As they crossed the finish line at 0216 UTC this morning, the heavy fog lifted and it was an emotional sight for the crew of the Australian entry, securing their seventh win from nine races. Arriving in Jack London Square, Tasmanian skipper, Richard Hewson, said, “What a proud moment. We won the race across the North Pacific Ocean, the roughest sea in the world.
“What a relief to get here. It’s been a really tough race and I’m really proud of my guys, they’ve worked so hard. We’ve had a lot of people that got injured and five of the crew especially worked hard to keep the crew motivated and keep the boat performing. To get in here in first place, despite what happened, and have such a good lead over to Singapore is just fantastic. To get here safely after 27 days of storms is just amazing.”
Singapre headed for second place
Singapore is expected to arrive in Oakland on Saturday morning local time and with less than 50 miles separating them from the finish line, the team reflect on how far they have come on their North Pacific adventure.
Skipper, Ben Bowley, says, “This is likely to be my last report for a couple of weeks as at this rate we shall be passing under the Golden Gate Bridge whilst enjoying a hearty scrambled eggs breakfast at around 0700hrs local time!
“We had our race debrief at our 1700hrs meeting today and reflected on what has been a truly epic race and, for all of us, the hardest challenge we have faced to date. Sighting land in the next few hours will see many people, myself included, realise a dream that formed many years ago when first looking at a chart of the Pacific and wondering what it would be like traverse the world’s largest body of water. The harsh reality of this leg has truly lived up to its reputation and I for one shall not want to be returning to this part of the world (well, not in winter anyway) for quite some time!
“I have been continually impressed with my small crew's relentless, dogged determination to just grunt up and get the job done. I thank them for making my job all that much easier to bear this leg by being consistently willing to pit themselves against Mother Nature in her foulest of moods; this has enabled us to acquire and maintain a fantastic race position which should set us up well for the remaining few races.”
With a message for those thinking of taking on the challenge of a lifetime in a future edition of the Clipper Race, Ben adds, “To those who are considering this leg I say you have been warned, it's a tough one, but the sense of achievement felt at the end is quite unlike any I have experienced before.
“Watch out Oakland, there are some thirsty sailors heading your way!”
Determined New York
A margin of just 30 miles separates New York and Derry-Londonderry in terms of distance to finish, and New York skipper Gareth Glover reports that the American entry is determined to hold off the opposition.
“After a quiet night with winds around 20 knots from the south west this afternoon we could see the front as it came over us and the wind built from the south, giving us around 25 to 30 knots. We went from a beam reach to close reach/haul and, with around 150 miles to go, the Pacific Ocean is making us work every mile to San Francisco Bay and the end of this leg.
“We now have Singapore in our sights and we are hoping that they will have to beat into San Francisco Bay from the north giving us the time to catch them up and hold off Derry-Londonderry. As always there is still all to play for.”
In preparation for their impending arrival Gareth adds, “Today the two watches started to get ready for our arrival by doing a stock take of any food we have left and going over our quarantine checks for our arrival.”
In contrast to yesterday’s mood, Derry-Londonderry’s crew are resigned to their position within the fleet as Mark Light reports: “We are racing in, currently placed in a very respectable fourth position. There is a decent gap between New York and our nearest rivals behind, Welcome to Yorkshire, so barring any mishaps we are in a comfortable position. We are no longer racing in too close proximity to other Clipper 68s but we have a slightly different race on our hands against Mother Nature.
“A fairly deep low is charging up behind us and bringing with it sustained winds of 50 to 60 knots true. At our current speeds of ten to eleven knots we have enough pace to get ourselves safely into San Francisco Bay before the really severe stuff hits, and it will hit very hard indeed! The wind is building steadily out here but, unfortunately, at the moment it is forward of the beam making conditions far from comfortable. We should escape the worst of it but I do feel for the guys behind us, knowing that they will have to endure a few more hours battling the conditions than us.”
He concludes, “It has been an epic adventure with very strong winds for the majority of the passage but the north Pacific Ocean has been fairly kind to us overall. I just hope that this trend continues right to the finish line!”
One last punch
As the remaining yachts in the fleet close in on San Francisco Bay, the North Pacific has thrown one last punch at the teams as strong winds from the predicted low pressure system strike.
“It’s a full on world on Welcome to Yorkshire at the moment,” reports skipper, Rupert Dean. “After being becalmed at times last night and this morning, tacking and gybing for a pastime, to keep the 'Pink Lady' pointing in the right direction, the predicted winds arrived with a bang.
“Having seen the GRIBS and being warned by fleet meteorologist, Simon Rowell, about the ferocity of this nasty, fast moving low, we didn't hang about on reducing sail once angry clouds were seen on the horizon. From full main, Yankee 2 and staysail, we went straight to two reefs, staysail and Yankee 3. Since then we have reduced sail further, exchanging the Yankee 3 for our venerable storm jib. Just as well, too, for the wind has been coming from the south, on our beam, at over 40 knots true, bringing boiling, confused seas to match.
“Needless to say the team have been working very hard these past 24 hours, knuckling down to these numerous sail changes and evolutions with renewed determination as the finish to Race 9 draws near. With the distance between many of the boats in this part of the fleet so small at this late stage of the race, it will be a very close battle as we approach the Golden Gate Bridge. Extra spice is added when considering three of our closest rivals, Qingdao, De Lage Landen and Visit Finland, have been in Stealth Mode recently, so we don't know exactly where they'll pop up.
“Whatever our result and those of our competitors, all the crews should be immensely proud of what they have achieved so far in this cold, hard, wet, rough and epic race. That certainly should be the case on Welcome to Yorkshire where I am justifiably very proud of them all. “Just one more push to the end please!” he asks.
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital is also battling against the powerful winds and building sea state. Skipper Gordon Reid explains, “After around 15 hours of light and frustrating winds yesterday, when the wind speed went up and down from four knots to 12 knots, backed and veered 40 degrees at a time and taxed the helm no end, we altered sail plans and trimmed non-stop just to keep the ‘Purple Beastie’ moving.
“Now the Pacific Ocean is refusing to let us go without one last gale and what a storm it has become. The Barometer dropped eight millibars in under six hours and we are now fully reefed with the storm jib and staysail in a constant 38 knots of apparent wind. We have seen regular gusts of over 50 knots and the sea is a boiling mass of pure raw fury. There are breaking waves coming from all directions with white foaming spray spinning off the tops. It's very close to being the strongest gale of the entire relentless, crazy, full on race across the Pacific Ocean.
“One minute happily sailing along with a full main sail, Yankee 2 and staysail on a fast beam reach at 12 knots, the next minute I was on the helm as the wind gusted up to 40 knots, we were picked up by a wave the size of a two-storey house and surged east at 20 plus knots, looking almost vertically down the front of the wave towards a mass of foaming sea rushing over the bow and along the deck.”
Gordon adds, “Within 40 minutes we were fully reefed and went straight to the storm jib, the speed and sheer ferocity of this latest low is truly awe inspiring, out here Mother Nature rules and we are just passing through on our great adventure.”
In the dash towards the finish line four teams have played their Stealth Mode cards in a last bid attempt to climb the leader board. In Race 9 the teams are able to use two periods of Stealth Mode, either combining them to make a period of 48 hours, or using them separately at any time of the race.
Using this tactic so late on in the race whilst managing the variable conditions as the Californian coast and the Golden Gate Bridge appear over the horizon, has created a climax of intrigue as to which teams will gain the upper hand over their competitors.
Qingdao emerged from their second course of Stealth Mode in this race at 1200 UTC today and hoping their tactic will pay off, skipper Ian Conchie reports, “Our cat and mouse game with Welcome to Yorkshire continues. Yesterday we managed to pull ahead a little bit but then in the night we both lost the wind but Welcome to Yorkshire managed to get out of it ahead of us.
“It is now a drag race to the finish, but we still don't know where De Lage Landen is either so it will be interesting over the next 24 hours.
“The weather system we have been expecting arrived very quickly. It was almost the case that as fast as we did a sail change, we had to start the next as the wind built. Now it is the final push to San Francisco Bay to settle the final positions.”
Geraldton Western Australia is also flying under the cloak of invisibility. The Australian entry entered Stealth Mode at 0600 UTC today and will emerge in 48 hours’ time, or when they are within 100 miles of the finish line.
On board skipper, Juan Coetzer, reports on the testing weather conditions, saying, “The wind has been pretty strange today, swinging around 150 degrees. “We had a poled out Yankee 2 on a starboard tack, heading 090, and landed up close reaching on a port tack. We could see this on the GRIB files and came to the conclusion that when the wind swings again, we’ll drop the Yankee 2 and go for storm staysail. The crew have been sailing the boat well, in these trying conditions.”
Commenting on the forecast for the next 24 hours, Juan adds, “It shall be an overcast morning, becoming sunny for a time with scattered showers, and a strong possibility of hail later. The wind shall range from 20 knots to 50 knots. Happy days, Geraldton Western Australia!”
Visit Finland will emerge from 48 hours in Stealth Mode at 1150 UTC today and skipper, Olly Osbourne, remains positive as they push on towards the finish line.
“It would seem that the mighty Pacific has one last trick up its sleeve as we face the final battle through gale force winds. This seems to be nothing we are not used to however, and the breeze filling back in this morning was a welcome change after a slow night of light airs. We had our heavyweight spinnaker up for some time hunting for a puff of wind to get us going, and then a couple of hours later the storm jib was going up!”
Olly adds, “As ever a very mixed bag, although the forecast looks promising for a solid run in from here.”
De Lage Landen also emerges
De Lage Landen will also emerging from 48 hours in Stealth Mode today are the crew are anxious to see how they have fared within the fleet after sailing under reduced canvas because of sail damage.
Skipper Stuart Jackson, explains, “After having suffered considerable damage to the mainsail 36 hours ago, we have started to make some considerable progress towards the finish line again.
“Due to existing damage to the mainsail track, we had lost the top four sliders that attach the sail to the mast. This meant that there was no possibility to increase or reduce any more sail without taking any more risk on serious damage.
“Sailing well underpowered for 12 to 18 hours, we had to wait until the conditions were calm enough to drop the whole sail to the deck and repair the damage we had sustained. In the midst of the night the wind had eased off enough in order to undertake the necessary repairs.” Stuart adds, “By the break of day we were finally racing again, destination Oakland, San Francisco Bay.”
Singapore is expected to cross the finish line mid-morning local time today (mid-afternoon UTC), with the chasing boats arriving across the weekend and into next week. They will be berthed in Jack London Square, Oakland. They will be hosted by the 2012 Strictly Sail Pacific boat show.