten of the 68-foot ocean racing yachts will be experiencing identical conditions. The wind has now settled in the southeast and decreased to 10 knots. These conditions look set to continue for the next 24 hours before the breeze drops to five knots or less and swings around to the West. With such fickle winds a 348 metre-high island will cause a significant wind shadow.'
The obvious answer for the tacticians is to pass on the westerly side of the island however, with the fleet so tightly packed and the light airs this will not be as easy for the more easterly yachts as they will have to sail closer to the wind than those to the west. This situation will be further exacerbated as the wind swings to the west and it could be costly in the current conditions; if they do choose to sail to the east of Christmas Island they could very easily become totally becalmed, a situation they faced in the Canaries during Leg 1 and one none of the skippers or the crew wants to repeat.
For the time being the most westerly of the yachts is Qingdao, 190 nautical miles behind Liverpool 08 in terms of distance to finish. Skipper Marcus Cholerton-Brown reported this morning, 'We’re having a great sail, just frustratingly slow.'
With such difficult conditions facing all of the yachts it is even more important for the crews to remain focussed on the task in hand – not easy with temperatures still rising and the crews finding ever-more ingenious ways to keep cool. It will be very difficult for any of the teams to make significant gains in the current conditions and this can be very frustrating for the crews.
Losses will come all too easily for those who lose their focus in the tropical heat. And with many of the boats still in sight of each other the pressure is really on.
The fleet is due to arrive in Singapore on 19 January, when they will arrive as part of the opening ceremony for the brand new Marina at Keppel Bay, the centre-piece of Keppel Bay’s premier waterfront precinct – the only residential development in Singapore to have its own world-class marina on its own private five-hectare island. Positions at 18:00 hrs- DTF - DTL - 12hrs - 7 January 2008
1 Liverpool 08 1110 0 102
2 Nova Scotia 1119 9 101
3 Durban 2010 and Beyond 1121 11 104
4 New York 1128 18 99
5 Hull & Humber 1147 37 100
6 westernaustralia2011.com 1154 44 103
7 Glasgow:Scotland with style 1161 51 104
8 Uniquely Singapore 1229 119 95
9 Qingdao 1317 207 63
10 Jamaica 1322 212 87