SPORT - Cape Breton Island extends lead

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Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, Race 7: Qingdao to San Francisco, Day 17

Thursday, March 18: As Team Finland makes excellent progress through the Yellow Sea towards the waypoint at the southern tip of Japan that marks their entry into the Pacific, while out on the vast expanse of the world's largest ocean the rest of the Clipper 09-10 fleet is eating up the miles towards the finish line in the shadow of San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

The last 24 hours has seen Cape Breton Island consolidate her lead and make gains on the chasing pack, although, as skipper Jan Ridd explains, he and the crew of the Canadian entry know that even a substantial lead can disappear in the blink of an eye.

"Everyone on board is feeling upbeat about our performance so far in this race, but we are all too aware that there is still a long way to go and if we make one mistake and damage the big blue canoe, what looks like a comfortable lead could disappear in a couple of days, so everything we do now is done with extra care and caution," said Ridd.

"We have enjoyed 24 hours of stable wind blowing from a favourable direction allowing us to sail very comfortably at a respectable speed seeing the distance to the finish at San Francisco drop considerably.

"The only drawback is that the watch on deck have had to endure some very wet weather; with a front sitting over the top of us we have had drizzle making time on deck particularly unpleasant. We have also had a couple of good results in the schedules seeing us gain miles on the whole fleet and most importantly Jamaica Lightning Bolt who time and time again has crept up on us and passed us.

"My attention is now firmly focused on the weather, as the latest information shows a new low-pressure developing just behind us and forecasting 60-knot winds around the area of the scoring gate, so we have already stopped going any further north and are trying to put as much distance between the low-pressure and ourselves.

"We cannot sail fast enough to outrun the storm but, hopefully, it will track north and we will be far enough to the east to avoid the worst of the winds. It will be interesting to see the rest of the fleet's tactics, especially the boats further back, as they could be nearer to the
extreme wind.

"I have already forewarned the crew that we could be in for some heavy weather and both our storm sails are prepared, ready to go! Here's hoping that we get lucky and that the Pacific weather is kind to us," Ridd said.

Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper Pete Stirling is also fairly upbeat after success at the Scoring Gate. "The crew were duly ecstatic about it and much handshaking, hugging and back slapping was had by all," he says.

"Before the last leg I had really developed a dislike for the whole scoring-gate part of the race. We hadn't benefited in any way whatsoever but had seen other boats take advantage. Now, however, having got five scoring gate points out of the last two races I'm actually getting to quite like the concept.

"We have been slowly gaining ground to the north over the last couple of days, but I have now decided we have gone far enough. From now on it is east all the way with maybe a touch of south in it.

"The weather is now horrible with constant rain, fog and very cold, although we do have a favourable wind. There is also a very deep low-pressure system moving in to the north of us in a couple of days' time. which is going to bring gale force winds once again," said Stirling.

The other teams are all more than aware of what may be in store with the approaching low. Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore says, "We're having a great run at the moment with great boat speed, but a little put out by the constant rain, which has appeared since very early this morning. This constant grey companion of ours has been depositing a steady stream of fine rain (the kind that soaks you slowly but surely), but so far without the squally, windy conditions seen a few days ago.

"Trying to work out the weather is a bit of a struggle at the moment as our barometer is dropping, which is contrary to what our GRIB files are telling us, as we have been expecting the pressure to rise as a ridge comes in.

"Anyway, we're not complaining — we have wind, we're going in the right direction and apart from being a bit damp it's a happy boat nonetheless. Now our thoughts turn to the next few days as we keep a cautious eye on this low, which is building, and see whether it's still going and forming in the same way," said Dobie.

"Our strategy of staying to the south of the fleet should be played out over the next 24 to 48 hours and, hopefully, we should see some significant gains on the leading boats," said California skipper Pete Rollason. "That is if the weather files do as they say they will but we all know how reliable a weather forecast can be.

"Other than that, we have been sailing nicely with average boat speeds of 10 to 12kts for the last 18 hours and there does not appear to be any letup at the moment so we will keep on making miles to the east-northeast.

"With under 3000 miles to run, talk onboard has already turned to, 'what will be your first meal ashore?' The answers to this vary from beer to start followed by beer and beer for desert, to large steaks followed by more meat," he said.

They will have plenty more time to fine tune their dream menus for their first meal ashore after the longest ever individual stage in the history of the Clipper Race.

Despite facing their own particular challenges since the medevac of Hull & Humber skipper Piers Dudin after he broke his leg, Hull & Humber and Spirit of Australia's crews are showing the quality of their seamanship and are making good ground, even moving up the leader board. The teams have been instructed to sail closely together towards San Francisco and the Australian yacht with acting skipper Bob Bell in charge currently has the slight advantage.

"We're sailing safely and focused on what we have to do to weather the oncoming storm," Bell reports this morning. Spirit of Australia has been particularly successful at the Scoring Gates in previous races so their lack of points in this race rankles a little and Bob notes wryly, "Completely gutted by the gate news - we was robbed!"

From onboard their companion yacht the regular Spirit of Australia skipper Brendan Hall has assumed command. "Another day of repairs and rope craft aboard Hull & Humber," he says.

"The conditions have been stable and consistent. Once the sails are trimmed and the helm is holding a good course, we can set about the ongoing maintenance that every ocean-going yacht needs. We seem to be gaining on Qingdao, which is nice and hopefully we will overtake them in the next few position reports," said Hall.

They have done just that but skipper of the Chinese entry, Chris Stanmore-Major, is not overly concerned. He says, "Slowly we eat up the miles between ourselves and San Francisco — sometimes making miles on the fleet, sometimes losing.

"With the halfway point of this leg only just past it seems a long way still to the warm reception no doubt awaiting us in California.
The crew are jocose, enjoying the fair weather we have had for the last few hours. It is a welcome opportunity to air the boat and dry damp clothing.

"Albatrosses follow the boat inspecting us and gracefully gliding over the uneasy swell that shakes and buffets the boat in the light air.
We are north of the high-pressure cell forecast some four days before, but it seems we will lose ground to those to the south of us before we gain any.
For now, though, there is the ocean and the journey yet to come to fill our minds without worrying about position," sais Stanmore-Major.

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's path through the forecast high winds will be largely dictated by their bent spreader. "With the conservative sail plan set we are concentrating on weather routing to find the best path forward," explains skipper Matt Pike.

"We need enough wind to keep us moving, but not too much to put the rig under more strain that it need be. In two-and-a-half days time and right on our path, a small depression will start to deepen.

"Investigating further it will become a fully functioning low in its own right and will be carrying the associated wind strengths. So, in our likely position we are predicting winds of 55kts and gusts exceeding that. Not a good place to be at the best of times, but for us there is no choice but to turn south and try to avoid the worst of it," he said.

Back on dry land, Hull & Humber's skipper Piers Dudin has undergone a second operation to pin his broken leg. He is expected to be able to fly home from Japan to the UK in seven to 10 days.

Preparations continue apace for the Cork yacht to rejoin the fleet in Panama. Hannah Jenner, who was announced this week as the team's new skipper has unveiled the challenge she will take on after the finish of Clipper 09-10. Hannah, one of the rising stars of ocean racing, has been announced as the first female entry in the Global Ocean Race, a two-handed race around the world on Class 40 yachts beginning in 2011. No question, then, that Cork's crew will have a highly talented and competitive yachtswoman leading their team when they come together again for Race 9.

Positions At 1200 UTC, Thursday, March 18

1. Cape Breton Island

DTF 2608
nm
2. Jamaica Lightning Bolt

DTF 2708nm
DTL +99nm
3. Uniquely Singapore

DTF 2729nm
DTL +121nm
4. California


DTF 2804nm
DTL +195nm
5. Spirit of Australia

DTF 2899
nm
DTL +290nm
6. Hull & Humber


DTF 2903
nm
DTL +295nm
7. Qingdao



DTF 2907nm
DTL +298nm
8. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 3005nm
DTL +397nm
9. Team Finland


DTF 5227
nm
DTL +2618nm

(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com

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