You know you're not making much headway when you look over the side and a sea turtle is passing you. That might not be so bad when you're voyaging, but it is a scenario designed to put racers around the bend. The Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race sailors recently found themselves in this situation on the Oakland to Panama leg.
From the press release: It has been a frustrating 24 hours for the ten international teams participating in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. The fleet has almost come to a standstill in paralysing, lacklustre winds and with only 56 miles separating the ten teams, the pressure is on to eke out every last fraction of a knot in the race towards Panama City.
On board New York skipper Gareth Glover reports that the team has been struggling in their more northerly, inshore position.
“Drifting is the only word to describe our progress today with boat speed less than a knot most of the day. The wind has gone and there has been so little wind for us that the light weight kite has just been hanging from the rig so we drop it to avoid any damage it may get from the rig and with the wind seeker.
“We have now lost sight of any other Clipper yachts on AIS although we did see Qingdao for a few hours this morning to the south of us. As we drifted a large turtle swam past the yacht with small fish in tow. The outlook for very little or no wind looks set to continue over the next few days until we get further to the south and our only hope is to get closer to the coast and pick up any sea or land breezes.”
Currently in their more off-shore route, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital skipper Flavio Zamboni, reports that the Scottish entry is also struggling to keep moving.
“The last 24 hour run has been pretty frustrating. In fact we have lost a position and we keep losing precious ground to the boats immediately in front. The crew has been working really hard to keep the boat moving but we've been slow in these extremely light airs conditions.”
The tedium of the current weather conditions has set in on board De Lage Landen as skipper, Stuart Jackson explains, “Today was a challenge for us all. After coming to a grinding stop early in the morning, we have been listening to the torturing sound of unhappy sails. With no breeze to be found, you need to put in a lot of effort in order to get and maintain speed.
“It is when we look west of us at the boats a couple of miles away that it gets really painful to notice that they are actually moving.” He concludes, “Well, tomorrow is another day and hopefully we'll be luckier!”
Geraldton Western Australia skipper, Juan Coetzer, echoes the weariness on board as the team wait in anticipation for more favourable winds. “Singapore has been looming astern of us on the horizon, for two days. The crew are trimming hard and focused on holding the best course for the apparent wind, and get ecstatic when they hit five knots SOG (Speed Over Ground).
“It is so hot…the decks have been doused with water, so it is bearable to stand on. The weather is great, but draining as the sun is sucking out all our energy,” Juan adds.
The Clipper Race is a unique event and offers everyday people from all walks of life the chance to take on some of the world’s most challenging conditions. As English entry Welcome to Yorkshire prepares to commemorate St. Georges Day, skipper Rupert Dean offers a real insight to the changeable conditions in his daily report as the temperature rises and the wind starts to drop.
“Winds have been particularly light and will continue to be so for a quite a while. It is, therefore, becoming ever more a challenge to keep our 30-ton boat moving on these glassy seas. Total concentration and subtlety is required at the helm to keep the apparent wind angle in the right spot to maximise its apparent speed and the force we get from it.
“Just a few degrees either way at the wheel can make huge differences to boat performance. Steer too close to the wind and the spinnaker will do a windward collapse causing speed to be lost. Going too far downwind produces a leeward collapse as the apparent wind speed nosedives and the kite is hidden behind the main. It really is a surprisingly fine avenue to keep in, bearing in mind the apparent wind angle is ever changing with boat speed and the variable winds,” explains Rupert.
“Equal concentration, meanwhile is required on the spinnaker sheet, in order to trim the sail to the optimum shape. This also requires a constant stream of information to the helm, indicating the amount of pressure on the line, informing them whether to bring the bow up to increase apparent wind or, soak down to achieve better VMG (Velocity Made Good). Elsewhere, the rest of the watch is making regular adjustments to the spinnaker pole position to ensure optimum sail shape too. Who could possibly say that sailing isn't a team sport?”
As the team furthest to the south on their off-shore course, current front runners Gold Coast Australia have been assessing their tactics against the weather conditions in a bid to stay at the head of the pack.
Skipper, Richard Hewson, reports, “As I type, the familiar slap, slap of the mainsail as another bit of swell rocks the boat spilling all the precious wind out of the sails. We have been becalmed since sunrise, doing our best to utilise every scratch of wind that comes our way. Alas, thanks to a slight counter current for part of the day we only made 20 miles between sunrise and sunset.
“The assessment I made last night from the information available set us on the best route possible towards the new wind on the coast, and last night we set ourselves a challenge to be close to the coast in the late afternoon. Unfortunately as the wind gets lighter it is harder to predict.
“Our gybe angles are quite large and we have two choices at the present time, head east at 2-3 knots or head south at 2-3 knots. At the moment we maintain our easterly course to cover the fleet and try to close the coast.”
It would seem that the light airs have also slowed the local wildlife, as Richard explains, “The winds seem too light to even help the birds fly and just before sunset two boobies took to nesting at the top of our mast, one right next to our Windex, the other on the Raymarine wand.”
In a bid to climb up the leader board, Singapore has entered Stealth Mode for 24 hours and will emerge at 1200 UTC tomorrow. In Race 10, the teams are able to use two periods of Stealth Mode, or they can combine them to make one period of 48 hours.
While in Stealth Mode, the team's position is not reported to the fleet or on the website for the period of 24 hours, or in some cases during this race 48 hours, however the Race Office still tracks the team positions every hour.
On board, skipper Ben Bowley reports, “Somehow we have been lucky enough to just keep the boat moving slightly faster than many of our rivals and I can only put this down to our position within the fleet. Derry-Londonderry, Geraldton Western Australia and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and ourselves have been striking down the middle ground of the fleet for a couple of days now and today it seems to have paid off.
“We are getting to the stage now that the boats ahead probably fear most, the random wind holes and corridors of breeze. You can't plan routing in this sort of weather, merely react to what is served up to you. The temptation is to get inshore and start to make the best of the land effects on the wind but simply getting there is going to be tricky!”
In stark contrast, Qingdao skipper Ian Conchie reports that the team’s prayers have yet to be answered in a bid to glean back miles lost.
“As we knew it would happen the wind has died but despite our best laid plans the wind gods have not been kind to us. For most of the night the sails have just been hanging straight down with not the smallest breath of wind to fill them.
“All the time the AIS system teases us as occasionally one of the fleet pops up showing that they are at least moving. I suspect morning will show we have lost ground to most of the fleet we can just pray that as and when the wind returns we can recover some lost ground!” Ian says.
“At the same time life below decks gets hotter and hotter without a little breeze to help the air move through the boat it becomes hot and stuffy making sleep harder and life especially hard for the mothers turning out food to keep everyone going.”
On board Visit Finland, skipper Olly Osborne reports that the Finnish entry is concentrating hard on its position within the fleet in this close knit race.
“Just trying to keep the boat ghosting along requires massive concentration from the helm and trimmers, and combined with the fierce midday heat it is no easy task. We are still neck and neck with De lage Landen and it is good fun to be match racing our old adversary once again.
Commenting on the team’s tactics, Olly adds, “Making a break for the coast and a possible thermal breeze inshore is a tempting option, but it will be difficult to reach until the wind allows us to change course. We did however manage to hook our first fish this afternoon which got away just as we were trying to bring it aboard. It was a very big Dorado which would have fed us for a good couple of days so we are hopeful that there will be another chance tomorrow.”
Meanwhile on board Derry-Londonderry, the Northern Irish entry has had a steady wind in its sails and is in high spirits.
Skipper, Mark Light, reports, “A good, productive day’s racing has seen us make ground on most boats in the fleet. Yesterday during the late afternoon we converged with Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and were on collision course for a good hour.
“When we finally came together, at a distance of approx. ten boat lengths, we headed up, by virtue of being on the opposite port tack and passed less than two boat lengths astern of them. This is fantastic racing and is typical of how close this race is after more than 1500 miles of ocean racing. All night and all day today we took full advantage of a favourable wind and managed to pull ever so slowly clear. We crossed paths today as well and found that we had opened up a lead of approx. five miles over them! Given the very light and fickle wind it has been a great team effort to get us back up with some of the leading boats.
Commenting on the conditions on board, Mark adds, “It has also been the hottest day of the race so far and now crew are vying for any last bits of shade available on the deck. Keeping concentration and focus is now the order of the day as we carry on gaining on the frontrunners and also getting ever closer to the first compulsory gate, just over 400 miles away to the south east. Let’s hope the wind holds enough to be able to ghost along and track through the centre of the gate.”
The Race Viewer on the Clipper Race website shows the teams are rapidly approaching the start gate for the Ocean Sprint. The tight racing shows how closely matched these teams are after eight months of their 40,000-mile circumnavigation and it will make this Ocean Sprint an interesting one.
All of the teams have the chance to pick up a bonus point for the shortest elapsed time between the latitude 17.5 degrees north and 16 degrees north – approximately 90 miles.
With the current weather conditions dictating the fleet's course, it will be interesting to see which boats cross the line in the best time over the next 24 hours to gain the greatest advantage for a better position on the leader board overall.