Clipper Round The World Race Fleet Due In Cork, Ireland In Four Days
It’s been a lively 24 hours for the Clipper 09-10 fleet with some tough conditions for the crews on their final ocean crossing of this 35,000-mile race around the planet. The words of race founder and chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, at the pre-race crew briefing in Cape Breton Island, in which he warned against complacency have never rung truer.
For the crew of California, the conditions are proving reminiscent of the race across the Pacific in which their boat was rolled 120 degrees and dismasted.
“It’s been a wild night aboard California during which we were achieving some great boat speed,” reports skipper, Pete Rollason. “In fact we beat our previous race record and our top speed now stands at 25.8 knots. Unfortunately, with the rough sea state, some crew members were revisited by their memories of the North Pacific. With a few well placed words, the odd hug and a couple of jokes we as a crew pulled through and are charging as hard as we dare.
“The weather has calmed down a little and the sea state should follow over the coming hours which may enable us to get the kite up again. We have four boats around us and everyone is charging hard for the finish. With 650 miles to go the famous Fastnet Rock it should be a grandstand finish with all the boats converging on a small piece of ocean. It has been raining for the last two days and the crew are all hoping that the sun will make an appearance today to dry out some kit and warm things up a bit.”
Cork Clipper is still 100 miles ahead of the chasing pack and the crew are getting some great performances from their steel-hulled yacht which is a foot shorter and eight tonnes heavier than the Clipper 68s.
“After a frustrating 12 hours with a big sea state and only 25 knots of wind we are now up to a healthy gale producing some nice waves to play with,” says skipper, Hannah Jenner. “‘Fatty’ as our Challenge 67 has affectionately become known ‘don’t (usually) surf’ but yesterday just the right wave came along and off she went at 16.7 knots. Helm Kev (Kevlar) Austen was left looking a tad startled but none the less chuffed to have smashed the speed record quite handsomely and, to be fair, I think he is quite likely to keep it.
“So the fleet continue to chip away at our lead with Jamaica Lighting Bolt soon to be under 100 miles from us but we are pushing as hard as we can. The first reef we have put in since racing to Jamaica has just gone in the main now that we are seeing gusts of 40 knots. The physicality of this boat compared to the 68s is starting to take its toll with a lot of Deep Heat required to soothe the muscles strains associated with handling our boat.
“Still, not long to go and there is a distinct buzz of excitement as we close in on the Emerald Isle. Yesterday we switched over to the final paper chart for the crossing, The Western Approaches to the British Isles. We all know there is a long way to go yet but I don’t think any of us anticipated being within 600 miles of the finish after just eight days of racing. Long may the wind last.”
The conditions have taken their toll on a couple of the yachts and both Spirit of Australia and Jamaica Lightning Bolt have sustained damage to their spinnaker pole track in winds gusting up to Force 9 (41-47 knots).
Pete Stirling, Jamaica Lightning Bolt’s skipper, explained what happened in his daily report to the Race Office.
He says, “We were flying a second-reefed mainsail and poled out yankee 3 when the boat got skewed round by a particularly large wave. Despite the best efforts of the helm the yankee backed which in turn caused the spinnaker pole track on the front of the mast to rip off where the pole was attached to it. The crew once again sprang into action and the off watch were called to help on deck as well. The yankee was dropped and the flailing pole brought back under control. Remarkably both the pole and the sail appear completely undamaged. The track however is a different story and we will have to see what we can do to effect a workable repair. All the crew silently acknowledge that if we are to remain competitive in this race then we need to be able to use our spinnaker poles.”
Spirit of Australia’s crew are facing much the same task, according to skipper, Brendan Hall. “We found ourselves alongside our friends on Hull & Humber today, as both boats surfed the building swells with our poled-out headsails. Sadly, during our mid-ocean tussle that we sustained a small amount of damage to our spinnaker pole track, the device which lets you adjust the height of the spinnaker pole. We are repairing all the bits in the saloon at the moment, but we will need to wait for calmer conditions to send somebody up the mast to fit them back on. In the mean time, we sail on, with a less than ideal angle on the wind, but ready to get back to the fight as soon as the damage is fixed.”
While Spirit of Australia raced alongside Hull & Humber, the English boat was enduring challenges of her own.
“I tried to leave the boat last night on my back and head first after we had a mini knock down caused by a large wave,” reports skipper, Justin Taylor. “I heard its approach but didn’t see it. I was sitting by the helmsman with my back to the sea when a wave came in from the side and not from behind, as you would expect from a following sea. I can vouch for the effectiveness of the safety lines we use to clip on and I am also very glad Piers (Hull & Humber’s original skipper) decided to locate the emergency tiller on the starboard pushpit as this is what stopped me going for a swim.
“The conditions are far from the worst I have been through before but the sea state is quite confused with 40-knot winds. Luckily we had just dropped our poled out yankee headsail to slow us down a bit a get more control. I’m a bit stiff now with a couple of bruises. Helming is a real brute and we only have our experienced crew doing it. The rest of the crew are still super motivated. I would tell you more about our tactics and position but we are still in Stealth Mode.”
Hull & Humber and Team Finland, currently third in the overall race standings, have just emerged from their undercover period to find both have moved ahead of Spirit of Australia – but will it be enough to keep the Aussies from claiming an unassailable lead and clinching overall victory at the end of this race? Both the English and Finnish teams are pushing hard for a place on the podium when the fleet arrives back in Hull on Saturday 17 July.
Cape Breton Island is in a group with Spirit of Australia and Qingdao and being pushed further north than skipper Jan Ridd would like.
“After a night of heavy rain, strong winds and large seas I am sitting in the nav station, soaking wet and shivering as the Big Blue Canoe launches off another wave. We have been pushing hard for the last 24 hours to no avail. We have seen some small gains on the other two boats who stayed north close to the great circle route but unfortunately the boats to the south are still pulling away from us. I must admit I cannot see how they are making such gains when we have been hitting speeds of more than 20 knots on the surfs and have averaged ten knots. They must be making some great speeds!
“I am now feeling the weight of my decision to stay north, as it is looking like it is not going to give us any advantage as the weather system slips further south, keeping the other boats in strong wind with a better wind angle. I am sitting here with very tired eyes trying to see a pattern in the weather that can give us that crucial advantage.
“Unfortunately this weather system has deepened and overpowered the Azores high that was dominant in the eastern Atlantic and is not tracking north eastwards as I expected. We are now sailing a little north of our Great Circle route and, without an angle on the wind, will probably have to sail further north than I would like.
“It is a long way from over yet and we will be pushing Cape Breton Island to the max but I am hoping the weather will give us a little help!”
As they tear in towards the finish line Qingdao’s skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major has been reflecting on how far his crew has progressed.
“Nine months ago I seem to remember being not far from here. How very far we have come since then.
“Today was a relatively standard day to us – a bit windy perhaps blowing Force 8 through the afternoon but no great shakes. The helms did a fantastic job and tell me they enjoyed very much the excellent surfing conditions in the eight-metres swell – hitting 20 knots on a number of occasions and averaging eleven knots most of the day.
“We had to put in, and then later take out, a few reefs with the wind well behind the beam. Non-standard, it’s true, as we normally come up on the breeze to do this but that would have meant a change in course which would have slowed us down. Anyway, it’s possible with practise. I think that happened around three; I have to admit to being asleep at the time. One thing I did see was the afternoon watch sending Abdullah up the forestay to reconnect some yankee hanks that had come off to avoid having to drop the headsail to do it. He seemed relatively comfortable 70 feet up, bouncing around, performing his work as we surfed our way down wave after wave. When he came back down he got back on with leading the watch.
“33,000nm and counting but the changes I see each day place this crew light years ahead of what they knew last September – it truly is an unbelievable change.”
The fast conditions mean the arrival of the yachts in Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland, is now anticipated earlier than originally estimated. The first boats are expected on Tuesday 29 June with the possibility of some arrivals on Monday 28 June.
Positions at 1200 GMT Friday 25 June
Boat DTF* DTL*
1 Cork 543nm
2 Jamaica Lightning Bolt 650nm 107nm
3 Team Finland 657nm 114nm
4 Hull & Humber 678nm 111nm
5 Spirit of Australia 682nm 138nm
6 Qingdao 683nm 140nm
7 Cape Breton Island 692nm 149nm
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 695nm 152nm
9 Uniquely Singapore 720nm 177nm
10 California 752nm 209nm (position at 0600 GMT)