Close match racing as fleet heads towards open water of South China


February 4: Some close match racing has taken place in Race 6 to Qingdao over the past 24 hours, with positions changing regularly as the boats make their way through the islands towards the open water of the South China Sea. 

“This race just gets better and better!” exclaimed California’s skipper, Pete Rollason. “We have spent the last 24 hours surrounded by four other boats, Cape Breton Island, Jamaica Lightning Bolt, Hull & Humber and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. However, in the last two to three hours we have all made different tactical decisions as to the best passage through the next group of islands and have parted company. At present, the only yacht in our vicinity is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and as always, having another Clipper to chase or stay ahead of helps to focus the mind on the task at hand. I am sure we will all close up again in the next day or two and this race is set to become very close, as we all head for the Scoring Gate in the Luzon Strait, or as it has been named on board, the gate to Hell.”

Skipper Jan Ridd and his crew on board Cape Breton Island have also been enjoying the close racing, which at times has been a little too close.

“We passed Hull & Humber in the middle of last night crossing on different tacks within feet of each other,” explained Ridd. “At the moment we are both on the same tack with about a mile between us. I hope the crew on Hull & Humber are enjoying the competition as much as we are,” he added.

Hull & Humber’s report to the race office yesterday suggested that this is indeed the case. Cape Breton Island’s skipper, Piers Dudin, had this to say about their proximity. “We’ve been within sight of each other for the best part of a day now matching each other’s tacks as we go. Sometimes we’re ahead, sometimes just behind, but it’s great to have someone to pitch ourselves next to as we gauge our performance.

“Helming has now become a fine art as opposed to the thick bush strokes we’ve been able to apply in previous legs. We are constantly adjusting the form and figure of our sails as we continue to learn what shape suits what wind strength and looking forward to picking up some decent breeze in the coming days.”

As positions continuously change amongst the fleet, one thing which has remained the same is the weather, with consistent light headwinds and high temperatures.

“Not much has changed in the last 24 hours except we have managed to move up to fifth place,” said Jamaica Lightning Bolt’s skipper, Pete Stirling. “We are still beating upwind and tacking on the wind shifts to maximise our VMG (Velocity Made Good) towards Qingdao. Apart from tacking we haven’t performed any evolutions since the start, so no reefs in or out and no headsail changes. There has, however, been a lot of
shipping around and a few inquisitive local fishing boats which have kept the crew on their toes.”

Meanwhile, Qingdao’s crew have been kept on their toes, as they carefully navigated their boat through the island group of Pulau Pulau Anambas. “An interesting night’s sailing,” reported the team’s skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major. “We chose to use the lifts and shifts available within the island group to help us climb north east towards Taiwan.

“Under a clear moon, with lookouts posted and a radar watch to rival any ship of war, we carefully picked our way between the islands, finding good shelter from the south westerly surface current in this area. This manoeuvre was only made possible by the nature of the islands which are towering stacks each over 100 metres in height — an excellent radar target. We enjoyed a tense but safe passage that has revealed some of the most beautiful coastal scenery as the sun rose this morning.”

The Race Viewer has revealed that the fleet is still very much split, as each of the teams decides on their route towards the scoring gate south of Taiwan.

“It will be interesting to see who has the better tactic,” said Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore. “The crew are making sure we use the wind shifts to our advantage and keep our boat speed up in the light conditions. It’s hard to think that with the light winds and hot conditions we are currently experiencing that in only a week the conditions will be very different.”

The change in conditions won’t come too soon for skipper Matt Pike, onboard Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. “It’s hot, really hot! There is no getting away from that as we beat up through the Pulau-Bunguran channel,” he said. “The fleet is split, some east, some west, but it looks from the weather like everybody is trying to make headway against the north easterly air flow. Long tacks or short, every mile gained is
the result of total concentration.”

Rob McInally, skipper of Team Finland, is fully aware that concentration is the key as his crew gives it their all in an attempt to move ahead of Spirit of Australia. “Another night of match racing with Spirit of Australia and the current position report has them just two miles ahead,” said Rob. “The crew are pulling together really well and the helming is of a very good standard with fantastic levels of concentration. We have had some new drivers appear over the last few days and the light wind helming has been great. As the wind speed builds we will endeavour to take this confidence and ability into the gale force driving conditions.”

Spirit of Australia’s skipper, Brendan Hall is grateful for the gentle re-introduction to upwind sailing, especially as the number of vessels in the vicinity is an ever-present concern. “We are still in an area of dense shipping,” he explained. “Although — luckily — we have not had to avoid any ships as they pass us by. In fact, about the only thing that has changed from yesterday is the menu!”

Positions at 0900 UTC, Thursday, February 4, 2010.

1. Hull & Humber DTF 2239nm 

2. Cape Breton Island DTF 2241nm DTL +1nm 

3. California DRF 2253nm DTL +13nm 

4. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 2255nm DTL +16nm 

5. Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 2256nm DTL +16nm 

6. Qingdao DTF 2256nm DTF +16nm 

7. Uniquely Singapore DTF 2260nm DTL +21nm 

8. Spirit of Australia DTF 2271nm DTL +32nm 

9. Team Finland DTF 2272nm DTL +33nm 

(*DTF = Distance to Finish, *DTL = Distance to Leader) 

Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at