SPORT - Final stages of race promise a battle down to the wire
December 15: With just over 200nm to go before the finish in Geraldton and only a few miles separating each of the teams, there will not be many skippers sleeping tonight as they each try to squeeze that extra bit of power out of their boats. Everything is still to play for in Race 4 of Clipper 09-10 and despite extending their lead over the Australian team to 14nm, the crew on board Team Finland is not foolish enough to assume that line honours will be theirs.
"This fourth race is nearly over but far from decided," said Team Finland's skipper, Eero Lehtinen.
"It has never been this tight so late in the race and we will see some spectacular battles right to the finish line.
“The close racing is thanks to the weather, which caused the leaders to slow down and let the chasing pack get back on the playing field. From other people's point of view it has made life more interesting, while some of us have found it hugely frustrating, if not a little unfair!
“Anyway, we've got the breeze now and it seems to be holding until the end and we make it as difficult as possible for any of the other boats to catch us up," he said.
Having lost ground to the Finnish entry, the crew on board Spirit of Australia is more determined than ever to overtake the Finns and claim a homeport victory.
"This whole leg has been a rhumb line drag race, but this last 250-mile stretch even more so," says Spirit of Australia’s Brisbane-based skipper, Brendan Hall.
"There are no more big tactical decisions to make and no more Stealth Modes, just a pure-speed ocean drag race. The crew relishes these conditions and this type of sailing. The focus and concentration on deck is like that of a professional sailing team," he said.
With less than 10nm separating the next three boats, Cape Breton Island, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Uniquely Singapore, things couldn't be closer for the mid-fleet teams. Although Qingdao can't be ruled out from a podium position just yet and skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major is oozing confidence about moving up the position board before the finish line.
"The mood is light and upbeat on the Dragon Wagon. We know we are very quick in these conditions and passing Uniquely Singapore and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is considered a done deal,” said Stanmore-Major.
“What is unclear to me is whether they (Matt Pike, skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore) will have any tricks up their sleeves as we move into the final phase of this race.
“Short-course racing tactics will suddenly come into play and we could see an extremely tight finish between at least three boats out here," he said.
The final two boats in the fleet are continuing to make good progress to Geraldton, following the collision on the Cape Town start line, which delayed the start to their race.
"All is well on Cork and we are moving along steadily and eagerly chasing the wind," says skipper, Richie Fearon. "The next 24 hours should see an increase in wind strength, which will bring us into Geraldton in time for the prize-giving parade along Marine Terrace on Sunday."
"We're trucking along, waiting for the wind to move round to a more westerly direction so that we can move up to fourth gear,” said Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin.
“We reefed our mainsail during the night and we've worked our way through our sail wardrobe.
The mood on board is upbeat and pensive as we experience our last few days in the famous Southern Ocean before we break north towards Geraldton," he said.
With strong southerly winds expected over the next 24 hours the first boat is expected to cross the finish line around 1300 hours local time (0500GMT) tomorrow. Friends and family of the crews have already started to arrive in Geraldton and the city is geared up to provide a warm Aussie welcome.
POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15
1. Spirit of Australia
2. Team Finland
DTF 234nm/DTL +21nm
3. Jamaica Lightning Bolt
DTF 235nm/DTL +22nm
4. Cape Breton Island
DTF 240nm/DTL +27nm
5. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
DTF 243nm/DTL +30nm
DTF 252nm/DTL +39nm
7. Uniquely Singapore
DTF 253nm/DTL +40nm
DTF 280nm/DTL +67nm
DTF 896nm/DTL +683nm
10. Hull & Humber
DTF 1841nm/DTL +1628nm
(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com