In the final 24 hours of the Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race Mother Nature is throwing the crews of the ten yachts one final challenge to remember her by.
In strong winds the crews left Ijmuiden in the Netherlands and were quickly blasting their way across the North Sea, the heavy shipping and oil and gas platforms adding to the navigational obstacles between them and the finish line off the coast of north east England.
Hull & Humber’s crew are entirely focussed on winning this last race to their home port. Skipper, Justin Taylor, says, “So the final race of this epic adventure and it’s every bit as exciting as it promised to be. We didn’t quite get the gale force winds we were prepared for, much to the relief of those that tend to suffer from sea sickness. None of that here on ‘Ull & ‘Umber.
“After a good start and a quick change through the gears from the Yankee 3 down to the 1, we soon had the heavyweight kite up and Hull & Humber has been flying! A steady increase in wind meant we returned to white sails just before breakfast but are still holding our position well. The crew have been working hard and are focussed and determined. An overall podium position is looking unlikely for us now but everyone is giving 120 percent and going all out for that illusive win into a home port. With less than 12 hours to go and our old adversaries, Cape Breton Island snapping at our heels, plus surely a big local crowd cheering us on as we pass Bridlington later, it’s now all or nothing! Go ‘Umba!”
This final race sees a return to the pursuit format introduced in the transatlantic crossing from Cape Breton Island to Kinsale, Ireland, in which Cork’s IRC handicap was applied up front and the rest of the fleet must chase them down. Hull & Humber are the closest to Cork, closing down the gap – and opening up a narrow lead over the rest of the chasing pack.
“It’s rather crazy to think that 48 hours ago we were dancing the night away in Amsterdam (fitness training, of course) and now we find ourselves tearing up the miles in the North Sea, weaving between rigs and reminding the odd cheeky ship who has right of way,” says Hannah Jenner, skipper of the Irish boat. “We are back to the pursuit race format, one which we enjoyed in the Atlantic and we hope to make the best of in this final race. We began in great breeze reaching under full main, staysail and Yankee 2, after an hour we were down to three reefs and just the Yankee which is the smallest sail plan we have ever used but effective in the lumpy old sea state.”
In shifting and variable winds Cork’s crew completed many sail changes through the night, including hoisting their heavyweight spinnaker.
“After a check on the course it became clear that the boat would not be very easy to handle as we threaded our way between sandbanks so the spinny promptly came down,” reports Hannah. “Thankfully the wind is now holding and with the tide underneath us all is well and speeds are great.”
Team Finland, who won the race to Ijmuiden and are currently second overall, are struggling with a ripped mainsail and, with just 6.3 points between them and third placed Cape Breton Island, it could affect their final position.
“Shortly before the start our mainsail decided it had had enough and split from leech to luff,” says skipper, Rob McInally. “The stitching along the large horizontal panel gave way. The forecasts had shown high winds all evening and through the night. Unfortunately for us this did not happen. Although it is fairly windy now, for much of the night we were incredibly underpowered because we can only sail with two reefs in our main. This just about halves the size of the canvas we can use to power the yacht and also affects our pointing ability. This aside we are still racing hard doing all we can to keep up with the fleet.”
Cape Breton Island, Spirit of Australia and Jamaica Lightning Bolt are neck and neck as they race towards the finish line on a course that will include a loop in Bridlington Bay so spectators can watch the action from the shore between 1600 and 2200 BST today.
Jamaica Lightning Bolt’s skipper, Pete Stirling, says, “Within an hour of the start the wind had started to subside and all the crews were kept busy shaking out reefs and changing headsails. The biggest drama for us came just after dawn this morning when a particularly big gust of wind came through and we blew the head off the heavyweight spinnaker. It was a very clean break allowing the spinnaker to drop into the sea next to the boat from where it was quickly recovered by the crew. We quickly hoisted the Yankee 2 and staysail but had lost a mile of ground to Cape Breton Island who were now alongside us.
“The ‘comeback kids’ are pushing hard all the way to the finish. If we do well there is still a slim chance we could rise from fourth to third place overall. However if we get a bad result we could drop back to fifth place overall. There is a lot at stake on this race and everything to play for.”
The battle for sixth and seventh places continues to rage between Qingdao and Uniquely Singapore, the Chinese team marginally holding the advantage for the time being.
“In all likelihood this will be the last report from Qingdao,” says skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, who is in reflective mood. “After many, many miles and many, many words I come to the final hundred and it will be with some regret that I hang up my spurs. How best to encapsulate what we as a crew have experienced in these past ten months? A list of adjectives comes to mind but it would be too clichéd to list them. I know I speak for the crew when I say this race has been about dreaming big, bigger than any of us had ever dreamed before, and about fulfilling that dream through hard work and determination.
“How can you go from not being able to sail to becoming a circumnavigator? It’s literally an ocean away – impossible, surely? Well, as the crew have shown, you start by believing you can do it and then you make a plan. As we have girdled the world we have learnt that there is no challenge that cannot be completed if you have a plan and no drama or crisis that cannot be overcome if one believes in one’s self. For many aboard the coming weeks will be a sharp return to a reality that right now seems very far away, even though we are approaching the finish at breakneck speed.
“Though their surroundings will change they take away with them a fantastic catalogue of memories, some pleasant, some not so, and some very precious ones from the very edge of adrenaline-fuelled exhilaration where for a moment life burnt white hot and nothing was impossible. Flying through the Southern Ocean chasing down the fleet, surfing ashore at Gosong Mampango to do what we could for Cork, battling upwind to Qingdao and taking on and surviving the mighty North Pacific. No-one can deny us these things; circumstance called on us and we responded and we triumphed. From this starting point lives will begin afresh. For now nothing is impossible, nothing is beyond reach, goals are only on ocean away now and crossing an ocean is difficult. It’s hard work but it is possible. Step one – believe you can do it. Step two – make a plan.”
Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore is in equally contemplative mood.
“As I write this my last report it is with a touch of sadness but yet happy that we, the crew of Uniquely Singapore, are going to be finishing this epic race tomorrow. It’s been a long way since the first report I sent after leaving Hull and, if the welcome back is half as good as the send off, it will be a memory to hold on to for the rest of my life.
“I think the mood on board is one of excitement, sadness, a little bit of trepidation but most of all full of memories of ‘mate-ship’, laughter, exhilaration, a little bit of fear perhaps, and loads of fun. In all this has been one heck of a ride and I believe we have fully taken our sponsor Keppel’s ‘Can do!’ message around the world. It has shown in our experience of dealing with a three-day kite wrap, keeping up our spirits in the Doldrums, recovering after our knock down, our podium finishes, especially our first win into New York, bouncing back after coming last in the fleet and many, many more.
“My crew have been outstanding and have never stopped to amaze me in their courage, determination, bravery and their non-stop commitment to this boat. As such we became the closest crew in the race and I’m sure that bond will continue after. To all Singas’s supporters, friends, families and ex-crew: a big Thank You for your continued support and all the messages we received. You kept us going through those long races.
“We are presently flying across the North Sea and have had an interesting night of fast downwind sailing under kite and a bit of excitement when the guy snapped but very quickly had the kite down and under control. We are still hunting that last podium place as well as doing our best to keep Qingdao behind us so we don’t lose our place in the rankings.”
“The last chapter of a long story, and every boat wants this to be their best – none more so than the crew on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. It was a poor Le Mans start for us after the Yankee halyard jammer broke, trapping the rope. After a quick fix we were off, fully expecting a long tough night but, to our amazement and against all predictions, the wind eased off and one by one the reefs were shaken out and the Yankee 3 was replaced by the Yankee 2. Still the wind continued to drop and back southerly. Yankee 1 or wait until it backs further and go straight for the heavy spinnaker? We didn’t wait long and soon were flying towards Hull with a heavy kite set and the wind beginning to build again. We were recording good speeds – a 6.8nm half hour and top speed of just over 20 knots as the wind built to a steady Force 7, gusting higher.”
The high boat speeds mean that any mistake or damage is punished heavily – slowing down for 20 minutes can allow a rival boat to swiftly open up a lead of a couple of miles, as California’s crew have found to their cost.
“Unfortunately California had a problem when we tried to reef down the mainsail,” reports skipper, Pete Rollason. “The sail would not come down and eventually the decision was made to heave-to so that we could free the line that was stuck and preventing us from reducing the sail area. All in all it took about 30 to 40 minutes but that instantly dropped us back about six or seven miles from the leaders and we have been fighting to make it up ever since. As always we will push hard until the line.”
The course of the final race will take the fleet past Bridlington between 1600 and 2200 on their way to the finish line to the east of Spurn Point where HMS Severn will be marking the official finish line of Clipper 09-10. There are excellent vantage points at Flamborough Head and The Spa in Bridlington. Tomorrow the fleet will race up the Humber in the presentational John Harrison Race, starting at 9.30am from outside Hull Marina towards the Humber Bridge (within approximately one mile) and back, before beginning their entry to the marina at 11am.
Positions at 1200 GMT Friday 16 July
Boat DTF* DTL*
1 Cork 77nm
2 Hull & Humber 96nm 19nm
3 Spirit of Australia 98nm 21nm
4 Cape Breton Island 99nm 22nm
5 Jamaica Lightning Bolt 99nm 22nm
6 Qingdao 100nm 23nm
7 Uniquely Singapore 102nm 25nm
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 106nm 29nm
9 Team Finland 116nm 39nm
10 California 121nm 44nm
Team Finland makes good progress with repairs in Taiwan as the temperatures begin to plummet for the crews heading north. ” “I have never felt the boat take such a beating,” says Spirit of Australia’s skipper
Team Finland’s crew have been working hard in Hualien, Taiwan, where they have diverted following the loss of the top section of their rig.
“We have had a productive morning, removing a seven metre piece of broken mast without incident,” reports watch leader and round the world crew member, Mark Cole. “All the standing rigging deck fittings have been removed in addition to the fittings from the broken mast piece. We have fitted some blocks to the masthead that should enable us to fly the tri-sail and storm jib if required and the holes in the deck at the starboard gateway have been temporarily repaired with a plywood/epoxy sandwich, bolted through the deck.”
A diver has also completed a full hull check to ensure there was no damage while the folded rig was hanging over the side of the 68-foot yacht.
Skipper Rob McInally and his team have been made very welcome by the local community who are celebrating Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Tiger.
“Last night we were hosted by the local Coastguard commander who invited us into their Mess. We enjoyed plenty of New Year toasts, local food and a bit of karaoke. Team Finland’s rendition of Eye of the Tiger will be remembered in Hualien for some time to come,” says Mark.
“Afterwards we exchanged flags with the commander to thank him and his crews for seeing us safely into harbour. I think this now makes us unofficial members of the Taiwanese Coastguard!”
The crew is working towards being able to leave on Wednesday morning Taiwan time and is currently refuelling to maximum capacity – 1,500 litres in the tanks plus an extra 200 litres – for the journey ahead.
Spirits amongst Team Finland’s multi-national crew are high and they are understandably proud of what they have achieved as a team – both on the water to make the boat safe in the wake of the dismasting and in port as they make their repairs. They can’t wait to get back out and on their way again.
Out on the course the other yachts have had a torrid time in the last 24 hours. Spirit of Australia, at the back of the pack a week ago, is maintaining the lead she has now built up at the front – and it’s been anything but easy.
Brendan Hall, the Brisbane-based skipper of the Australian entry, told us this morning, “Last night was quite something. I have never felt the boat take such a beating by the steep sided waves. The sound the hull and rig make as they come crashing down off the crest into the next trough is incredible, like the sound of a car crash. Again and again and again. We were reefed down to our smallest possible sail plan and still making very fast speeds.
“The Spirit of Australia crew are handling the conditions well despite not many being able to sleep and many unable to eat due to seasickness. The fact we are now in the lead of this race has made each of us dig that little bit deeper and find the extra energy to make that sail change or empty the bilges every hour. We will grind our way to Qingdao, no matter what it takes.”
California is determined to make it to the podium this time and is just 20 miles behind Spirit of Australia.
Skipper Pete Rollason is full of praise for his crew today, saying, “As the temperatures are dropping quite considerably we are now down to a maximum of one hour on deck before the need get below and warm up becomes vital. I cannot praise the crew enough, never a grumble or moan, just a dogged determination to continue to drive the boat hard and secure a good finish in Race 6.
“The sea state is atrocious and the wind even worse, although the weather files do show some easing in the wind later today so we should be grateful for small mercies if it comes.”
Erstwhile leaders, Cape Breton Island, have taken the slowly slowly approach in another wet and wild night in the East China Sea, according to skipper, Jan Ridd, who says, “As we approached the north of Taiwan we saw the wind build and reduced sails accordingly. We had the storm jib, staysail and third reef in the main, which I thought would see us through the night, and had just crossed paths with California. We tacked back to the west and not soon afterwards the wind rose considerably and the boat was becoming difficult to control as we were launching ourselves off some fairly large waves.
“I had to make a decision whether to keep on driving hard or to dramatically reduce the sail plan and calm things down, losing positions in the race. It was an easy decision to make. Even though I am as competitive as everyone taking part in this race my primary concern is the safety and wellbeing of the crew and the yacht. So we dropped the staysail and sailed very slowly through the night, heading east on a losing tack but hopefully into lighter winds which will allow us to start sailing properly again.
“It was as daylight broke that we saw the true size of the storm we were in. During the night we just had numbers on the instruments, the howling of the wind in the rigging and being caught completely unawares as a wave broke on the deck, flooding the whole of the cockpit area but this morning, in a miserable, grey, rainy light we could see what we had been sailing through in the night. There were five metre steep seas regularly breaking and wind gusting up to 50 knots.
“I do not know if the crew will thank me or curse me when they see the latest position report but I know I would make the same decision every time.”
Jamaica Lightning Bolt’s crew still have a 13-point haul in their sights for this race, even though their progress over the last 12 hours has been painfully slow and they have made just 16 miles towards the finish line in that time.
Skipper Pete Stirling says, “The crew of Jamaica Lightning Bolt had another exciting night last night. At about 0200 (local time) the wind increased from 30 knots to a steady 40 knots plus. We hove to so that we could drop the staysail in a safer and more controlled manner. Just as well, as more than half the brass hanks securing the sail to the stay snapped. It’s not a particularly large sail but in gale force winds and mountainous seas it took a huge effort by the crew to wrestle it back under control and get it down below. Once below several crew set about replacing the broken hanks and at first light we re-hoisted it.”
Pete makes the point that Spirit of Australia has managed to build up a healthy lead but, he says, “As seen already on this race, big leads can quickly disappear if the weather turns against you.”
Hull & Humber and Cape Breton Island discovered that to their cost in the early stages of this race when their lead was wiped out by a patch of light air which developed in their path.
Piers Dudin, Hull & Humber’s skipper, knows it’s all part of the ocean racing game and you get the impression from his report to the race office this morning that, despite the heavy conditions, the Salisbury-based skipper and his crew are having fun out there.
“We’ve struck out east again and tacked early this morning for our first positive attack run on Qingdao. After the last few days of trying out different sail configurations we’ve hit upon the right plan and Hull & Humber is galloping along in a solid Force 7 and lovin’ it! Initially charging over the deep Kuroshio rolls, we’ve now stepped up onto the continental shelf and charging full tilt towards China.
“Life below decks isn’t too unpleasant yet, although it’s getting pretty damp. Once in a while the bow arches and everyone braces for impact; if the helmsman has timed it right everyone cheers, or if the wave was more of a cliff the resultant SLAM sends shudders through everyone and they wince for Hull & Humber’s discomfort as torrents of water wash down her decks. But off she goes again regardless…
“Tonight we should experience a sharp drop in temperature as we close in on our destination but, without the huge waves of the Kuroshio to douse us and an abating wind forecast, we’re hoping to stay dry and warm.”
The team representing the Olympic sailing city is sure to get a warm welcome – whatever the temperature when they arrive in Qingdao.
The weather in the city, where the first members of the Clipper Race team have arrived to establish the Race Office, is not as cold as it has been on previous visits, although the wind chill factor will take temperatures down to about minus 10C overnight. Add to that freezing water across the decks and you get some idea of how cold it is out there for the Clipper crews.
Qingdao’s skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, says, “The dragon is all fired up as she enters the home run. Helming was the name of the game last night with each taking a turn to tame the beast and point her head north. Six-metre swell with broken white faces and two-metre breakers flooding over the boat combined with horizontal rain and dropping air temperatures produced challenging conditions.
“For the skipper these are conditions in which sleep comes at a premium; with shipping to dodge, rig damage an ever-present thought at the moment and crew safety at the forefront of one’s mind, sleep is not possible except in five minute blocks, laying on the floor next to the nav station. I have now had 1.5 hours sleep in 36 but by the power of chocolate and coffee I am still a functional human being and I am enjoying the opportunity to get on the helm and provide hints and tips in conditions crew rarely get to experience.
“Stealth Mode means I will not be commenting on our place in the fleet – we had a plan, we are following it and the results may not provide a better fleet ranking but will put us in the geographical position we feel has the advantage. So far so good – you judge for yourself next time you log on.”
POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, TUESDAY 16 FEBRUARY 2010
1 Spirit of Australia DTF 552
2 California DTF 572 DTL +20
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 599 DTL +48
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 606 DTL +55
5 Hull & Humber DTF 610 DTL +58
6 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 644 DTL +92
7 Qingdao DTF 669 DTL +118 (Stealth: position at 1200 15 February)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 726 DTL +175
9 Team Finland DTF 750 DTL +199
10 Cork Did not start
The Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race started on 13 September from the Humber on the UK’s east coast and will return there in July 2010 after 35,000 miles of ocean racing. No previous sailing experience is required to take part as full training is provided. Crew can sign up for the whole circumnavigation or one or more legs. The overall race is divided into individual races and points are accumulated according to each individual race position. The yacht with the highest total at the finish wins the race trophy.