SPORT - Variable conditions keep the skippers guessing

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Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, Race 4: Cape Town to Geraldton, Day 12

December 3: Spirit of Australia is just about holding on to the lead following the team's recent victory at the Leg 3 scoring gate. However, things have started to slow down for the Australian entry as the crew push hard and attempt to become the first team in Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race to win into their home port.

"We've had a very variable last 24 hours on Spirit of Australia," says skipper Brendan Hall.

"Yesterday we were blasting along with our Yankee 2 poled out, with speeds above 10kts. Now we are basically becalmed, with speeds under 1kt.

"The problem for us at the moment is the sea state. There is still a reasonable swell running, left over from the strong wind yesterday, which is tossing the boat around and shaking the sails back and forth so they don't take their proper shape to pull us along.

"Frustrating, sure, but we know it won't last long. I just hope the other boats are getting a taste of it as well," he said.

Hall need not worry; light and variable winds appear to be the order of the day across the fleet and have kept the tacticians guessing as the crews concentrate on getting every last bit of power from the sails.

"Variable winds Southern Ocean style," reports Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's skipper Matt Pike.

"Still a great sail in the moonlight, bowling along towards Geraldton, minding the odd gust, and a fairly steady night.

"All ready to set the spinnaker at dawn as the wind comes round. Not a chance! The wind dies and goes forward of the beam. So we stick with the Yankee 1 because when conditions change down here, they do so rather quickly," he said.

Jan Ridd, skipper of Cape Breton Island, discovered this firsthand while his team pushed hard yesterday to regain some of the miles they had lost.

"Yesterday morning we were sailing nicely in a light breeze with the lightweight spinnaker flying and all was well on deck," said Ridd.

"So I popped down below for a couple of minutes only to feel the boat lurch violently and the crew shouting on deck. I ran up the companionway to see a very different world to the one I left a couple of minutes earlier — white-water everywhere and a gale-force breeze.

"Urgent action was needed! We did an emergency drop and got the kite down with no damage at all. We quickly rigged for the heavyweight kite to go up and the surge of power that went through the boat when it opened up was awesome," he said.

Having overtaken Cape Breton Island yesterday Jamaica Lightning Bolt is also suffering in the light conditions. "After a great days sailing yesterday, when we made big gains on the rest of the fleet, the wind has died away again," says the latter’s skipper Pete Stirling.

"We are now wallowing around trying to keep the boat moving in roughly the right direction.

"Although we are nearly a hundred miles behind Spirit of Australia, this race is a long way from being over yet. There are plenty of challenges ahead with strong downwind conditions as well as calm patches to come.

"Tactics will have a big effect on the final outcome with each yacht deciding on a slightly different route to take best advantage of the wind conditions. With all 10 yachts being identical the deciding factor will come down to how well each crew sails their boat and the decisions the tacticians make," he said.

Team Finland has a mere 11nm between themselves and the current race leaders. However, skipper Eero Lehtinen realises that there is no room for complacency with more than half the race still to go.

"We know we've had a couple of fast six-hour periods and this has been reflected in the gains we made on Spirit of Australia," says Lehtinen.

"I'm sure everyone at home is getting excited for us, but we know we still have over two-and-a-half thousand miles to go and if the whale incident taught us anything, it is that anything can happen," he said.

Skipper of Qingdao, Chris Stanmore-Major is acutely aware that anything can happen in the Southern Ocean as his crew get to work on repairing their heavyweight kite, which fell victim to the tricky conditions.

"Repairs are proceeding nicely," said Stanmore-Major. "It is a sail that is heavily relied upon to function in difficult situations, and so the work done has to be high-quality. The sewing team is working in two shifts as is the deck team and so far the regime has worked well.

"We have made up good ground against Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Cape Breton Island and we are looking forward to passing on or both of them soon," he said.

While Stanmore-Major is optimistic, California's skipper Pete Rollason is frustrated as his boat continues to flounder in light winds. Currently at the back of the leading pack, he realises that concentration is the order of the day if his team is to start making gains on the rest of the fleet.

"This is where all the focus and determination is required to ensure that helming is very light, sail trim is good and we can squeeze every last ounce of speed from the light airs," said Rollason.

"I suppose the only positive at the moment is that the temperature has risen somewhat and only about four layers of clothing are needed on deck," he said.

Farther astern, both Cork and Hull & Humber are enjoying being back in the race.

"We've had a great night sail and when the clouds left us from time to time it left a full moon with a clear night and a fully visible Southern Cross," said Cork's skipper, Richie Fearon.

"The spinnaker has been up since yesterday evening and with the wind increasing we should also get some good surfing waves. The crew is happy to be going fast again and we are looking forward to more of the same to follow — there are eight oats still ahead of us to catch," he said.

Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin says: "Another beautiful day's sailing yesterday, working our way southwest. The seasickness has cleared off, but so too has the wind as we are making our way across a high-pressure ridge to catch the stronger southwesterly winds on its southside.

"Still a few days to go until the breeze kicks in again properly, but the position reports keep rolling in and the numbers are slowly improving," he said.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Wednesday, December 3


1. Spirit of Australia

2. Team Finland

3. Uniquely Singapore

4. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 2719nm/91nm
5. Jamaica Lightning Bolt
6. Cape Breton Island

7. Qingdao

8. California

9. Cork

10. Hull & Humber


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

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


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