SPORT - Intense battle underway for podium positions
Monday, November 21: An intense battle is underway for the coveted podium positions for Race 5 from Geraldton, Western Australia to Tauranga, New Zealand with just 32nm separating the five boats vying for second and third spots.
De Lage Landen, currently in fourth place, is one of the teams gunning for a top-three finish and skipper Stuart Jackson acknowledges that it is set to be a close call with so many of the boats bunched together in the closing stages of this 3800nm race.
"As there is going to be some fairly unpredictable weather, we could well see positions change in the next few days. It never ceases to amaze me that after nearly 4000 miles, there is the possibility of half the fleet finishing within a few hours of each other," said Jackson.
Although frustrating at times, the close racing helps to motivate the crew to keep getting the best they can out of the boat, he added. "It is also testament to their hardy resolve that they keep smiling and joking in the dismal conditions.”
More unsettled weather is on the way, according to meteorologist Simon Rowell, who is providing the ten teams with daily weather updates. The conditions over the next couple of days will be "a bit messy and patchy" as the weather systems generally move eastwards, he said.
"There will be some localised strong winds through the Cook Strait and around Table Cape and East Cape over the next two to three days," Rowell added. He has advised the skippers to pay close attention to the local weather broadcasts on VHF radio as they make their way up the coast.
"The strong stuff won't be anything that the teams haven't already seen at this stage in the race, but the change in the weather will be rather quick and so it will probably be harder work overall," said Rowell, noting that the teams are likely to make numerous sail changes to cope with the erratic conditions.
Derry-Londonderry has emerged from Stealth Mode in second place, 9nm ahead of Welcome to Yorkshire and skipper Mark Light said that the close battle for the podium spots had got even closer.
He conceded that Gold Coast Australia had a "healthy lead" and said that barring any mishaps the Australian team was unlikely to be caught.
"This leaves five boats all going for second and third spots, and although my maths is not great, even I know that five into two does not go, so three boats will miss out on the podium," said Light.
"Our aim is to make sure that we are not one of the three boats who will finish just outside the top places," he adds.
At current speeds the distance separating Derry-Londonderry from sixth-placed Visit Finland equates to only three hours sailing, so Light is all too aware of the need to trim well and sail fast and to preserve equipment in the adverse conditions to avoid having to deal with a time consuming situation onboard.
"The excitement must be building for the people watching the action unfold on the Race Viewer but for all of us on board the tensions are rising and the finish line cannot come soon enough!" said Light.
Rupert Dean and his team on Welcome to Yorkshire are capitalising on their newfound wind and remain hot on the heels of Derry-Londonderry.
"After struggling to keep Welcome to Yorkshire moving in light winds, rain and cloudy skies, we are now reaching along nicely under main, staysail and Yankee 1 in about 27kts of wind from the southeast,” said Dean. “Quite where this wind is coming from is anyone's guess as it tells a totally different story to what we would expect from the weather charts.”
The heavy northwesterly winds funnelling down the Cook Strait appear to have passed ahead of the English team, and Dean said he was relieved to be "spared the discomfort of hardcore upwind sailing".
The sail repair team on Welcome to Yorkshire has finished taping together their medium-weight spinnaker, which was damaged after being dragged under the boat last week.
Dean praised Ann Finch, Richard Simons, Kate Prior, Keith Pickering and Steve Reid for their efforts and said they were now stitching the repair with the sewing machine. They hope to finish the extensive repairs by the time they reach Tauranga.
Meanwhile, an abundance of wildlife is greeting the teams as they sail in close proximity to New Zealand's shores for the first time in the history of the Clipper Race.
Dean said his team had spotted large quantities of kelp, various birdlife including three albatross and a huge school of bottlenose dolphins. "These and the rising air and sea temperatures are all welcome signs as we make our way north towards Tauranga," he says.
New York's skipper Gareth Glover admits that he was disappointed to slip back from second into fourth place as his team failed to benefit from his move offshore allowing the inshore teams to pull ahead.
"We've been unable to fly a spinnaker or poled-out a headsail due to the sea state as the waves have been coming from all angles making it hard to helm," said Glover.
"We're now waiting on the next set of weather information and time will tell if our route is going to pay off in the end," he added.
It has been another day of extremes on Visit Finland with the changeable weather and sea state challenging the crew, according to skipper Olly Osborne.
"The watches are working very hard to keep pace with the demands of the elements and we have nearly been caught out by squally showers a couple of times," said Osborne.
This presents a stark contrast to last night's weather when there was "a glassy sea and barely a breath of breeze". But every cloud has its silver lining and the calm conditions allowed the Visit Finland crew to witness a show of phosphorescent sea creatures of all shapes and sizes.
"When we shone a torch at the sea, it was thick with squid and worm-like creatures. It was a fascinating sight but everyone made double sure that they were clipped on!" said Osborne.
As the most westerly boat, the Visit Finland team is working on a "least miles and best boat-speed theory". However, Osborne said that he was watching the teams to the east carefully to see if they were able to remain in the stronger winds for longer as the low-pressure cell receded to the east.
After regaining their triple-digit lead overnight, Richard Hewson and his team on Gold Coast Australia are feeling the burn after a "wild ride" crossing the approaches to the Cook Strait.
Hewson reports that his team ploughed to windward into large seas and swells with a solid 50kts of wind from the northwest. "With the storm sails up Gold Coast Australia handled like a dream and powered to windward like a freight train on rails," he said.
Hewson said his crew was "completely exhausted" after carrying out at least one sail change per watch as the wind increased over the first 16 hours of the storm with each one taking up to two hours to complete.
"Even flaking the sail once it is down is an absolute mission and the crew worked hard to keep the yacht shipshape,” said Hewson.
“Not only is it physically strenuous whilst on deck, but also when trying to rest or, dare I say, to sleep as the inside of the hull is being bounced around like a rollercoaster, and nobody sleeps well on a rollercoaster, particularly in the rain," he said.
Hewson anticipates that the approach to Tauranga will continue to be "extremely challenging" and now that the storm has abated the team is trying to get some rest to prepare for the demanding conditions ahead.
After making miles on the fleet in record speeds yesterday, it has been a slow and frustrating 24 hours onboard Edinburgh Inspiring Capital as the team experiences light variable winds and drizzle. Skipper Gordon Reid considers the challenging dynamics of ocean racing.
"The Ocean Racing Team on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is working hard to keep us moving, with countless sail changes as the wind fills then eases and changes direction 30 degrees at a time,” says Reid.
"From riding on the edge of the Southern Ocean's fury to a much more sedate and calm coastal cruise, this is a lot like typical sailing weather off the west coast of Scotland where I learned to sail as a wee lad with rain, drizzle and fog, so just like being at home for me.
"Someone asked me what it was like living life to the max, well some days are better than others, for now we are staying focused and are keeping the faith," he said.
With the weather due to bring strong winds over the next two to three days Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is hoping to regain speed and once again take chunks from the rest of the fleet in their race to the finish line in Tauranga.
"There is wind ahead and the ocean isn't finished with us yet, she is about to blow and once more we will be riding on the edge, bring it on say the crew. It's all good," says Reid.
Despite the light winds, the team onboard Geraldton Western Australia has been working hard to maintain their current position. Skipper Juan Coetzer is pleased with the team's hard work. "Quite a bit of maintenance has been done today, keeping the boat in tip top condition," he said.
As Geraldton Western Australia continued to drift up the coastline last night giving them a first glimpse at New Zealand, the team looked to the finish in Tauranga.
"Now that the day has come, the breeze has filled in a little, and we are off," adds Coetzer.
Onboard Qingdao the frustration continues for Ian Conchie and his team as they sail downwind in light airs reducing their apparent wind. The team is all too familiar with light airs from an unfavourable angle after their experience on Leg 3 from Cape Town to Geraldton.
"We are doing everything we can to maximise our boat speed with the spinnaker up but it requires constant trimming to try and keep it full in these light airs,” says Conchie. “All we can do is wait and pray that the next forecast has something more promising in it to allow us to make good progress towards the finish.”
As the team feel the frustration of racing due to the weather, they have taken the opportunity to use the warm air to get ahead of the chores that await them in Tauranga and have started cleaning, washing and drying everything that has got damp onboard.
As the team onboard Singapore continues to head north, last night provided what skipper Ben Bowley describes as "some much needed stimulation" as they experienced high winds, which saw a plethora of sail changes and miles gained.
With the team retired from the current race, Singapore has been experiencing slightly different weather patterns to the rest of the fleet as they take a shorter northerly route. As they approach Tauranga, Ben Bowley and his team are looking forward to rejoining the rest of the fleet to prepare for Race 6 to Gold Coast, Queensland.
"It looks like we may have another 24 hours motoring ahead as the breeze dies in the centre of this expanding high-pressure, but once on the other side there should be a nice fetch up to Cape Regina and hopefully a fast flat kite blast in the lee of the north island to Tauranga. It will be superb to be back with the fleet again preparing for the next sprint to Gold Coast," said Bowley.
Race 6 from Tauranga to Gold Coast starts December 4.
Positions at 0900 UTC, Monday, November 21
1. Gold Coast Australia
3. Welcome to Yorkshire
4. De Lage Landen
5. New York
6. Visit Finland
7. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
8. Geraldton Western Australia
1535nm (Retired) Position at
*DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com
The Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race started on July 31 from Southampton on the UK's south coast and will return to the Solent in July 2012 after 40,000 miles of ocean racing — the world's longest ocean race. The event was established by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to give everyone, regardless of sailing experience, the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of ocean racing. More than 500 people representing more than 40 nations will compete in Clipper 11-12. They can sign up for the whole circumnavigation or one or more of eight legs.
The only qualification for the race is the minimum age of 18 — there is no upper age limit. The overall race is divided into individual stages and points are accumulated in a Formula 1-style scoring system. The yacht with the highest total at the finish wins the Clipper Trophy.