SPORT — Low-pressure system bares its teeth

SPORT - Low-pressure system bares its teeth

Tuesday, November 8: Derry-Londonderry

has romped up the leader board into third place after a challenging night of sailing in high winds and mountainous waves. Along with the rest of the 10-strong fleet, the team representing the UK City of Culture 2013 experienced the full force of a powerful low-pressure system off Cape Leeuwin.

Skipper Mark Light said his crew had worked "tremendously hard" over the first two days of this 3800nm race from Geraldton to Tauranga. "They have carried out many sail evolutions in some very demanding conditions," says Light.

He also commended his crew's helming in the testing conditions: "We've had huge waves sweeping towards us every few seconds and the deck has been partially submerged on several occasions with the whole boat bucking wildly down below.”

Light said that as he sailed close to Qingdao last night he commented to his crew how she was smashing around and being picked up and thrown down "like an unwanted toy". "Then I thought 'that's exactly how we might look to the other Clippers'!" he said.

Light said that it was great to be in such a favourable position at the start of the race, adding that his team is determined to keep the focus "not just for the first couple of days but for the duration of the race".

Just 2nm ahead of Derry-Londonderry, Visit Finland will be well within Light's sights.

Visit Finland’s Skipper Olly Osborne said his crew had experienced "a baptism of fire" as the conditions have become increasingly more challenging.

"The security of being ashore in Geraldton was quickly dispelled as we found ourselves shortening sail in the teeth of a gale last night," said Osborne.

Despite the challenges, he admits that it has been a welcome start to the race as his team is making "terrific mileage" with thoughts already turning to the Scoring Gate, currently around 500nm away.

"Making the right choices now is so important, and the fine balance between a safe sail plan and pushing for a competitive speed is not always an easy one to meet as the wind varies so much with the passing rain squalls," said Osborne.

He reports his team recorded a boat speed of 25kts as they surfed down the face of a wave overnight. "The cockpit had no sooner drained than it is filled right up again by the swell catching us on the beam and rolling down the deck," he added.

All the teams know that they will face bitterly cold conditions as they dive farther south. "We had a brief hail storm this morning, which pinged off the metalwork on deck reminding us of the cold conditions that await us further south," said Osborne.

"Whether we can hang on to our second position for the next few days until the Scoring Gate is the big question now, but with Derry-Londonderry hot on our heels and the rest of the pack not far behind it looks like we've got our work cut out!" he added.

"Sailing doesn't get more exciting than this and we're loving it!" reports Gold Coast Australia's skipper Richard Hewson this morning.

"As I write, Gold Coast Australia has the wind aft of the beam and is surfing down waves the size of houses at speeds of up to 20kts. The sea looks wild, but we have blue skies and crew are having a blast," he said.

Hewson said his team has enjoyed a fantastic 24-hour run as they rounded Cape Leeuwin and changed course for the Scoring Gate en route to Tasmania.

He said Gold Coast Australia was sailing more like a submarine than a yacht as they rounded the virtual mark off Cape Leeuwin "with large and confused sea and swell resulting in some very exciting sailing".

"Since the wind was coming from the west and we had large swells that were being amplified by the shallow water off the shelf coming from the south and the northwest,” Hewson explained. “This resulted in Gold Coast Australia surfing down one wave and then ploughing into the next head-on resulting in a great rush of water down the deck."

After a night of conservative sailing due to ferocious weather on the approach to Cape Leeuwin, Qingdao skipper Ian Conchie reflects that his team's decision to it play safe as they slip from fourth position in the fleet down to joint eighth.

"Our goal now is to target a climb up the leader board, although I am happy to report that as a result of our conservative approach we have no injuries and the only damage to the boat being our windex (an arrow marking the wind direction at the top of the mast) which snapped at some point, probably in one of the 45-plus-knot gusts," said Conchie.

He said that his team's new crewmates, who joined in Geraldton, are getting up to speed, although he admits that helming a Clipper 68 in these conditions is proving a "steep learning curve".

On Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Gordon Reid and his crew have been enjoying some similar adrenalin-fuelled sailing, as they have moved up into joint eighth place logging the same distance to the finish as Qingdao.

Reid reports that his team played cat and mouse last night in what he describes as an "epic gale".

"We had massive thundering waves side swiping the boat, gusts of up to 50kts and for the first time since leaving the UK, we used our storm jib barrelling along and at one point hitting 20kts on the surf," said Reid.

He said that under the moonlight his team could see the stars and "the angry seas boiling all around" as they pitched south and rounded Cape Leeuwin in some "fairly challenging conditions" as everyone back home slept.

New York has also been feeling the full brunt of the low over the last 24 hours, with much bigger waves and winds of 35-knots-plus. Skipper Gareth Glover said he decided to stick with only the staysail and three reefs in the main overnight to avoid sending crew forward of the mast in the treacherous conditions.

"We had some very big waves breaking over the bow, some of which were the biggest I've seen in the three legs so far and I wasn't prepared to put the crew in any unneeded danger," said Glover, adding that a number of his crew are also suffering with seasickness.

"The wind looks like it is going to drop in the next 24 hours and then we hope to hank on a new headsail and get racing again and hopes of doing well in this leg are high," he said.

Welcome to Yorkshire has been experiencing "feisty conditions all round", but spirits remain high as the team makes good progress at the start of the long ocean leg, according to skipper Rupert Dean.

"The gale-force winds with regular savage gusts of 45kts dictate conservative sail plans and we're currently beam reaching with three reefs in the main, the Yankee 3 and staysail," said Dean.

"The violent motion is making living conditions below decks challenging and several of the team are succumbing to seasickness, which I hope they will work through over the next few days," he added.

Juan Coetzer on Geraldton Western Australia said it had been a day of "hanging on" as they crashed through the short, steep swell coming from two directions.

"We have rounded our first virtual mark and are now drag racing with the rest of the fleet to the next mark," said Coetzer.

De Lage Landen slipped down to sixth place as the crew dealt with the "bumpy" conditions as the wind built. Following the ideal conditions at the race start on Sunday, numerous sail changes have been called for on the Dutch boat as the team adapts to the increasing wind and sea state. Skipper Stuart Jackson said that the majority of his team's new leggers who joined in Geraldton have succumbed to seasickness.

Ben Bowley on Singapore said his team had taken "a good kicking" along with the rest of the fleet as they faced the strong winds and hefty seas piling up on the shelf of Cape Leeuwin.

"I was delighted with the performance of both the crew and boat in such challenging conditions so early on in the race," said Bowley.

"Today sees us barrelling down the face of some pretty big waves, watching the sunlight give the breaking crests an iridescent quality that is captivating to watch.

After suffering extensive sail damage in the last transoceanic race, the Singapore team is adopting a more cautious approach en route to New Zealand. "As we learnt in the last race, it's better to keep some sails in reserve for the latter parts of the race than going hell for leather in the big stuff," he said.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Tauranga, from November 25 to 29.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday, November 8



1. Gold Coast Australia
2. Visit Finland
3. Derry-Londonderry
4. Welcome to Yorkshire
5. New York
6. De Lage Landen
7. Singapore
8. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
9. Qingdao
10. Geraldton Western Australia
(+60 nm)

*DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at

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.