SPORT - Light winds compress fleet and shuffle the pack

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race, Race 8: San Francisco to Panama, Day 14

Tuesday, May 4: This race is wide open again after 24 hours in which Qingdao took the lead, only for Spirit of Australia to snatch it back again, and the back five yachts' positions changing with every sched.

Hannah Jenner, Cork's skipper who is in charge of Qingdao is leading her temporary team in an all-out charge for the podium, but the crew of the Chinese entry are only too aware of the competition around them.

"Just before dawn this morning the tiny hint of a gradient breeze built gradually from three through to 4.8kts, with that the lightweight kite was immediately launched relieving the windseeker of her duties," said Jenner.

"Having kept a close eye on Jamaica Lightning Bolt overnight, who had caught up a little, we executed our hoist in a stealth-like manner and were pleased to see they still had their windseeker flying as the sun rose.

"Sure enough it wasn't long before our rivals matched our sail plan and for the rest of the day we have sailed in sight of one another, binoculars and hand-bearing compass at the ready.

"Not long before dusk another white object was spotted on the horizon, but this time out to starboard.
Being just out of range of the binoculars, speculation was rife that it was another yacht, but with an hour to go until sched time we debated the possibilities.

"With the scheds came exciting news, the white object, which is now clearly visible as a nav light, was indeed Spirit of Australia.

"So we have been on the prowl and have our two targets in sight.
The Dragon Wagon is ready for a battle to the end.

"We are revelling in the close competition, enjoying the challenge of the light airs and fired up to give it our all.
Not forgetting the rest of the fleet, who are gaining steadily, and with another giant wind hole in our path, the coveted podium positions are very much up for grabs by any team," said Jenner.

The crew of Spirit of Australia know only too well they lost their top spot on the leader board for a while overnight.

"We are still making way to the east to cover the advance of Qingdao and Jamaica Lightning Bolt," says Spirit of Australia skipper Brendan Hall.

"These wind holes are powerful equalisers — great if you're behind, not so great if you're ahead. Not to worry, we've made great gains on competitors on earlier legs when they parked up in wind holes, so it's just our turn this time.

"With 800nm left to run and plenty of complex weather features to face, we've got plenty of opportunities to draw our lead back out.

"On deck, we can see stars above and a postcard-perfect moonrise. It's not all good though, we can see lightning on the horizon to the east, meaning the squalls are coming our way," he said.

The more immediate threat from a lightning bolt comes in the form of the team named after the fastest man on earth, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. They are focussing hard on keeping the pressure on the Australian and Chinese entries, according to Jamaica Lightning Bolt skipper Pete Stirling.

"Just over 36 hours ago Qingdao appeared on the horizon and we still have them in sight now," Stirling said.

"The crew of both yachts are trying their best to gain some advantage over the other in these very light-wind conditions. At the moment they are approximately three miles away on our starboard beam, but they have been as close as just a couple of hundred metres away.

"Though we would dearly like to see them slip over the horizon behind us it is actually quite good for both yachts to be so close to each other. Whilst we are so focused on beating each other and getting every last bit of available boat speed we are also both gaining ground on Spirit of Australia just a few miles ahead of us.

"The winds have picked up occasionally and for most of the day we have been making good speed, first of all with the heavyweight and then the medium-weight spinnaker. However, as night fell, the wind dropped and now we find ourselves struggling to keep the boat moving with the lightweight spinnaker up.

"We are heading ominously in the same direction as last night when we found ourselves with a 0.0 speed reading for several hours," said Stirling.

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's crew also have their eyes on the lightning in the distance and know the next 24 hours could produce a big shake-up in positions depending, in part, on where the dice falls to decide who gets the most favourable winds.

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital skipper Matt Pike says, "The champagne sailing has changed to zephyr chasing.

"The warm wind has been replaced by choking humidity and the wind can't decide where it's going. It endlessly teases the watch as they take the pole forward then back; we get the spinnaker ready for a peel then decide not to change.

"Hot and humid, as always, brings in the lightning and tonight is no exception. It is all around, some distance off but looks like it's closing in. Much like the rest of the fleet. It's going to get closer and then come down to who gets a break from the wind gods," he said.

The squalls will provide some wind to keep the yachts moving and the cloud will bring some respite from the sun but it will also mean the crews will have to be ready to perform rapid sail changes to respond to the swiftly evolving weather conditions. In the sweltering, energy-sapping heat of the tropics that will be no easy task and, with the whole fleet racing as close as they are, every second counts.

At the 0900 position report from the Race Office, just 24nm separate the fourth and eighth placed yachts. There are still obstacles to be overcome in the remaining 800nm of this race, including another area of light wind between the yachts and the finish line.

Team Finland's skipper Rob McInally hopes the next will be kinder to him and his crew.

"After a night of absolutely no wind at all and the sound of the sails rattling in the rigging we have managed a fair day's sailing although our fate has been changed a great deal after going through the wind hole," said McInally. "We are now looking at entering the next and hope that we have a better outcome when the wind returns again."

Cape Breton Island, Uniquely Singapore and Hull & Humber, on the outside of the racetrack, are having their own close-quarter battle and the Canadian team has spent the last 24 hours trying to squeeze out every last drop of speed from the available wind. Frustrating at the best of times, but the searing heat off the Guatemalan coast brings added challenges.

"The temperature is now officially unbearably hot with no escape from the heat," explains Cape Breton Island skipper Jan Ridd.

"The only chance you get to cool off is on deck at night, as during the day temperatures soar and the deck becomes so hot you cannot step on it with bare feet.

"At night the air temperature cools down and it is pleasant on deck, but unfortunately the boat stores the heat absorbed during the day and it is like walking into an oven as you descend the steps of the companionway.

"This makes sleeping very uncomfortable and if you do manage to sleep you wake up soaked in sweat with a bad headache and all the symptoms of a hangover without having the fun the night before," he said.

Dehydration is something the skippers and crew are always on the lookout for. Crew need to drink at least 1.5lt of freshwater every day and the watermaker converts seawater to drinking water, keeping the onboard tanks topped up. What it can't do is refrigerate it, so if the seawater temperature is, for example, 24?C, that will be the temperature of your drinking water.

The wildlife is still keeping the crew of Cape Breton Island entertained — maybe they are drawn to the great bald eagle emblazoned on the side of the yacht's hull.

"Earlier today we had a solitary shearwater circling the boat and eventually alighting on top of our mast where he stayed comfortably for eight hours as the sun set," said Ridd.

"I think he must have sent a message to his friends as eight other birds started circling the yacht and trying to land on the top of our mast. Eventually, another bird managed to land beside our hitch hiker where they loudly defended the position from the other circling birds.

"As I write this, they are both still roosting at the top of our mast, we have dropped and hoisted two spinnakers, made as much noise and vibration possible to try to dislodge them, but they seem perfectly content.

"The only problem we have is that they are obstructing our tri-colour navigation light, which also lights up our windex (the wind vane indicating the direction of the apparent wind), which has made helming a little more challenging. If they are still there at daybreak I am going to have to send a crewmember up to the top of the mast to evict them," he said.

Spirits are high on Uniquely Singapore, whose skipper Jim Dobie knows it is still all to play for.

"So just like that the race has been thrown wide open again," Dobie says.

"We are still with Hull & Humber, sometimes in front and then behind and occasionally pick up Cape Breton Island on the AIS.

"It's been a great few days of sailing, at least when the wind has been in; we have managed good boat speed. The Pacific has been spectacular with yet more dolphins and turtles keeping us company. So another night of light breezes ahead and who knows what the morning scheds will bring as we try and keep the boat sailing through the light breeze," he said.

California is also still in the hunt and has been sailing under medium-weight spinnaker since the wind filled in again. Skipper Pete Rollason reports this morning: "We have deliberately kept a slightly more northerly course to maintain our northerly position in the fleet as this should bring us more favourable wind conditions over the next few days and, with the fleet being so closely bunched, there is the potential for some big gains or losses.

"We did have some drama today when we managed to snag the fishing nets from a small, local fishing boat just after sunset. Some quick action from the crew had them all ready to drop the spinnaker, but just as it was about to be spiked the nets freed themselves from our keel so, although we were slowed down for a period it could have been a lot worse.

"Today one of the crew produced some ice cream as an afternoon treat. I know what you're thinking: how do we keep ice cream? Well this was freeze-dried ice cream, not quite the soothing chill going down your throat on a hot summer's day but it still tasted mighty good," said Rollason.

About 800nm away, on the other side of the Central American isthmus, Cork is arriving in Panama ready to rejoin the race when the all 10 yachts will set sail for Jamaica. Onboard for the delivery from Antigua is Dave Paton, one of the crewmembers, who was onboard when the original Cork grounded on a reef in the Java Sea.

"We're the first of the fleet to reach Panama ? and even positioned at the right end of the canal — but there are no race points for us this time," said Paton. "Though, the fleet should take notice that we're back and determined to make up for lost time.


"We should arrive in Shelter Bay, Colon, in the morning after a wonderful seven-day trip across the Caribbean. Following winds, blue skies and hot, hot, hot.

"Cork is a great boat but she's very different to a Clipper 68. She responds to a following sea with a much more pronounced roll, the
helm is not balanced, so the first sessions steering are a bit of a surprise to the shoulders, though the improved feedback at slow speeds will compensate.

"And the layout of the winches and clutches, as well as methods of hoisting sails, mean the crew will have to adapt their skills a bit. But the principles are the same. And she has the potential for speed.

"After having to take the mainsail off for
essential work we have maintained speeds of
up to 10kts with only
the headsails up.

"This being a delivery trip rather than a race it has also offered the chance for some personal reflection. My 'early bath' and enforced trip home from Singapore inevitably left me with
a feeling of unfinished business.

"The chance to hand over the new Cork to the crewmates with whom I shared so many adventures
allows me to close that circle in a really positive way. It has also given me a
chance to reuse the sailing skills so hard learned on the race and to discover just how far I've come since my
adventure started as a complete novice," Paton said.

You can read Dave Paton's diary in full at www.clipperroundtheworld.com

As he says, "Cork is back and she'll be straining to
climb back up the
leader board. Go Cork!"

Positions at 0900 UTC, Tuesday, May 4

1. Spirit of Australia DTF* 728nm
2. Qingdao DTF 734nm DTL 6nm
3. Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 739nm DTL 11nm
4. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
DTF 769nm DTL 41nm
5. Team Finland DTF 778nm DTL 50nm
6. Cape Breton Island
DTF 783nm DTL 55nm
7. Hull & Humber DTF 786nm DTL 58nm
8. Uniquely Singapore DTF 792nm DTL 65nm
9. California DTF 810nm DTL 82nm

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

Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com

Become a fan of the Clipper Race on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/clipperroundtheworld

Follow the Clipper Race on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/clipperroundtheworld

 


Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.