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Clipper Ventures USA Newsletter: Broaches and fast sailing in the Clipper Race


Negotiating broaches, big winds and fast sailing in the Clipper Round The World Race

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Allen IQP 2017 728x90 1

Clipper Race 8: Sailing City Qingdao Cup - photo © Clipper Race

Dear [recipient name]

As spring reluctantly makes its way across North America, I can't ignore the number of big weather systems that have been rolling across the North Pacific and slamming into Washington State's Olympic Mountains before then dropping significant amounts of precipitation (and sometimes wind) on the North Cascades. While this makes for pretty good late-season skiing (read: deep but wet), I can't help but consider the occasional pounding that these storms must be delivering to the twelve-strong fleet of identical, 70-foot Tony Castro-designed Clipper 70s that are competing in the 2017/2018 edition of the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race, and which are currently en route to my hometown of Seattle from Qingdao, China.

Some backstory: In 2016, the Clipper fleet also visited not-so-sunny Seattle, and I was fortunate enough to spend time around the fleet, both as some of the teams arrived at Seattle's Bell Harbor Marina from their long, transpacific journey and as part of the race's official media-day sailing, and in all cases the skippers and the crews described the marathon-like leg from China to the Emerald City as being the toughest sailing that they had experienced since leaving the United Kingdom the previous summer.

Clipper Race Seattle Pacific Challenge - photo © Clipper Ventures
Clipper Race Seattle Pacific Challenge - photo © Clipper Ventures

Visually, the boats were battered looking, with most missing portions of their livery stickers near their bow sections, as well as numerous broken bowsprits, tattered-looking running rigging and one helm station that was no longer aboard the yacht. Having personally witnessed several other transoceanic and round-the-world races arriving in port looking significantly perkier, it was obvious that the Clipper Race fleet had received a proper walloping en route from Qingdao, a legacy that no doubt fed into plenty of crews' pre-race nerves before embarking on this bold leg two years ex post facto.

As of this writing, the fleet was reaching the international date line (and the leg's halfway point), and there have been plenty of reports of big weather, fast sailing and gusts approaching the 50-knot barrier, however - mercifully - conditions seem a bit less caffeinated than the fleet's last crossing.

British sailor Dale Smyth, skipper of Dare to Lead - photo © Clipper Ventures
British sailor Dale Smyth, skipper of Dare to Lead - photo © Clipper Ventures

"Last night we expected a weather front to come through again with some force and, due to the extreme cold, I was trying to avoid any deck work so went into the night with a conservative sail plan," said Dale Smyth, skipper of Dare To Lead in an official report. "Turns out the weather didn't get that bad so was a bit upset with myself for being overly cautious and losing some ground. Went at it full welly this morning with a spinnaker hoist and pushed it far too hard and wiped out after a scorching run that made last night melt away."

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Reports were similar from other vessels. "The fruity little weather front that we had prepared for never really happened," reported Rob Graham, skipper of Nasdaq in an official race release. "All we got was a gradual strengthening of a very stable southwest wind without any real gusts which means that Nasdaq was slightly underpowered for the conditions and slipped some miles against the rest of the fleet yesterday.

Rob Graham has today been formally announced as the professional Skipper who will lead the Nasdaq team entry in the Clipper Race 2017-18 - photo © onEdition
Rob Graham has today been formally announced as the professional Skipper who will lead the Nasdaq team entry in the Clipper Race 2017-18 - photo © onEdition

"Better safe than sorry I suppose, but frustrating to have lost out this time - it's about knowing just how hard to push at any given moment," continued Graham.

According to reports, the fleet is now enjoying fast conditions that are burning off the remaining miles separating crews from a hot shower and stable horizons, however this is expected to change in the coming days (remember the parade of storms that have been barrelling into the Olympic Peninsula?), and crews are already mentally preparing for forecasted airs of 60 knots as they continue to deal with occasional broaches and tangled spinnakers.

"We were making great progress, absolutely howling along, when the helm broached, causing a spinnaker wrap with the Code 3 (heavyweight spinnaker)," wrote Matt Mitchell, skipper of PSP Logistics, in an official race release. "It was pretty bad but thankfully only around the inner forestay. It took about 4 hours to sort out with a massive effort from everyone, but I don't think the Code 3 will fly again this leg! The Yankee1 will have to bravely take the place of the Code 3 for the time being; already we can see we are a bit off the pace!"

(left to right) Mission Performance skipper Matt Mitchell, Founding Director Rob Lewis, Founding Director Christiaan Mcleod, Clipper Race Founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and ex marine Paul Vice. - photo ©
(left to right) Mission Performance skipper Matt Mitchell, Founding Director Rob Lewis, Founding Director Christiaan Mcleod, Clipper Race Founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and ex marine Paul Vice. - photo ©

The Clipper fleet is expected to arrive in Seattle between Thursday, April 19 and Saturday, April 21, and fans can visit the fleet at Seattle Bell Harbor Marina until they depart for Leg 7, which will take the fleet from the Emerald City down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and then back up the East Coast to New York City, on Sunday, April 29.

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So, if your travels are taking you to Seattle during the Clipper Race's upcoming visit, be sure to swing by Bell Harbor Marina and check out the festivities...but, if prevailing weather patterns hold (read: cool and wet), you just might want to also consider packing your alpine skis, as odds are strong that you'll be able to put them to good use.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, North American Editor

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