Clipper 09-10 – Race 2: La Rochelle to Rio de Janeiro – Day 23
* Team Finland catches the 'midnight express'
* Tussle breaks out between Qingdao and Hull & Humber
* California encounters squally conditions that herald the start of the Doldrums
Each team is now consistently reporting 12-hourly runs in excess of 100 nautical miles and Finnish skipper, Eero Lehtinen, refers to the night time conditions as the 'midnight express'.
"As the sun went down last night our speed went up, and it has remained around 10 knots most of the night," says Eero. "For the best hours it was like driving a bus on the highway, a steady 11 knots through the more or less flat water."
However, it hasn't been a trouble free night for Team Finland's skipper and crew. A snap shackle (a small stainless steel shackle with a quick release mechanism) that was being used to attach one of the lines controlling the spinnaker failed, causing the end of the spinnaker to fly free and flog behind the mainsail. "No drama really," says Eero. "But required lots of sweat and action before everything was put right again. A controlled drop with not many words spoken, a sign of true Finnish team work, all done in silence! It's been an amazing performance and this team is rocking - we are no longer talking about an amateur event."
The fleet is still split in two with more than 350 nautical miles separating Cork at the back of the leading pack and Qingdao at the head of the chasing one. Both the Chinese and English entries, Qingdao and Hull & Humber, have recently escaped the Doldrums and it looks as though a two-way tussle is on the cards as the teams cross into the Southern Hemisphere and head to the north east corner of Brazil.
"The Equator beckons this morning," says Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major. "Traditionally, there is meant to be all kinds of shenanigans involving the court of Neptune and the protestations of the youngest member of the crew that they deserve the right to cross and thereby change from being a Pollywog to a Shellback. The penance for this rite of passage was normally something awful like being hung over the side by your heels head trailing in the water whilst the crew threw days of accumulated kitchen scraps at you. Fun? I had enormous fun doing exactly this to a crewmate who was only a few months younger than me at my first line crossing but this time I think things will be little more subdued. Is Qingdao's crew bereft of a sense of humour? Definitely not.
Do we have time to stop and partially drown someone whilst adding chum to already shark inhabited waters? Unfortunately not. In the past twelve hours we have escaped the Doldrums leaving Uniquely Singapore, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and California to their fate. Exiting with us, though, is Hull and Humber who are now very much on our heels. Things are close as ocean racing goes and minutes cost miles.
"The leading pack has now gone sub-1,000 nautical miles until their arrival in Brazil but I see with interest a very light patch of breeze on the corner at Cabo Frio that may yet slow them down and allow us to catch up. Such is the way with long offshore yacht races – the results are not in until the boats are in; and the boats are not in until the fat lady has been ushered off the stage, into a taxi and sent home!"
Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin, is looking forward to their forthcoming battle with Qingdao. "It's looking like a classic finish shaping up amongst the top five and we're going to have our own tussle with Qingdao by the looks of things," he says. "Tactically there are some big choices we're both going to have to make once we hit the Brazilian coastline. Offshore there is better wind and a more straight forward power reach south; closer inshore the wind is less but the angle is better for kiting. There is also a section where the Brazilian coastal current close inshore could kick in and pay out 50 miles in a day."
It's a different story at the back of the fleet for California as the American team encounters the squally conditions that indicate the beginning of the Doldrums.
"It has been a very interesting night as we have encountered several squalls," says skipper Pete Rollason. "I think the crew now understand why I decided to drop the spinnaker before dark in favour of a poled out headsail. The conditions varied from no wind with torrential rain, high winds with little rain or even loads of rain and loads of wind. At one point we managed a full 360 turn without tacking by just following the wind angle! Anyway, it has been a great experience for the crew and the discussions we had previously about the squalls certainly paid off. It will be nice to maybe have one or two during daylight hours so that they can see what they have been battling all night. Yesterday was a great day with a nice fast spinnaker run, averaging probably 8–9 knots and it is pleasing to see that we are continuing to pull miles back on Uniquely Singapore and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. Long may it continue."
Positions at 0600GMT, Wednesday 14 October
Boat, DTF* , and DTL*
Team Finland 929nm 0nm
Spirit of Australia 1070nm 140nm
Cape Breton Island 1075nm 146nm
Jamaica Lightning Bolt 1087nm 158nm
Cork 1212nm 283nm
Qingdao 1571nm 642nm
Hull & Humber 1611nm 682nm
Uniquely Singapore 1847nm 818nm
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 1851nm 921nm
California 2057nm 1128nm
(*DTF = Distance To Finish, *DTL = Distance To Leader)
Full details of positions, updated every three hours can be found here