Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – Extreme conditions expected

Start of Race 4 to the City of Geraldton, Western Australia, in the 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.

The skippers and crews on board each of the ten internationally backed entries of the Clipper Race are today busily preparing for a Southern Ocean onslaught as an approaching low pressure system looks set to bring challenging conditions along with wind speeds of gale force proportions.

'To all of our supporters out there from the skipper, 'stand by, the Forties are about to roar!' comments skipper of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Gordon Reid.

'All deck equipment has been checked and double checked, gear stowed and secured, our roaring game plan discussed and prepared. We are ready for some more action!' declares Gordon, with his team currently in ninth after making good progress over the past few days.

'Today we are prepared for the onslaught as a massive front closes in on us. There is nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, the wind will come with the rain and the squalls, the sea is building, with the white caps forming all around, the sun is still shinning but the cloud base thickening and descending. Currently we have a lively 25 knots of breeze and a generous sail plan, we will have to reduce sail as the winds are forecast to build to over 30 knots and will be a fair bit higher with gusts and squalls.'

It's a day for celebration on board New York as yesterday saw them secure second place in the race to the Scoring Gate.

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 claimed the maximum three extra points after reaching the gate in first position but it was the Big Apple entry which beat De Lage Landen to second place to win an extra two race points.

'Yesterday morning's efforts were fully focussed on getting the ripped mast tracks fixed while New York sped under spinnaker towards the Scoring Gate,' reveals skipper, Gareth Glover, after securing their first Scoring Gate points of Clipper 11-12.

'It was already known that Gold Coast Australia crossed the gate in the morning and it looked like we would be second over the gate and gain miles on both Gold Coast Australia in front and De Lage Landen behind us. New York crossed the gate at 1032 UTC and kept the course as the winds started to lighten.'

However it hasn't all gone to plan for New York ahead of a few days of extreme ocean racing sailing as they continue to focus on their damaged mast track.

'The track was in back in place by the time the afternoon watch finished and we were on to a night of light breezes changing direction on a whim throughout the night. Just as the dawn broke, an effort to move the pole to gain a better point of sail had the car of the pole rip off its track and lodge itself precariously on the lower portion of the mainsail. With dreaded stories of ripped mains in mind, the mid-weight was quickly doused and pole lowered.

'Furious efforts are under way to get the car fixed before the low moves in later today while the Yankee 2 is already up in preparation for the stronger winds.'

As well as the opportunity to gain vital extra points with the race to the Scoring Gate, each team can win a race point through the Ocean Sprint. Located during Race 4 between 90 degrees east and 95 degrees east, the Ocean Sprint is a pure test of speed: the team with the shortest elapsed time for the distance wins the point, something the New York skipper is hoping his team will secure.

'We are now looking forward to the Ocean Sprint after coming third on the way to Rio and second by just 32 minutes on the way to Cape Town.'

'We are looking at the best place to make the sprint to make sure this time we win and get that point that has come so close twice. But with the Ocean Sprint over 1300nm away there is still a lot of work to be done to hold off the rest of the race fleet.'

Dutch entry, De Lage Landen have won their fourth Scoring Gate point of Clipper 11-12, after they picked up third place behind Gold Coast Australia and New York respectively.

'It's a beautiful morning in the Southern Ocean, though the chilly temperatures persist unabated,' reports skipper, Stuart Jackson.

'We're pleased to have picked up a point through the Scoring Gate and can now turn our attention to the endurance test that is the remaining 2,800 miles between us and Geraldton. As predicted, the winds are backing to become more northerly and the pressure is dropping steadily.

The crew is busy with the proverbial battening down of hatches as we await a significant increase in wind speeds, and we expect things to be quite lively over the next few days.'

Continuing in their quest to maintain their winning streak are the crew of Gold Coast Australia, who currently boast a 33 nautical mile lead over New York in second place.

'Winds have continued to be moderate as Gold Coast Australia sails east towards Geraldton. The winds at the moment are quite shifty, with 30 degree wind shifts and a wind range from 14 to 20 knots hinting at an approaching low pressure system. A close eye is being kept on the barometer and clouds as we expect the first front later today,' says skipper, Richard Hewson.

'Today is Sunday and I have handed the boat over to the crew. Given the approaching weather it will be a good test to see how much they have learnt and what to look out for. Whilst I have declared that I am going to keep quiet today unless absolutely necessary I will be keeping a close eye on the weather and ensure timely decisions are made.

'Now off for my Sunday haircut at the Gold Coast Australia Hair Academy.'

After yesterday's report of iceberg sightings and the Race Office's advisory to avoid the area, Welcome to Yorkshire took evasive action and headed north, reports skipper, Rupert Dean.

'Welcome to Yorkshire is ghosting along under lightweight spinnaker, with the pole well forward to maximise our apparent wind speed. It's been slow progress, but a good opportunity for the crew to get some much needed jobs done.

'One of our spinnaker halyards snapped last night, we run two, necessitating me to climb the mast and reeve a new one this morning. It was beautiful up there in the sunshine, looking down on the white caps and albatrosses of the Southern Ocean as the wind filled in,' continues Rupert, with Welcome to Yorkshire currently in fifth keen to put pressure on Qingdao in front while keeping ahead of Geraldton Western Australia in sixth.

'With the low approaching from the north west, the winds have now veered to the north and are steadily increasing. We're in for another real blow. Consequently our sail plan has changed back to white sails, enabling us to reach along nicely towards the finish. It's good to be moving more progressively again.'

Qingdao - 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

Currently further south than the Yorkshire boat is the Chinese entry, Qingdao, skippered by Ian Conchie.

'What a beautiful day's sailing,' reports Ian.

'We started off under our heavy spinnaker in the morning and then at lunchtime we decided to gybe and head north once we were clear of the plotted position of the icebergs. As we were preparing to gybe however the heavy spinnaker decided it had had enough and wanted a break as first the shackle on the guy broke and then the sheet broke. After a quickly arranged drop all was good, the spare sheet rigged and the medium weight spinnaker was hoisted and we were back up to speed again.

'Then it was a day of maintenance for a few hours. We replaced our compass light, made up new sheets and guys (I finally retired the ones from the previous race - my crew call me a Great Uncle Bulgaria for my habit of keeping bits that will come in handy and not changing out old bits until we have to) and repaired one of our spinnaker halyards,' reveals the Qingdao skipper.

'Everything then calmed down for a while until late afternoon we managed to wrap the medium spinnaker around the inner forestay. Everyone was quickly called on deck and after some delicate pulling and lowering the halyard we managed to get the spinnaker down without any damage.

Heavyweight spinnaker back up and off we went. Our current plan being to change sails early to try and ensure we don't damage them.'

Meanwhile on board Singapore they, too, experienced spinnaker trouble yesterday.

'About two minutes after sending yesterday's report where I extolled the virginity of our lightweight kite, she caught on one of the top spreaders in a little roll and ripped clean across the head about three metres down from the top,' says skipper Ben Bowley.

'The helm who was driving at the time is starting to get a bit of a complex as this is the third time he has been on the wheel when a kite has ripped! Out came the sewing machine and sail cloth, up went our ever reliable Sticky Vicky. We ran with the heavy all day but as night fell we saw the wind becoming gusty and very shifty so the kite was dropped. Last night was a case of hurry up and wait for the weather.

'There is a dark sense of foreboding regarding the incoming weather. We have made as many preparations as possible and this morning ensured that the crew had a large hearty breakfast. We have just one more job to get done before the weather kicks off and that is change the bulb in the tri-colour lamp at the top of the rig, not a fun job in calm weather but nigh on impossible in 30-40 knots of wind! Right now you would never believe that there was a front on the way but we all learnt last time just how quick the situation can change down here in this watery wilderness. Keeping a weather eye open and battening down the hatches.'

Keen to make up miles on the rest of the fleet are the crew of Visit Finland as, skipper, Olly Osborne explains their recent progress, 'A depression tracking eastward and has dispelled the ridge of high pressure that has slowed us the last couple of days. We are now making good boat speeds again and enjoying a fine reach with a very pleasant sea state. We do not seem to be able to gain many miles on the rest of the fleet and our recent foray north into the high pressure system probably did not help, but it has allowed us to effect repairs and I am fairly happy that there will not be any ice on this latitude.'

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

Also looking to push their way up the fleet is Northern Ireland entry Derry-Londonderry, who have moved further away from their closest rival Edinburgh Inspiring Capital over the last 24 hours.

'A good day yesterday spent in fairly light winds under medium weight spinnaker - made good speeds while not over stressing our broken spinnaker track. We managed to pull clear of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital after crossing swords with them early yesterday morning. We dropped the kite early evening in preparation for the heavier weather coming in during the night and while we enjoyed a dinner of meatballs with rice followed by fruit cocktail crumble and hot custard we watched the apparent wind begin to rise.'

Crew members are now making efforts to make sure they fully prepare for the next few days likely conditions.

'An hour later we had changed down headsails from number 1 to number 2 Yankee and had cleared the deck of all spinnaker gear (we will be slightly upwind for the next two to three days) and anything else that we wouldn't need in the immediate future,' continues skipper, Mark Light.

'Down below decks the boat was stowed for the onslaught. The wind built to a very steady 24 knots apparent, the sky remained clear and the sea state remained fairly flat all night long. As day broke this morning we are romping along with a decent serving of blue skies and boat speeds of 11 to 12 knots.

'This is great sailing and long may it continue!'

Positions at 0900 UTC, Sunday 16 October
Boat - DTF* (DTL**)
1 Gold Coast Australia - 2729nm (0nm)
2 New York 2762nm - (33nm)
3 De Lage Landen - 2801nm (71nm)
4 Qingdao - 2852nm (123nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 2913nm (184nm)
6 Geraldton Western Australia - 2921nm (192nm)
7 Singapore - 2955nm (226nm)
8 Derry-Londonderry - 3027nm (298nm)
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 3051nm (321nm)
10 Visit Finland - 3079nm (350nm)

*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