Richie Fearon and his team have overcome yet another challenge in the last 24 hours as they bid for the top spot on the podium in Cape Town. Crew member, Dawn Dupree, who has taken time out from her regular job as an artist and lecturer to compete on Leg 2 of Clipper 09-10, takes up the story.
"I was sitting at the nav station for a moment, checking for weather changes, when CRACK! As a result of what had happened I flew across the companionway. Chaos ensued as objects had been flung across the galley crashing to the floor. It was apparent something had broken and we woke Richie to tell him that the spinnaker pole had detached from the lines that control the sail.
"Our crew leapt into action, it was all hands on deck, a blizzard of activity. As we set to rectify the equipment failure Richie's commands were loud and clear and our crew worked together like a well oiled machine. Waves lashed over us on the foredeck and adrenalin fuelled action helped us drop the spinnaker at breakneck speed, stuffing it down the companionway. Sleeping crew, previously rudely ejected from their bunks, set to re-packing the spinnaker down below. The commotion continued on deck as the swinging spinnaker pole was lowered and secured, revealing the broken beak. Yankee and staysail headsails were passed up on deck, hanked on, hoisted and finally trimmed. We were absolutely soaked but fired up by the drama."
All the yachts are under white sails now and most are dealing with some fairly strong winds at the back of the low pressure system that's been helping to speed them along. The winds have turned southerly, blowing frigid air all the way up from the Southern Ocean and the icy expanse of Antarctica.
Wedged into the nav station to counter the heel of the yacht, Hull & Humber's skipper Piers Dudin writes, "We've hooked into the fresh southerlies on the backside of the recent low pressure system rolling us towards Cape Town. It's certainly cooler than on the front side and has no shortage of wind. We bowled along yesterday under Yankee 1 and a reef and this morning, (everything always seems to change just before the 2am watch come up!) we changed down to two reefs and Yankee 2 and staysail, although the pressure has just dropped another four bar in the past few hours so it's likely we'll be looking into our next set up which will be Yankee 3, stay sail, and third reef. After that the storm jib gets hanked on on the inner forestay to run either with the Yankee 3 or... on its own! But I think we'll save that configuration for the next low pressure system.
"We don't expect Cork to get away too far, or Uniquely Singapore for that matter and, hopefully, it'll still be all to play for on the final day! The high pressure ridge rolling us tonight will also be interesting, as running the GRIB files show no way around it and absolutely naff all inside it. Like all weather here deep in the South Atlantic nothing lasts very long before it changes."
Most of the yachts now are racing through a classic Southern Ocean south westerly swell, which can be daunting for those who have never experienced it before.
Spirit of Australia's skipper, Brendan Hall says, "We've had more fast sailing which is very exciting and, at times, scary for our new leggers. Whilst I'm completely at home in a rolling ocean swell like this, many of the crew have never seen anything like this before and to them the waves seem mountainous and threatening, particularly at night. In a few days time though, this will be the norm and the crew will be comfortable and looking for new conditions to test themselves."
Uniquely Singapore is still pushing for the podium in Cape Town and keeping up the relentless pressure on Hull & Humber and Cork. Skipper, Jim Dobie, says, "As we were trucking along nicely the wind swung around to the beam making helming a little bit tricky. We are all making good use of our Henri Lloyd gear with a few monster waves crashing over us every now and then. At the moment we plan to head just south of east keeping up boat speed, with the winds expected to die off soon and the new low filling in again."
Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper, Peter Stirling, has been hit by the bug that's been going around the crew since they left Rio. Nevertheless team is anxious to get back on the podium in Cape Town. Pete says, "The crew are now getting their first taste of Southern Ocean sailing with winds gusting to 35 knots, rough seas, cold spray in the face and overcast skies. It's a bit of a wake up call after the tropics on the last leg. Despite this spirits are high, even amongst the few crew who are feeling sick. We are currently making a steady 10–11 knots boat speed under Yankee 3 and first reef mainsail on a beam reach trying to keep pace with the rest of the leading pack."
The teams have really been eating into the miles in the last few days and the reduction in distance to finish for the leaders to below 1,500 miles has focused the attention of those trying to catch them.
It's a question Chris Stanmore-Major has been asking of his crew on Qingdao. "It's a hundred miles to the front, 200 to the back. Spirit of Australia is seven miles behind but 60 miles north. Are we going to be able to get back into that race for fourth and fifth? Can a boat in sixth get to the front with 1,650 miles to go? The answer is – it's all possible in a long distance offshore yacht race.
"One of the spectacular aspects of this kind of racing is the great changes that can happen in fleet position in the face of only minor changes in weather boat to boat. What kills the lead pack for 24 hours has totally disappeared by the time we get there and suddenly their lead is cut to 30 miles. We've seen it before and we'll see it again. What we need to do now, what we are doing, is place ourselves in a strong position to swoop in and take advantage of such a situation should one arise."
California's skipper, Cape Town-based Pete Rollason, is of the same opinion. He says, "What a fantastic night's sailing we have just had. We have had a steady 18 knots south westerly wind which has meant we are steaming along at a steady ten to eleven knots. We are desperately trying to catch the next boat in front of us, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital who at midnight were 23 miles ahead. We are also looking at various routing options over the next few days and eagerly await the latest weather files later today. This will be to find the fastest route through the weather system that is due to catch us on Sunday which is currently showing 40+ knots of wind, fortunately from behind us, which should make for some exhilarating sailing. We need to use every bit of these winds to close down the gap to the boats in front."
California's target, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, also has an eye on closing down the gap between them and the leaders. Skipper Matt Pike says, "We held onto the heavy kite for as long as possible, brining the pole forward every hour to match the wind until it was almost forward of the beam, the kite strapped hard in and the helm carefully picking our way through the ever increasing swell. It all proved too much for all but the best few helms, so at dusk we change back to white sails. We're still heading for Cape Town and still hitting good speeds. Watch on watch they're hitting their targets but were still not catching the front runners! We wait for the weather system and the opportunity that may open."
The frustration of not being able to catch the boats ahead doesn't sit particularly well with the team that won the first two races of Clipper 09-10 round the world yacht race. Watch leader Mark Cole says, "It's time for us to feel what it's like to sail as best we can without catching the boats in front which, with every sched, appear to pull away. Although saying that, in the last 12 hours we've managed to gain a little something back, a mile or two here and there, and the effect this has had on the mood onboard is positive, making us focus that little bit more and making the long cold night watches seem that little bit shorter.
It certainly isn't the Doldrums and it is definitely not tropical with red foulies all over the deck and long johns down below, and with snacks running low the baking team has been hard at it to keep the sugar intake high. But if ever there was a time for a bit of 'sisu' (the Finnish extra ten percent when you don't think you can give any more) it's now and if we can keep on the tails of the boats in front anything could happen, it's down to us, Team Finland, to forget about the cold and to get this boat to Cape Town. The race is only half run yet."
That has to be some consolation to the crew of Cape Breton Island whose position at the back of the fleet means they have lost the wind first as the depression moves through to the east and their boat speed has dropped to around five knots compared to the leaders' eleven knots.
POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, FRIDAY 6 NOVEMBER
1 Cork DTF 1491
2 Hull & Humber DTF 1497 DTL +6
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 1503 DTL +11
4 Team Finland DTF 1558 DTL +67
5 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1587 DTL +95
6 Qingdao DTF 1608 DTL +117
7 Spirit of Australia DTF 1620 DTL +128
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1695 DTL +204
9 California DTF 1717 DTL +226
10 Cape Breton Island DTF 1833 DTL +342
(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader) Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com