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Vaikobi 2019 - Leaderboard 3 USA Newsletter: Clipper departs Seattle, VOR enters North Atlantic


Clipper fleet departs Seattle, VOR fleet enters Northern Hemisphere

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Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge - photo © Ben Solomon

Dear [recipient name]

Clouds, sunshine and pockets of blue sky engaged in a constant push-pull battle between meteorological moods on Puget Sound on the afternoon of Sunday, April 29, as the fleet of eleven identical, Tony Castro-designed, Clipper 70s that are competing in the 2017/2018 Clipper Round The World Yacht Race hoisted their sails and team colors, and treated Seattle to a final parade of sail before embarking on their massive, 6,091 nautical mile journey that will take the fleet to New York City, by way of the Panama Canal.

As a spectator the view was impressive, as it's not every day that Seattle is visited by an around-the-world race, but for the families and friends of the Clipper sailors who had gathered at Seattle's Bell Harbor Marina to see their loved ones off, there's little question that a bittersweet tinge hung in the air, perhaps exacerbated by the clouds over the Olympic Mountains and the realization that the fleet would soon - once again - be exposed to Mother Nature's fickle moods.

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge to Panama, Day 0 - photo © Ben Solomon
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge to Panama, Day 0 - photo © Ben Solomon

As anyone who has ever tried to race on Puget Sound well understands, while the views are spectacular when the sun is shining, the wind can be an elusive creature that operates fully on its own schedule. Couple this fickleness with Puget Sound's sweeping currents and tides, not to mention its busy shipping lanes, and it becomes clear why the Clipper Race instead motor sails down the Sound and out into the western waters of the strait of Juan de Fuca before officially commencing racing.

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Interestingly, the Clipper Race fleet completed a short, inshore course in Seattle's Elliott Bay that determined the starting order of the Le Mans-style start that the race will use as the teams approach the open Pacific Ocean. Fittingly, skipper Nikki Henderson and her Visit Seattle crew won this inshore competition and therefore enjoyed the honours of being the first team to clear Leg 7's starting line.

Clipper 2017-18 Race - photo © Ben Solomon
Clipper 2017-18 Race - photo © Ben Solomon

While Leg 7 unfurls significantly closer to shore than Leg 6, dubbed 'The Mighty Pacific', this new 6,000-plus nautical mile leg will still present teams with significant challenges. "After the Mighty Pacific Leg, Race 10 might seem a little gentler but it can still be tough," said Wendy Tuck, skipper of Sanya Serenity Coast, which is currently topping the leaderboard, in an official race press release. "We are still in the North Pacific so we can still get big low-pressure systems coming across, so conditions are likely to be very varied."

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Others agree with Tuck's assessment of this interesting leg that will be conducted as two races. "It's going to get very tactical as the fleet heads south to Panama," said Mark Light, the Clipper Race's Director, in an official release. "If they stay inshore, there might be help from some tide and current but further offshore will generally provide much stronger winds. Teams will need to think ahead - where do they want to be in three days' time and how are they going to get there."

Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge - photo © Ben Solomon
Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge - photo © Ben Solomon

Meanwhile, on the Atlantic side of the Americas, the seven-strong fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s that are racing in the Volvo Ocean Race have just passed the equator at the time of this writing, with the dual American- and Danish-flagged entry Vestas/11th Hour Racing leading the chase into Northern Hemisphere waters at 8.8 knots, followed 3.9 and 4.1 miles (respectively) astern by Dongfeng Race Team and Team Brunel.

"Life is good on board, and dry on deck, and after the first night without squalls the team is well rested and in good spirits," wrote Vestas/11th Hour Racing's Simon Fisher in an official team communication. "We can make out Turn the Tide ahead and Dongfeng behind giving us both motivation to chase and to not get caught."

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8 from Itajai to Newport, day 02 on board Vestas 11th Hour. Phil Harmer look at the red boats. - photo © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8 from Itajai to Newport, day 02 on board Vestas 11th Hour. Phil Harmer look at the red boats. - photo © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race

While the Doldrums are never easy patches of water to cross for highly strung raceboats and their performance-focused crews, these often-windless zones can provide critical tactical opportunities, giving teams at the back of the pack serious incentive to press as hard as possible in the fickle airs.

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With just over 3,000 nautical miles separating the Volvo Ocean Race leaders from a serious celebration in Newport, Rhode Island, all teams are pressing hard, but you can bet your last roll of duct tape that skipper Charlie Enright and his Newport-based Vestas/11th Hour Racing team will be doing everything in their power to deliver a first-place finish for all of their family, friends and fans.

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8 from Itajai to Newport, day 05, on board Vestas 11th Hour. Charlie Enright looks at the other red boat. - photo © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race Leg 8 from Itajai to Newport, day 05, on board Vestas 11th Hour. Charlie Enright looks at the other red boat. - photo © Martin Keruzore / Volvo Ocean Race

However, with so much sailing left to go, victory could be determined by how each team negotiates individual clouds en route to escaping the Doldrums, and how well they understand - and can leverage - the powerful forces of the Gulf Stream as they eventually set up for their run into Newport.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt, North American Editor

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