SPORT - Leading pack pulls away from rest of fleet
October 13: It's all still very nip and tuck both at the front and the back of the fleet. With just 53nm between second and fifth after three weeks of racing, the final 1300nm will be a closely fought affair between Cape Breton Island, Spirit of Australia, Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Cork, Ireland.
This truly is a case of the rich getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
The leading group is making excellent progress towards Rio and the wind angles are opening up for them all the time, while most will soon be back under spinnaker and going even faster. This will be the case for the next few days as they benefit from strong reliable trade winds.
Race director Jonathan Bailey (who arrived in Rio last night) comments that there is little opportunity for a change of places in the leading group as they drag-race south towards the finish.
Cork's more easterly position does give them a possibility of moving up the rankings if they are lucky with the weather though.
At the back end of the fleet, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Uniquely Singapore are still struggling to get out of the ITCZ while California has not actually entered it yet. As such, expect to see their distance to the leader continue to grow.
On board 'the big blue canoe' (the nickname for Cape Breton Island coined by the Membertou Tribal Chief who blessed the boat back in La Rochelle), it is clear that they are experiencing consistent breeze. Skipper Jan Ridd said that they have held the same sails for several days and all they have to do is concentrate on trim. It's clearly working as they have sailed a further mile ahead of their rivals on Spirit of Australia.
The Australian entry enjoyed seeing land for the first time since the Cape Verde Islands when the loom of light from the tiny island of Fernando de Noronha appeared over the horizon.
Cork, Ireland are also enjoying the clear skies and steady breeze from the South Atlantic trade winds and are reporting good speed and a happy, if slightly smelly, crew. With no fresh water squalls for a few days, Her skipper, Richie Fearon says that one wouldn't go amiss today.
Jamaica Lightning Bolt is feeling the frustration of slipping down the order to fourth place. An enigmatic Peter Stirling has admitted to employing "different tactics which, on this occasion, haven't worked". Illustrating a firm grasp of the sporting cliché, he continues by observing that with more than 1000nm to go: "There is still everything to play for. It's easier to lose a race than to win one and we, after all, are the 'Comeback Kids'."
In the next pack of racing yachts, it looks like Hull & Humber have finally broken clear from the clutches of the Doldrums. Skipper Piers Dudin reports that they have been posting good speeds over the last 24 hours as they head towards their Equator crossing. As ever, the crew is being kept busy with constant sail trim, boat maintenance and cleaning as they set their sights on Qingdao 76nm ahead.
On the 'Dragon Wagon' they, too, dare to believe that the Doldrums are now firmly behind them. Twelve knots of breeze and a 185nm run in the past 24 hours suggests they are right and the sound of water rushing past the hull is an intoxicating one to those on board.
Being able to plot the path of the leaders, and then avoid any wind holes they sail into, is clearly advantageous and Quindao’s skipper Chris Stanmore-Major knows that the coast of Brazil is full of potential pitfalls.
He cites strong currents and counter currents, wind holes, on and offshore breezes bending the wind close to the coast and knows that there are some tough decisions to make in the days ahead.
As ever, the Quindao crew are showing their racing pedigree and have stated that: "There are a thousand miles of chance for us. If we can drag back 20nm a day against Cork in the next 10 and if they have just one issue, one 12-hour wind hole on the home straight, then we can pounce. Are we still hungry for positions? You bet your life we are."
At the back of the fleet, the crew of California remains in good spirits and, despite relatively light winds, they have clawed back more miles from the ninth placed racing yacht. Skipper Pete Rollason advises that the crew is working extremely hard, despite the unbearable daytime temperatures and thoughts are turning to a can of something cold on the dockside in Rio. Such thoughts act as a valuable spur as they prepare themselves for the Doldrums ahead.
And what of the leader? Team Finland is humming along 100nm off the Brazilian coast. The spinnaker is up, the Brazilian Current is giving additional drive and staying offshore means they take advantage of a more consistent and stable wind gradients. They continue to push hard and with the wind on the beam, the spinnaker pole is as far forward as it can go with skipper Eero Lehtinen reporting that the tactic is a, "fine line between a speedy ride and a wipe out."
The crew has also taken time out to think about their competitors. They know that for some the stop in Rio will be a short one and in a fine demonstration of sportsmanship, they have volunteered to do the deep clean for the California boat when they arrive.
As Lehtinen said in his morning note back to race HQ: "We will be the ones standing on the pontoon with mops and buckets, sending the crew off to have a beer, laugh, cry, sleep, swim, steak or whatever they fancy before looking ahead for the next race. Wind gods have been too harsh on some of the crews, but these things tend to even out in the long run."
It's a fitting tribute of how the Clipper Race is run. No quarter is given out on the racetrack, but the spirit of camaraderie between the yachts is why this adventure delivers so much for its inspirational crews.
POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13
1. Team Finland
2. Cape Breton Island DTF 1241nm DTL +154nm
3. Spirit of Australia DTF 1242nm DTL +155nm
4. Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1258nm DTL +172nm
5. Cork DTF 1303nm DTL +216nm
6. Qingdao DTF 1677nm DTL +590nm
7. Hull & Humber DTF 1752nm DTL +665nm
8. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1905nm DTL +818nm
9. Uniquely Singapore DTF 1907nm DTL +821nm
10. California DTF 2162nm DTL +1075nm
(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com