Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - Gold Coast Australia extends lead

Gold Coast Australia at the start of Race 5 in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition
Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race fleet continue on day fourteen of race five, from Western Australia to New Zealand.

Gold Coast Australia has emerged from 24 hours in Stealth Mode with an extended lead as the team prepares to face strong headwinds en route to the finish of race five.

Skipper Richard Hewson reports that the Gold Coast Australia team has experienced wildly varying wind conditions ranging from 45 knots from the south west to just five knots from the north east whilst racing under the invisibility shield that each team is permitted to don for one 24-hour period in each race.

Meteorologist Simon Rowell, who provides the ten teams with detailed weather information on a daily basis, has warned the fleet to expect a 'messy and wet low' by approximately 1800 UTC tomorrow. 'The synoptic chart for then shows a mess of slow moving fronts,' he advised the skippers this morning.

The varied conditions forecasted for the next few days as the Gold Coast Australia team progresses up the coast of New Zealand’s South Island look set to pose some 'very challenging tactical situations', according to Richard.

'We’re making good progress towards Taraunga and placing ourselves in a promising position for the new wind that is expected to arrive tomorrow,' he said.

'Whilst conditions are very pleasant at the moment, allowing the crew some much earned and needed respite and drying time, the conditions forecasted for tomorrow evening are not so pleasant and we will be gearing up for 40-knot headwinds as we make our way north,' Richard added.

The latest team to go into Stealth Mode is Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and skipper, Gordon Reid, is hoping to improve on his team’s current standing of eighth place. On Thursday, the team proudly representing the Scottish capital bagged an extra point for being the fastest team to complete the Ocean Sprint.

'With a bit of luck as we continue to close on the fleet, they will hit the high first and we may yet close the gap. With less than 900 miles still to go and the dominating high pressure system in our path, it's all about to get very interesting,' Gordon said.

After a day of Champagne sailing under 'countless shooting stars', Gordon said that the Southern Ocean and Mother Nature gave his team 'one last taste of their beautiful, glorious fury'.

As Edinburgh Inspiring Capital crossed the Campbell Plateau, a continental oceanic plateau, the team was overtaken by a warm front and then caught by the cold front behind it.

Gordon reports that the barometer fell by eight millibars in around ten hours and on the shallow 200-metre plateau the sea was very confused with 15 to 20-foot surf. 'After quickly downsizing the sail plan, we are like giddy children, loving the last blast of fury!' he said.

The team has also dealt with a jammed halyard during a headsail drop after the rope stripped its sheath and got trapped in the jammer.

Despite taking the jammer apart in an effort to save the halyard, it got stuck again so Gordon proceeded to cut the halyard and they all grabbed the sail and wrestled it on board still intact.

'I was soaked to the skin, feet numb and freezing but it was a great team effort by my excellent crew,' Gordon said.

Welcome to Yorkshire in Race 5 - Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race
Karl Monaghan/onEdition

On Welcome to Yorkshire, skipper Rupert Dean is reflecting on what a difference a day can make. After sharing his evocative account of how it feels to be battered by the Southern Ocean yesterday, today’s conditions provide a stark contrast.

'Yesterday we were surfing down enormous seas, running before the wind and clocking enormous boat speeds towards the finish line. Today we find ourselves on flat seas, nearly becalmed in headwinds, going very slow indeed but such is ocean racing,' Rupert explains.

The skipper of the only English entry in Clipper 11-12 admits that he is kicking himself after misjudging the drop of his team’s repaired medium weight spinnaker. After spotting a tiny hole in the sail, Rupert called for a drop to prevent further damage and opted to drop it on the foredeck, a technique used in light airs, in the hope of undertaking the repairs on the foredeck and re-hoisting without the lengthy process of repacking.

'Unfortunately, the winds were stronger than I had thought, making this light airs drop the wrong option. The result was a drop from hell where everything that could go wrong did, ending with the kite in the water shredded under the boat,' he said.

'Ocean racing, like life, is all about making the right choices and I'm gutted for the crew and myself that I made such a howler today. We now have an extensive repair to make that will take several days. Fortunately, my crew has absorbed this like the great team that they are and are not apportioning blame. We'll overcome it and move on, like we can, and always do,' Rupert added.

Derry-Londonderry has moved up into second place ahead of New York, and Mark Light and his team are working hard to maintain their position.

Round the world crew member, Barry O'Mahony, a retired factory manager, said that sailing conditions have been 'great if very demanding' with the wind on or aft of the beam and seldom less than 25 knots.

Barry reflected that 48 degrees south will the most southerly latitude reached during the year-long circumnavigation and he said that personally he 'will not intentionally pass this way again'.

'We wonder at the mental state of the first Dutch sailors in the 1640s who sailed down here to New Zealand knowing that there was no going home the way they had come and uncertainty on what lay ahead,' he said.

Barry said that the dampness on board is all pervasive. 'Even my watch which is supposed to be waterproof to 30 metres has condensation in it,' he said, adding that a lot of the moisture is coming from within the boat as 17 mammals eat and sleep in an un-insulated fiberglass structure immersed in cold water combined with the presence of wet sails down below.

Despite their current position, Barry said that the Derry-Londonderry team was not counting any chickens with almost 750 miles to go.

New York is sandwiched between Derry-Londonderry and De Lage Landen in third place as the battle for the podium positions in Race 5 continues unabated.

New York’s skipper, Gareth Glover, said he was focused on the long term goal and knew his team might drop a place as their tactics took them off the direct line to the finish.

'We are hoping that our plan will see us get the new wind first and get us back in front,' Gareth said, adding that the wind is likely to be unsettled for the next 12 hours until it fills in more consistently. 'Only time will tell,' he added.

On De Lage Landen, skipper Stuart Jackson reports that things have gone from the 'ridiculous to the sublime' as huge swells, breaking waves and 50-plus knot squalls have been replaced by calm seas and 15 knots of wind as they race in the lee of New Zealand’s land mass.

'Although it's slightly frustrating having light and fickle winds, everyone has enjoyed the warmer weather and the opportunity to have a bit of a breather,' Stuart said.

'It looks like we are in for some interesting sailing over the next few days and with five of us being so close together, the race for the podium positions is on,' he said, adding that being within sight of land is a big motivator for his crew.

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

Visit Finland is one of the five boats within 68 miles of each other all gunning for a podium place. With less than 70 miles separating his team from New York and second place, skipper Olly Osborne will know that a podium place is still within reach for the fifth race in the 40,000-mile series that is Clipper 11-12.

Sail changes have been the order of the day on Geraldton Western Australia as Juan Coetzer and his team deal with the changing conditions.

'Yesterday was amazing with clear blue skies, the heavyweight kite up and we were sailing in the right direction. In the evening we noticed small dark grey clouds come whizzing by and we knew this was a sign that things were about to change. Just before sunrise, the kite came down and the Yankee 1 went up,' Juan said.

'Thus far we have worked through the whole headsail wardrobe and we are currently hoisting the storm staysail,' he added, referring to the smallest sail on Clipper 68s used in extremely high winds.

Although the weather is glum and overcast with rain, the Geraldton Western Australia team has reported a sighting of an Orca whale as they sail towards the southerly tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

Taking a northerly route to New Zealand following their retirement from Race 5, Ben Bowley reports that the team on Singapore has been treated to a spectacular lightning show.

'With some peculiar looking cloud formations sweeping in from astern and bolts of lightning jutting out the bottom, we decided to get the headsails down and shut down all non-essential electronics on board,' he said.

Ben said he was a little slow on the uptake and before they could get the sails down Singapore was struck by a very prolonged 60-knot gust. 'You know things have started to go a little awry when you find yourself standing upright on what was once a vertical surface,' he said.

By the time the team had the headsails on the deck and the main was under control, the wind had dropped to nothing, Ben reports.

'We motored in oily calm water for about half an hour whilst re-stowing spuds in their hanging hammocks but sure enough the wind came back with a vengeance and shortly after dark we were flying along under a double-reefed main and staysail,' he said.

Although the Singapore is permitted to use its auxiliary engine to make best speed to New Zealand following their retirement after a pit stop to deal with steering issues, Ben is hoping to fly a spinnaker in the next 24 hours if the sea state settles down.

'It’ll be good to see the kite up again and the longer we keep the engine off, the greater semblance of sanity on board,' Ben said.

Qingdao has been sailing through thick fog as they endeavour to hunt down the rest of the fleet following their own diversion to Hobart in Tasmania to drop off crew member Jo Sandford, who was injured following a fall on deck.

'We are making reasonable progress towards New Zealand and everyone is looking forward to heading north again, hopefully to warmer waters. We’ve managed to make some small gains on the fleet, not fast enough to catch them yet, but we keep pushing to try and close the gap,' skipper, Ian Conchie, said.

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

There is no shortage of sail change action on Qingdao, as the team focuses on reeling in the boats ahead in the erratic conditions and the full wardrobe of Yankee headsails has been getting an outing.

'Yesterday we started with the Yankee 1 headsail and by the evening we were down to Yankee 3 and two reefs in the main, then this morning we are back to full main and a poled-out Yankee 2,' Ian said

With a sweepstake underway on board for Qingdao’s arrival time, the crew has been busy making calculations upon which to base their guesses. 'I went for an early time trying to be optimistic but it is all in the hands of the weather gods now,' Ian concedes.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Tauranga between 25 and 29 November. More detailed estimated arrival times for individual teams will be posted in due course.

Positions at 0900 UTC, Saturday 19 November
Boat - DTF*
1 Gold Coast Australia - 659nm
2 Derry-Londonderry - 774nm (+115nm DTL**)
3 New York - 788nm (+128nm)
4 De Lage Landen - 796nm (+137nm)
5 Welcome to Yorkshire - 826nm (+167nm)
6 Visit Finland - 842nm (+183nm)
7 Geraldton Western Australia - 945nm (+285nm)
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital - 962nm (+302nm) Stealth Mode until 0600 20/11
9 Qingdao - 1,135nm (+476nm)
10 Singapore - 1,799nm (Retired)

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

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race website