SPORT - Fleet stays tactical as Scoring Gate approaches
Wednesday, Feb 8: As the 10 teams taking part in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race head for the rapidly-approaching Scoring Gate, the wind has picked-up and they are preparing for storms ahead.
De Lage Landen's skipper Stuart Jackson says, "What a beautiful day to be sailing in the South China Sea. Sailing close-hauled with around 20kts of apparent wind is exactly what we needed to prepare ourselves to what we are going to encounter further north, near Taiwan.
"With 350 miles to go to the Scoring Gate, we can see that every boat is positioning itself in expectation of the wind shift expected according to the weather forecast," he said.
Meteorologist and winning skipper of the Clipper Race in 2000, Simon Rowell, has warned the fleet of gales ahead, telling them, "The intense northeast monsoon is bringing gales to the East China Sea. Significant high seas of over six metres can be expected over the gulf of Tonkin with reduced visibility."
There is double cause for celebration for Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's skipper Gordon Reid, who celebrates his birthday today. The team has been rapidly moving up the leader board and is currently in fifth position, and the crew are preparing themselves for the changing weather conditions.
"Yesterday brought us another day of playing cat-and-mouse with the New York yacht in some fairly light wind conditions,” says Reid.
“We decided to continue heading east, with a little bit of north, in anticipation of the breeze filling in from the east first as forecast.
"Our constant focus on steering in nice straight lines and enforced trim reviews at the top and the bottom of the hour have ensured we stay competitive as we make excellent progress to the northeast and onwards towards the next virtual mark.
"Today, we are making final preparations for the upwind onslaught; everything that might move is being secured and the crew have all of their wet weather gear carefully stowed to be within easy reach for when it is required — and it will be soon," he said.
The American entry New York remains in seventh position close to the Scottish and Northern Irish competition. Skipper Gareth Glover reports, "The wind has filled in to 14kts true and we are now getting much better boat speed towards the gate. We are racing towards it with the other yachts. After losing Edinburgh Inspiring Capital in the night we picked up Derry-Londonderry passing less than five miles ahead of us on the other tack.
"Our overall tactic was to keep to the east side of the track but ended up more in the middle, and now some of the other yachts have headed further to the east to pick up good wind and a better course. But you can still go too much to the east and they may find themselves heading to the west to get around to the gate. We are looking to move up the leader board over the next few days and trying and get some points from the Scoring Gate," he said.
The mood onboard Derry-Londonderry is upbeat and the Northern Irish entry has made the most of the wind, which has picked up during the last 24 hours.
Skipper Mark Light said, "Things are going pretty well on Derry-Londonderry. We cleared the island of PulauPulau yesterday morning and since then have been on a port tack heading east in order to set ourselves up for the next stage in this race.
"After the frustration of very light and fickle winds early yesterday the wind filled in, as predicted, and we have been making steady ground ever since. We did have to negotiate our way through a fairly large and well-spread fleet of fishing boats, all working together, trawling in pairs — just don't go between them!" he said.
As the wind picked-up Derry-Londonderry decided to follow a more northerly course leaving behind Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit Finland and saw themselves crossing a couple of miles ahead of New York on the opposite tack six hours later.
"A quick chat on VHF with New York skipper Gareth confirmed we were both clear and on we sailed, heading now in an east-northeast direction,” continued Light. “One last challenge for the night was to avoid a tug that was restricted in its ability to manoeuvre, being hampered because it was towing a fairly large barge. Successfully avoided, we carried on past another pair of trawlers with an increasing wind and hopefully a climb up the leader board. A good night's work for our 'LegenDerry' crew."
Meanwhile, the situation is more frustrating for Visit Finland and Welcome to Yorkshire.
In his 0600 report to the Race Office, Visit Finland skipper Olly Osborne says, "Today sees us on a port tack making good speeds eastward, although there is little north in the course. The crew have been working very hard to gain the extra places but it is very frustrating to see that we are continuing to fall down the leader board without a reasonable explanation of why. Still the race is young and we will see what the next days have in store for us."
Despite slipping from fifth to ninth position overnight, skipper of the English entry, Rupert Dean, is positive about what lies ahead. "It's been a psychologically difficult time on Welcome to Yorkshire,” he explained.
“Over the past 12 hours, we've seen our position slip down the fleet and when you look at distance-to-finish figures alone, it's very easy to become despondent. However, more than ever before, we are formulating a strategy through considerable research prerace by our navigation team, then sticking to it and seeing it through.
"Regardless of result, this is far more empowering than basing short-term navigational decisions on kneejerk reactions, based on what others in the fleet may be doing at the time. It certainly generates more buy-in from all onboard, which ultimately contributes massively to unity across the team.
“As a team, we believe we are sailing our boat very well. Almost without exception, over the past few days, we've both outpointed and out-dragged other boats in our vicinity. We believe we are a fast boat and when in the same conditions as others around us, sail very well indeed," he said.
At the back of the 10-strong fleet is Qingdao, who headed north early on in the race. Skipper Ian Conchie has been reflecting on his tactics over the last 24 hours. "Our early decision to head north has not paid off as we hoped it would,” he says.
“We knew it was a tactical gamble but ultimately one that did not work as we hoped. We are now focusing all our efforts to make the purple dragon go as fast as we can to make inroads into the gap to the boats ahead of us. The next tactical decision is when to tack north. At the moment, we are continuing to press east but we will have to tack north at some point.
"On the plus point the wind has strengthened so our boat speed has picked up again and we all remain positive about our chances to improve our standing in the fleet. The forecast is for the wind to keep building so we should have good sailing for the next few days," he said.
Meanwhile, the fight for the top spot continues. While Gold Coast Australia remains in first position and De Lage Landen in second, Singapore and Geraldton Western Australia have been neck-and-neck in the last 24 hours.
Geraldton Western Australia has narrowed in their distance to the Singapore boat after skipper Juan Coetzer saw some good advice paying off.
"A good friend of mine, Ed Green, a former Clipper Race skipper, gave me some advice before the race. He said, 'If you ever find yourself in a wind hole, put the kite up in order to build up the boat speed, no matter which way you point, just to get her moving again’,” Coetzer said.
"So yesterday, up went the kite and we made huge gains on Singapore. We even did an outside gybe and once we got out of the wind hole, we peeled back to the Yankee 1. By midnight, we had overtaken Singapore. The crew have been extremely focused on helming and trim, trying to squeeze out every little ounce of boat speed," he said.
Despite remaining competitive the Singapore skipper, Ben Bowley, only has kind words for the Aussie entry.
"Our languishing in a windless hole yesterday was mercifully short lived,” said Bowley. “With much concentration and a series of tacks, we were eventually able to get the boat moving again with the assistance of the windseeker.
“Sadly, during this time, Geraldton Western Australia had managed to close the gap on us to within a few boat lengths. There they remained, never more than a mile away, matching us tack for tack until this morning.
"It was excellent to have a bit of close boat-on-boat action to keep the focus. Under a full moon-lit sky last night our nautical duel was played out, each trying to squeeze the last bit of height or speed out of our vessels. Congratulations to Juan and his crew for finally getting the better of us," he said.
With only 4nm between the two teams, Singapore tacked away to the north this morning and regained third place, adding to the skipper's enjoyment of the day.
"Upwind sailing does not get much better than this; clear blue skies and an azure sea, doffing her white caps to us as we hastily scythe through the chop,” said Bowley. “Oh, and it's hot dogs for lunch. Glorious!"
Frontrunner Gold Coast Australia has been making good ground overnight on the other yachts in the fleet, managing to find more wind. But navigating the seas is not only about wind and weather; there are other obstacles to contend with.
Skipper Richard Hewson says, "Last night we passed through a large fishing fleet trawling in the South China Sea.
The trawler captains were quite inquisitive about our yacht and consequently altered course to take a better look. As a result, we passed the bow of one of the larger fishing vessels at no more than 500 yards, close enough to see the captain wave at us in his lit-up wheelhouse.
"It was very pleasant to see that he was friendly and his actions of altering course were to take a better look at our 68-foot racing yacht as opposed to warning us off their fishing grounds. Later today our course will take us past a number of reefs and banks, which will no doubt attract vast numbers of fishing vessels.
"We now have just over 300 miles to sail until we reach the Scoring Gate, and we will be working hard to maintain our lead to ensure we reach the gate in first place and win another three points before entering the second phase of the race towards Taiwan. We should have good, predictable wind from now on, at least until Taiwan where, if the low-pressure system currently developing in China has anything to do with it, it could be a bit rough," he said.
The teams are expected to begin arriving in Qingdao between February 22 and 25.
Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday, February 8
Gold Coast Australia
De Lage Landen
Geraldton Western Australia
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
10. Welcome to Yorkshire
*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, totalling 15 races.
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.