Clipper Round the World: The Pacific starts to bite

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With the first 1,000 miles of the race to California almost completed, the forecasted low pressure system has finally arrived and the skippers who were cursing the lack of wind yesterday now find themselves with more than they bargained for. Strong headwinds have been hard going on the teams and they will all be looking forward to the wind shifting round and a return to the fast downwind sailing the Clipper 68s relish.

Info Clipper Round the World

What a difference 24 hours makes,” says Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore. “Yesterday we were in little wind and then bang! In rushed 30 to 40 knots and it has been with us ever since. The frustrating thing has been the angle we have been forced to sail at and have lost quite a bit of ground to the south. But as the low moves through, the wind will veer round and we can head due north again before the wind settles in behind us and we can get back to the fast downwind weather we love.  “The crew are a little worse for wear with tiredness etched on their faces and all their clothes wet and damp. But as I always say, nothing stays the same in the ocean and once we’re back in the high, clothes will dry, skies will brighten and the smiles will return.” Hull & Humber’s skipper, Piers Dudin, says, “The seas are getting a little confused and the occasional slam jolts memories of our trip past Taiwan. We’ve nearly reached the top of the hill in terms of our upwind beat and are looking forward to giving Hull & Humber an easier ride downwind.” “Even moving round below decks requires constant effort in the confused seas and as the wind shifts it’s likely to become even more so.”   

Life on deck is just as difficult as that down below and none more so than for the crew on board California.  “We needed to take the mainsail down and completely remove it from the mast track in order to repair the top five sliders that had become detached, ” explains skipper Pete Rollason. “This is no easy feat in the shelter of a marina, let alone on a rough ocean in the conditions we’re currently experiencing. The crew worked tirelessly to complete the repairs and with everyone exhausted and soaking wet we hoisted the mainsail.”  The strong headwinds are certainly taking their toll but the wind strength continues to vary making sail choice particularly tricky as Jan Ridd, skipper of Cape Breton Island explains.  “Most of the crew are coming to terms with having to sail close hauled for the next few days as we fight our way out into the Pacific. The wind is building and dropping and the highest gust our instruments have shown was 48 knots, which dropped just minutes later to 19 knots. 

“With the wind varying so much, the boat was set up last night for the worst, with the storm jib accompanied by our normal staysail and the third reef in the main. If the wind built the staysail could be dropped allowing us to go into complete safe mode. Today the problem we have is the boat is a little underpowered and just as we think we should put more sail up the wind builds, the boat heels right over again and the decision is made for us.” Qingdao’s skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, believes the worst is yet to come and if he is right the already tired crews will need to dig deep to find that extra bit of strength and determination. “A great night’s sailing on board Qingdao with us returning to the conditions we favoured so much during our time in the South China Sea,” says Chris. “Last night however was only a precursor to the real show which will probably start within the next 30 hours.   “With 40 knot winds predicted we will be experiencing up to 50 on the nose if we are unfortunate enough to be at that angle to the wind.  My hope is that we can take some of that brutish wind strength on the beam to catapult the dragon forward to the super sonic speeds we love.” 

For the team on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the change in conditions came all too quickly but according to skipper Matt Pike his crew are revelling in the challenge as they push to Scottish boat hard to make gains on the rest of the fleet.  Matt says, “Misty drizzle and a rolling swell was the weather as we chased the small patches of breeze to reach the fleet – all the time knowing soon the wind would fill in. It came in one solid wave and caught us midway between sail changes.   “The chase begins now through the wet. We have salty spray, the slightly fresher rain and the most easily identified, the solid wall of water that comes crashing back swamping the whole boat. Below is no better as everything is wet, no longer just damp but wringing wet. The crew have stopped mentioning wet bunks but just crash out as they are for a much needed rest before going ‘over the top’ through the companionway and back into the fight. Still smiling the hardened crew take our tough little boat forwards and push to gain those precious miles on the competition.” Meanwhile, back in Qingdao, Team Finland’s crew will be keeping a close eye on the fleet’s progress as they await the arrival of their replacement mast. The 90-foot spar has left Luxemburg and whilst the Clipper Race team is doing everything to ensure a timely delivery in Qingdao the journey is at the mercy of shipping agents, airlines and customs. Team Finland is just ten points behind overall race leaders, Spirit of Australia, having been awarded one point by the Race Committee for Race 6 from Singapore to Qingdao. They will therefore be hoping for a fast run across the Pacific if they are to close the gap and regain the top spot once more.RACE VIEWER