Half-way mark as fleet crosses International Date Line
It's been a significant 24 hours for the non-professional sailors taking part in the world's longest yacht race. As the Northern Hemisphere winter officially ended and the centre of the sun passed north of the Equator, the fleet crossed the International Date Line into the western hemisphere.
In a 40,000-mile circumnavigation in which the crews are people like you - from all walks of life and representing more than 40 nationalities - such milestones are to be celebrated, as much from a reflective viewpoint as a spur to overcome the challenges ahead.
The ten-strong fleet of 68-foot ocean racing yachts is approximately 800 miles north of Midway, a tiny atoll at the north western end of the Hawaiian island chain which shot to fame 60 years ago when, in June 1942, it became the scene of one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. Now the islands are a wildlife haven and home to the world's largest colony of Laysan Albatrosses.
Midway by name and nature; the fleet is now just over half way through their mammoth Pacific Ocean crossing, although, as Singapore's skipper pointed out in his report yesterday, they still have the equivalent of the breadth of the Atlantic to sail before they reach Oakland, California.
We crossed the Date Line shortly after midnight last night and yesterday became today!" reports Ben Bowley. "A wee tot of rum was served to all and we reflected on how far we have come since leaving Southampton eight months ago.
"Conditions were perfect for making good miles last night and today the wind has continued to slowly veer round, leaving us on a fast reach straight to where we want go. It feels superb to be eating into the miles to San Francisco Bay and if we can keep this pace for a while yet we are looking good for a decent arrival time.
"Little by little we are still slowly eating into Gold Coast Australia's lead and this has given the crew a real focus for the immediate future. Rich and his crew seem to be sailing incredibly well considering the damage to their mast track and we are having to work hard to close the gap.
"We hope that with just under 2,500nm to go we can get past them and start stretching out a decent lead from them and our nearest rivals to try and claim our first yellow pennant of the race so far. Victory in this race could be just the boost we need to start making points back on the three podium placed boats in the series. Another couple of weeks and we should have some answers!"
Singapore has been steadily closing in on Gold Coast Australia and at the midnight sched, when the Aussie team disappeared into Stealth Mode for the second of their 24-hour allowances under cover, there were just 59 miles between the two.
The Queensland team has been working on a fix for their broken mast track and they have finally had the conditions to test it, reports skipper, Richard Hewson.
"It was all hands on deck this morning at first light as we were finally able to drop the tri-sail and attempt a mainsail hoist for the first time in over five days. With a more complicated system that allows for safety backups, the main was hoisted before it was lowered again to prove the system and give the crew some practice in the lighter airs. The lowering and re-hoist also enabled us to discuss and improve the system and new tools and techniques have already been developed to assist in the process.
"It is fantastic to have the mainsail flying again and to be almost at full power again (we are still sailing a little conservatively with something up our sleeve). Once again the boat feels like a real race boat rather than plodding along under tri-sail.
"Not only is the boat feeling better but the blue sky and more moderate wind has everybody singing and happy again and all the troubles seem to have almost disappeared. Injured crew members are also feeling better and are able to get around down below and in some cases assist in light duties."
Richard also notes the amount of rubbish in the water despite their position in the middle of the vast, desolate expanse of the world's greatest ocean. The ocean currents around the north Pacific create a huge gyre, or over-scale whirlpool, drawing in debris from around the edges.
"Over the past few days we have seen an interesting measure of flotsam and jetsam, much of which can only be described as a collection of odds and ends," he comments.
The rest of the fleet is still incredibly close together after almost 3,000 miles of racing and is spread roughly north to south. All are turning in some substantial 12-hour runs as the teams make the most of the great reaching conditions to eat away the miles to the finish line.
De Lage Landen is playing catch up after their medevac earlier in the race and has narrowed the gap to the next yacht, Geraldton Western Australia, by just one mile.
"From a sailing point of view, we are experiencing near perfect racing conditions, averaging speeds of ten knots and more, whilst enjoying a nice breeze and sunshine," writes skipper, Stuart Jackson. "What more can one wish for during the crossing of the fearsome North Pacific? The last few days have been very good for boat repairs and crew morale, as laughter fills the air once more."
He adds, "Today is a special day for a lot of the crew members as they will be able to relive one day of their past. Earlier this morning crew member Peter Smith made a graphical representation of what was about to happen in order to minimise confusion. An event like this is a good reason to celebrate; soft drinks are in the cool boxes and cakes are being baked."
"Today is the last day we will see the sun rise before the rest of the world," reflects Geraldton Western Australia's skipper, Juan Coetzer. "The clocks will be rewound 24 hours and yesterday begins again. At least it will not be déjà vu, as we hopefully will not be at the same place and time again. Crossing the Date Line also marks the occasion that we are half way around the world from our start point in UK, where we will be crossing the Greenwich Meridian twice before we finish.
"Life on board is damp, with the constant flow of water rushing over the decks. Condensation is everywhere making it hard to keep personal kit dry. But the crew are up-beat as we are over half way to our destination."
Visit Finland and Qingdao are in a loose northerly grouping with Geraldton Western Australia.
Olly Osborne, in charge of the Finnish entry, has clearly enjoyed the last 24 hours in excellent sailing conditions.
"A day of reaching at ten knots trough a relatively sensible sea state has been much enjoyed by all, and the pleasure of watching the miles go by without having to work very hard for them is refreshing," he says. "We passed the Date Line this evening and marked the milestone by having a tot of mulled wine with the evening meal.
"The crew have been hampered by a flu bug and both watches have been feeling the lack of people as they need time below to recover, but hopefully it has now run its course and we will be back to full strength.
"I enjoyed a conversation with a passing ship today who was bound for Panama, and who was very surprised to come across a sailing vessel. He could not supply us with any steak but wished us a safe passage, and it is good to know that we are not all that far from other seafarers."
Was it the same ship that passed close by New York? It is the first one they have seen for a while, according to Gareth Glover.
He says, "After a quick chat on the VHF just to make sure they kept a good distance they came within a few miles of us to have a look. I am sure it is not every day they see a yacht out this far from land!
"Today at around 0100 UTC we crossed the Date Line with all the crew on deck. It means different things to the crew; for some they are closer home to their loved ones and others see getting back into the western hemisphere as the half way mark on this race. To celebrate, Martin H pulled out 12 Monte Cristo cigars for the crew which went down well.
"After a team meeting we went back to work on trimming the sails and shaking out a reef, making sure we are racing to get the best speed out of New York. We are hopefully going to stay on this tack for around three days but we'll be consulting the daily weather files from Simon."
Meteorologist, Simon Rowell, is predicting some good sailing conditions for the next few days.
"The weather looks better. The oncoming front shouldn't be too strong (it is the North Pacific though, so don't relax that weather eye) and after that the problems will be caused by the relative placings of the high pressure system," he told the teams this morning.
Light winds will bring the potential for a shake up in the fleet whose rankings, for the last couple of days, have been fairly stable.
In third place, Derry-Londonderry is pushing hard to claim another place on the podium. But by the sounds of it, crossing the International Date Line has been more than a little confusing for the skipper.
"We all cheered while sipping our celebratory beers, but then the harsh reality of the situation came up and slapped us in the face...
"What day is it? What is the correct time? Check the logbook... are we ahead now or behind? Does this mean there are now seven boats ahead of us and two behind because they are a day ahead of us? Our podium hopes may have gone in 60 seconds! We may be eighth but we have a whole day to catch up with them!
"If tomorrow is the day before then, surely it's today and that makes yesterday two days ago... I think I need to speak to Clipper as I may be owed another day's pay."
Nice try, Mark.
In fourth place, Qingdao's skipper, Ian Conchie, is far less confused and the team has maintained their position despite a few technical issues that they have been waiting for some more clement conditions to address.
"We continue to have good winds and have also managed to fix some of the problems we had on board. We re-wired the bilge pump so that it works again and also re-ran the third reefing line. This involved lowering the main twice: once to take out the old line and a second time to put the new line in. Doing all of this whilst bouncing around is no mean feat!" he says.
"Our next goal is to try and make back some of the miles we have lost and catch up the boats around us. I am sure all the boats will be doing the same, trying to push hard now to get to the finish as fast as possible and in the best position."
In fifth place, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's skipper explains the constant adjustments required to keep a 68-foot ocean racing yacht moving at pace.
"'Reef in or reef out, skip?' was the call last night as the breeze came on and off, blowing anything between 28 and 38 knots apparent," reports Gordon Reid. "Too much sail and it makes it difficult to drive in a straight line, too little and we stop catching the boats only a wee small distance ahead. All too aware of the forces exerted on the gear, we are ever vigilant, trimming and changing the sail plan to squeeze every bit of speed out of the Purple Beastie as we ride right on the edge.
"So far in our great adventure racing around the world we have crossed many oceans, sailed in extreme weather, felt the fury of Mother Nature in the fabled Southern Ocean, sailing as far as 49.07 degrees South, crossed the Equator twice and moved time frequently, but this is another first for the crew as now we have travelled back in time one whole day!"
For one crew member on board Welcome to Yorkshire, crossing the International Date Line has particular significance; it is Matt Cornall's birthday and he gets to celebrate it for a whole 48 hours!
Taking a central path among the fleet, the team is enjoying "fantastic reaching conditions," says skipper, Rupert Dean, adding, "With speeds averaging over ten knots in the direction we wish to go, we've been making great progress and will hopefully time our run well enough to pass over the top of the compressing high to the east of us. As the distance to go mileage tumbles, significant milestones are passed.
"Today is a big celebration for us, for we will have cracked the half-way to go mark and the International Dateline together. As we pass this line and enter the western hemisphere we'll be winding the clocks back 24 hours and reliving today, 21 March. For birthday boy Matt Cornall this will turn out to be a double birthday of mixed blessings. He will be celebrating his 29th today and, we joke, his 30th tomorrow, which is also today!?! Isn't it great being a Time Lord?
"Now, if I can just wind the clock back enough to undo that navigational decision to go south a week ago..."
Positions at 1200 UTC, Wednesday 21 March 2012
1. Singapore 2,438nm
2. Gold Coast Australia 2,504nm (+66nm DTL**) Stealth Mode: position at 0000 UTC 21 March
3. Derry-Londonderry 2,559nm (+121nm)
4. Qingdao 2,573nm (+135nm)
5. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 2,582nm (+144nm)
6. New York 2,585nm (+147nm)
7. Welcome to Yorkshire 2,610nm (+172nm)
8. Visit Finland 2,620nm (+182nm)
9. De Lage Landen 2,651nm (+212nm)
10. Geraldton Western Australia 2,904nm (+243nm) Position at 0600 UTC 21 March
*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.