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Clipper fleet approaches the Panama Canal as the VOR fleet recovers in Newport

by David Schmidt 14 May 2018 08:00 PDT May 14, 2018
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge to Panama, Day 11 © Clipper Race

In the two weeks that have elapsed since the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race fleet of 11 identical, Tony Castro-designed Clipper 70s departed Seattle, the fleet has made fine progress in escaping the pacific Northwest's infamous "dark curtain", trading the temperate rainforest that they briefly called home for the warmth and blue skies of the Central American coastline. As of this writing, the fleet were some 1,600 miles from Leg 7's first finishing line (N.B. the Clipper Race often holds several races within a particular leg), just to the west of the Panama Canal, with Qingdao in the pole position, followed by Dare to Lead and Visit Seattle, with less than 20 nautical miles separating the frontrunners.

Once all Clipper 70s have finished racing, the fleet will transit the Panama Canal together and will then begin their next race, which will take them to Leg 7's finishing line, just off of New York City.

"It is slightly frustrating, especially with the rest of the fleet slowly catching up with us," said Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch in an official race release, about the fact that the front runners have been contending with a big wind hole that left them with lighter airs than those pursuing from astern. "But not much we can do about it right now. Just sit and wait for the wind to fill in again."

Based on back-of-the-pack reports, this must be an agonizing wait, especially for crews that have fought hard for the yards that they have already won. "Last night we had a bit of a sporty gybe in an unexpected patch of confused sea and equally unexpected wind speed of 25 knots," reported David Hartshorn, skipper of Great Britain, which is (again, at the time of this writing) sitting in penultimate place in the standings.

"Then, once on the starboard tack, we were away, long low swell, allowing us to surf, achieving prolonged boat speeds of between 16-20kts. Thundering into the black starlit abyss, night sailing at is exhilarating best," Hartshorn continued.

While the Big Apple's bright lights and big-city sounds are still several weeks off for the Clipper crews, their transit through the Canal should afford race-weary crews some rest, relaxation and proper nutrition as they work their way back towards the North Atlantic's "home" waters.

Meanwhile, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet had a spectacularly slow finish to Leg 8, which brought the fleet of seven identical Farr-designed Volvo Ocean 65s from Itajai, Brazil, to Newport, Rhode Island, for the VOR's only U.S. stop of the 2017/2018 edition of the race.

As reported in last week's newsletter, Bouwe Bekking's Team Brunel had been looking extremely strong as the fleet finalized their approach to Newport, however the wind machine had different ideas. After an epic battle of inches that stretched into the first light of Tuesday (May 8) morning, Xabi Fernandez's MAPFRE team managed to capture a thin zephyr and ghost across the finishing line ahead of their rivals to claim the podium's top step.

Team Brunel was next home, followed by hometown heroes Vestas/11th Hour Racing, which is skippered by Charlie Enright, a lifelong Rhode Island resident and a two-time VOR skipper. (N.B. Additionally, Vestas/11th Hour Racing's Nick Dana is also from Newport.)

"This leg has had its ups and downs," reported Enright in an official VOR press release. "We didn't start great but we feel like we sailed pretty well for the middle two-thirds of the leg... Then with some positive input from some local knowledge, we end up back on the podium which is great."

The VOR will be in Newport until May 20, when they will depart for Cardiff, Wales, and the final big ocean crossing of the 2017/2018 edition of the race. But, with plenty of valuable points still up for grabs, you can bet your last bottle of rum that all VOR sailors will be taking the next several months of their lives very seriously, at least until the docking lines are made fast.

Until then, however, it's a different story, and one that I'm sure the sailing-obsessed community of Newport, Rhode Island, is doing their best to help the ocean-weary fleet celebrate.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, Sail-World.com North American Editor

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