Clipper Round the World Race - Strong winds but enjoying the ride

Welcome to Yorkshire races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Bruce Sutherland/onEdition
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2011-12 fourth race from Cape Town, Africa to Geraldton, Western Australia is currently underway.

This time yesterday the fleet was battening down the hatches in preparation for a pummelling from Mother Nature. Luckily for the competitors, the weather front, although powerful, was not as strong as expected and the ten teams racing through the Southern Ocean towards Geraldton, Western Australia, now appear to be enjoying the ride.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s skipper, Rupert Dean, explains, 'The arrival of this system marks our second real Southern Ocean blow. The first was a real baptism by fire, with gusty force nine winds behind the stern making for exhilarating downwind surfing conditions, tempered with the ever-present danger of accidental gybing.

'This second depression is shaping up to be very different. The part of the depression that is hitting us is not so powerful and, due to its southern trajectory behind us to the west, the whole fleet is experiencing winds from the north, resulting in beam reaching conditions. On most sailing vessels the beam reach is the optimum point of sail, so this makes for fast, comfortable sailing. It's also highly popular with skippers too as, without spinnakers and accidental gybes to contend with, we can potentially get more sleep!'

From the middle of the fleet Rupert also provides an overview of the race at the half way stage, saying, 'There are currently three internal battles going on. Out front there is Gold Coast Australia, New York and De Lage Landen, whilst at the rear the action is between Visit Finland, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Derry-Londonderry. However, it is in the middle battle for fourth place where the racing is currently closest. Here you have Qingdao leading, followed by Welcome to Yorkshire, Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore in very close order, all eager to come out on top.

'With higher pressure set to chase us from the west after this front passes through, we are also keen to make as many miles as possible on the leading trio and avoid the belt of lighter winds sweeping in from behind.'

Gold Coast Australia races away from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
Bruce Sutherland/onEdition

Gold Coast Australia’s skipper, Richard Hewson, says, 'Until midnight we were bracing for another large storm as the wind gradually increased in the evening to 30 knots. However we were largely disappointed as the front was a lot weaker than expected only bringing with it the very occasional gust up to 40 knots. Sailing conditions however are fantastic at the moment as we run down wind with a reefed mainsail and headsail surfing waves reaching speeds of up to 18 knots.

'For now we are not only racing the other boats around us but also racing the weather systems. It is interesting to observe how similar the Clipper 68s are in speed and how much effort is required to make extra miles in these conditions. Gold Coast Australia is certainly making that effort at the moment and we are determined to stay ahead of New York and De Lage Landen.

'The weather systems are quite complicated at the moment making the apparently easy route from Cape Town to Geraldton very challenging to navigate because the high pressure system currently to the north west of us is a lot further south than expected, as well as being elongated to the east and west. The movement of the high pressure system as it gets closer to the Australian coast will be very interesting and will determine the path we take for the remaining 2,000nm north east to Geraldton. There are substantial gains or losses for the yachts that get it right and those that get it wrong. Consequently this race is still anybody’s game and even the boats at the back of the fleet have a good chance of sailing around those in the lead if the weather does not start to behave itself.'

Geraldton Western Australia’s crew are waiting for the wind to swing around again to the north west in order to be able to get back onto their rhumb line course. As the wind built through the course of yesterday the crew were kept hard at work with sail changes, says skipper, Juan Coetzer.

'In the morning we had our medium weight kite flying, changed to the smaller heavyweight, then to our largest Yankee, ending up with a storm jib and three reefs in the main by sunset. As the wind increased with the approaching weather system so did our boat speed. Seventeen to 23-knot surfs were had a regular intervals, bringing a cheeky grin to whoever was on the wheel of fortune (the helm).'

Stuart Jackson, skipper of De Lage Landen, writes, 'Yet again the weather has delivered in usual style, so the surfing competitions are on! It looks like the contest should last throughout the day until the wind abates a little later. Life is now very damp on board with plenty of water on deck and a fair measure below decks.'

'Yesterday we saw the barometer fall 24 millibars in as many hours, a sure sign that some seriously heavy weather was on its way and sure enough it came,' describes Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’s skipper, Gordon Reid. 'The winds rose to over 40 knots with gust of up to 50 knots, the sea boiled with white foam everywhere, wave after wave covered the boat and everyone on deck, the cockpit filled with water and ran below, the boat was side swiped repeatedly and everyone below shaken but not stirred.

'This is adrenaline rush central, even though you need to dig deep and do things you might think twice about back in the other real world the rush is inspiring.'

Derry-Londonderry races from Cape Town, South Africa, at the start of Race 4 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Bruce Sutherland/onEdition

Derry-Londonderry’s crew are also enjoying the surfing conditions that the teams have looked forward to in the Southern Ocean and which crews in Clipper 07-08 named ‘Yee-hah sailing’ for the sheer exhilaration of the ride.

The team has been reducing sail cloth as the barometer fell steadily over the last 24 hours and skipper, Mark Light, says, 'The boat feels very well balanced but also very powered up at the same time. Our sail plan is currently Yankee 2 headsail, staysail and two reefs in the mainsail. We have been moving consistently at 11 to 12 knots for the past 24 hours, sometimes touching 15 or 16 knots. This is power reaching in the Southern Ocean!

'Time on deck is pretty exhilarating and time on the helm very physical, so short spells are the order of the day to keep people fully concentrated and alert. Regular breaks below decks help to keep crew members warm and reduce the risk of people burning themselves out. A regular supply of hot tea and biscuits seems to aid this process!'

They’re finding conditions more challenging at the back of the fleet where Olly Osborne, Visit Finland’s skipper reports this morning, 'As dawn breaks after a long night the light reveals a steely grey sea capped with streaks of foam and the picture on deck is one of endurance.'

He continues, 'During the night we experienced the full force of the weather with gusts up to about 50 knots and a tall, rolling sea. The boat has been bucking and rolling in the pitch darkness with only the roar and thud of breaking waves against the hull to give the helm any indication of the set of the next wave.

'Down below the mothers struggle in the galley to produce a hot meal for the off coming watch as the unpredictable motion of the boat sends the contents of every locker slamming from side to side. Spirits are high though despite the challenging conditions and it feels good to be making some great mileage.'

As the wind built last night Singapore’s crew also considerably reduced their sail area to ride out the storm.

'The decision was made to get both the headsails below and run with just the staysail and storm jib for the time being,' says skipper, Ben Bowley.

'Wrestling the Yankee 2 back along the deck and down the companionway was a bit tough and required the combined efforts of both watches. We had a nasty, steep, cross sea that was hampering efforts as every other wave swept across the deck, blinding the crew and knocking a few people off their feet. We ended up running deep downwind to reduce the apparent wind and give us a better set to the waves; after this things sped up dramatically.

'As the oncoming front drew closer and closer the wind steadily continued to rise to the point we had constant 40+ knots of true wind. This required us to drop the staysail and sail a bit low of our course to prevent one wave in ten completely filling the cockpit with water! The big red bus took it all in her stride though and having now sailed her in bigger winds and seas than last night we had great confidence in her ability to shoulder the heavy seas aside and keep striving toward sunshine and hot showers.

'I think that we have seen the worst of the wind now and are starting to pile on a little more sail; the stay sail is up and the Yankee 3 is being hanked on. We still have some miles to make up and need to take every opportunity possible to nibble into our opponents’ lead!'

The teams were well prepared for the approaching storm. Up ahead of Singapore, Qingdao’s skipper, Ian Conchie describes how the crew spent the day 'checking that kit was stowed correctly and that the boat was ready. We adopted a conservative strategy changing down sails early as we knew that the wind was going to increase. We knew that this may hurt us in the standings but it allowed us time and ensured that we didn't get caught out with too much sail up and damage anything which, hopefully, in the long term will help more than a few miles lost in the short term.'

New York - The Clipper Race fleet left Jack London Square in Oakland on 14 April to start Race 10, to Panama - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Abner Kingman/onEdition

Similarly New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover, says, 'Calls to batten down everything went out at lunch time and the post-lunch watch got the white sails up on the deck and hanked on to do a just-in-time hoist as the winds picked up.

'The heavyweight kite safely downed and packed, all rigging double checked, everyone bundled up and New York was ready for the onslaught. The 10pm watch was woken up by the enticing call of, 'Wake up guys, your chance to play in 45 knot winds!’'

The last word goes to Qingdao’s skipper. Ian concludes, 'This morning finds us in strong winds and big waves which makes it exciting. But looking out over the waves when you are riding a crest the ocean looks amazing and, at the same time, one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.'

Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 15 October
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2,443nm
2 New York - 2,467nm (+24nm DTL**)
3 De Lage Landen - 2,491nm (+47nm)
4 Qingdao - 2,566nm (+123nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2,602nm (+159nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 2,621nm (+178nm)
7 Singapore - 2,640nm (+197nm)
8 Derry-Londonderry - 2,734nm (+291nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 2,788nm (+345nm)
10 Visit Finland - 2,814nm (+371nm)

*DTF = Distance to Finish. **DTL = Distance to Leader. Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found here.

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website