SPORT - Spirit of Australia eyes maximum points haul

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Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, Race 8: San Francisco to Panama, Day 6

Monday, Apr 26: With the Scoring Gate behind them the next phase of the race from San Francisco to Panama is well underway and the teams are now focussing on the finish line at Panama.

Qingdao was the third team to pass through the gate, collecting their first gate point of this contest, Spirit of Australia and Team Finland taking three and two points respectively.

The winds, although reduced in strength, are still blowing from the northwest providing some fabulous downwind conditions for teams as they eat up the miles towards Panama. As they head farther south towards the Central American country all the crews will be expecting the winds to fade away so are enjoying the conditions while they last.

Spirit of Australia continues to maintain her lead over the rest of the fleet and the crew have set themselves a goal that has so far eluded the overall race leaders.

Skipper Brendan Hall, says, "Last night was a joyous occasion as we crossed our fourth scoring gate and again picked up the three points," said Spirit of Australia skipper Brendan Hall.

"Our strategy was thoroughly researched and the persistent, determined hard work of the Spirit of Australia crew brought the results.

"We have shifted our focus now, put the gate behind us and are racing as hard as we can towards the finish line.

"We have the goal of matching Cape Breton Island's impressive 13-point haul from the last race and we will be fighting hard for every mile to get it," he said.

With Team Finland pushing hard off to starboard of the Australian boat, directly behind them the dragon of Qingdao is breathing fire down the neck of the Boxing Kangaroo.

Skipper Hannah Jenner and the crew of Qingdao know exactly what they have to do to claim a spot on the podium in Panama. She says, "We have now got to remain focused; the excitement of winning a Scoring Gate point must not distract us from our long term goals. There are still 2000 miles to race to the finish and some challenging conditions ahead.

"We are in the company of some great teams so maximum concentration at all times is a must.

"For those crew who battled their way across the Pacific Ocean braving treacherous conditions today has been their reward. For those crew new to the boat sailing really is as it appears in the glossy magazines: bright sunshine, small swell and a 12 to 15-knot breeze filling the spinnaker.

"As general confidence in spinnaker sailing grows the number of helms we have aboard increases. It is impressive to watch more experienced crew stand patiently beside the new leggers talking them through the fine arts of trimming and helming — especially considering that just months ago many of these sailing mentors were stepping aboard a raceyacht for the very first time.

"The biscuit consumption aboard the Dragon Wagon remains impressive, although having to control 17 adults on a sugar rush is no mean feat.

"Luckily, as we change between spinnakers to harness every fraction of a knot of wind there is plenty of sail packing to be done to use up some of this surplus energy," said Jenner.

Concentration is also the watchword onboard Edinburgh Inspiring Capital from where skipper, Matt Pike reports: "Another near perfect day's sailing down the coast of Baja California with 15 to 20kts from the northwest and a flat sea.

"A totally focused crew (helped by the sight of Cape Breton Island on the horizon) has resulted in a good
mileage run. The other boats are giving nothing so total concentration drives the boat forward.

"So, as the coast of Mexico approaches, which line is going to be better? Inshore with its coastal breeze effect, or offshore where the wind is steadier but probably lighter? Is it worth a gamble?

"If we wander too far from the rhumb line will we get caught out if the wind drops? So it's a call on the weather and probably a little bit of luck," said Pike.

Hull & Humber's skipper Justin Taylor, who is leading the team while Piers Dudin continues to recover from his broken leg, is full of praise for the crew he has inherited.

"No real dramas to report beyond a broken spinnaker strop at dawn, which sent the spinny flying off to leeward of the boat. I was in my bunk and when I arrived on deck, all was in hand," said Dudin.

"The kite was dropped and recovered, the yankee headsail hoisted, lightweight kite brought on deck and hoisted, yankee dropped and boat tidied. I am mightily impressed with the skill and seamanship that the crew displayed this morning... Yorkshire Forward with Hull & Humber.

"In this short time together the crew of 'Ull & 'Umber have proved themselves to the point where I don't feel the need to watch over everything and I am quite happy for the watch leaders, Mike and Tom, to run the boat. Of course, we can't forget Mother... and the bar was set very high in the first two days by Della. Now every Mother who follows in her footsteps is duty bound to continue the arduous and never ending task of looking after 19 crew.

"Having sailed extra miles to get back round the virtual waypoint we realised that we would not be one of the three yachts to go through the Scoring Gate first.

"With this in mind we decided not to sail for the Gate and are instead making directly for the next waypoint, some 180 miles distant.

"We still have good pressure from the northwest and I'm thinking we will hang onto this side of the racecourse for the time being.

"Because the finish is so much to the east of us, we feel we could eat into the Distance to Finish figure quite easily if we headed towards the land and therefore move up the leader board. But this is where we need to be if the winds do indeed go light in the coming days as we can then head east and increase our apparent wind and maintain our boat speed... time will tell," Dudin said.

California's skipper is not so forthcoming with his team's tactics. Pete Rollason is playing his cards close to his chest ? and California and the rest of the teams, with the exception of Hull & Humber, still have the option of playing their joker by opting for Stealth Mode.

"The spinnaker has been flying well for three days now and California is making good progress along the coast of Baja," said Rollason.

"Unfortunately, we have suffered a little as a result of maybe being too cautious with the new rig in the first couple of days out of San Francisco, but the many rig checks we have done all seem good and we have been gradually cranking up the pace so we are now on the chase to catch the leaders.

"The fleet is now passing the southern tip of Baja and some tactics may come in to play, whether to go close inshore, stay offshore or hit the middle ground. I know exactly where we are headed but obviously can't show my hand in this open forum.

"Everyone onboard is enjoying the warmer weather and sunshine, after spending a couple of months in the chilly conditions of China and the North Pacific.

"At present we have good winds and long may these wonderful sailing conditions continue as we power our way down towards Panama," Rollason said.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Monday, April 26

1. Spirit of Australia

DTF* 1977nm
2. Team Finland

DTF 1994nm DTL* 17nm
3. Qingdao

DTF 2002nm DTL 25nm (at 0800 UTC)
4. Jamaica Lightning Bolt

DTF 2024nm DTL 46nm
5. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital

DTF 2048nm DTL 71nm
6. Cape Breton Island

DTF 2055nm DTL 78nm
7. Uniquely Singapore

DTF 2094nm DTL 117nm
8. Hull & Humber

2107nm DTL 130nm
9. California

DTF 2122nm DTL 145nm

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

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

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