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#ClipperRace - The Clipper Race fleet emerged yesterday (Friday 13 April) from some of the toughest conditions faced in the 2017-18 edition of the race to date. 

As the teams continue racing across the North Pacific Ocean to Seattle, all crew members are being praised by their skippers for their exceptional handling of what will be a storm to remember.

Less than a year ago, the majority of the Clipper Race crew were amateurs or completely new to sailing

Now, after successfully negotiating hurricane force winds and a phenomenal sea state with waves greater than 14 metres, conditions even professional sailors never get to experience, the skippers could not be prouder of their crew.

Nikki Henderson, skipper of the eighth placed Visit Seattle, said: “The sea was just like something off the 'Perfect Storm' - huge towering waves, boiling, seething, breaking, swirling. When we sailed over the top of one, it felt like we had just summited a peak in a mountain range - rolling hills as far as the eye could see. 

“But unlike bleak mountain tops, or the dark black of the films, the sea was the most beautiful mix of colours - dark deep blue, white where it had broken, and bright turquoise as the surf mixed it all up. Just breath-taking.

“But the best part was definitely the crew. Just seeing these guys and gals managing the weather, enjoying it, experiencing it was incredible. Their smiles and wide eyes are something I won't forget in a long time. These people who sign up to do this race really are one of a kind.”

While all boats got through the front without any major mishap, largely due to the professionalism shown by the skippers in making the decision to put safety above racing, the huge conditions caused a couple of headaches for a few teams. 

Spinnaker wraps and a damaged main meant a busy 24 hours on the seventh placed Garmin. Skipper Gaetan Thomas said: “The noise of the wind, the sound of the waves breaking around you, the squalls, it was very intense and I’m really proud of my pirates. 

“We were all together in it and we fixed it all. Okay, we lost ground but the priority was to keep the crew and the boat safe no matter what.

“We will remember this storm for a long time. We are all tired, the temperature is still very cold, and everything is wet, but smiles are still on faces and the boat still surfing around 22-25 knots in the right direction.”

Second-placed Sanya Serenity Coast also had to do some running repairs in the midst of the storm. Skipper Wendy Tuck reported: “The guys did an awesome job overnight.

“The steering cables on the starboard helm that connect the wheel to the rudder had come off. I check these every day for tension, but with the force of the gybe they came off. Luckily, we have two wheels, so Doc (David Sturge), who was sitting by the main could quickly jump on the leeward helm to steer. 

“Then it was a job for Glenn (I can fix anything) Manchett to break out his super-duper spanner set. He loosened them off even more, re-ran them, and then tightened them in place. Whilst down there, he also snugged up the port cables a little, they do need a little bit of play, so then all was well again.”

With the coming high-pressure system acting as a buffer zone to the next low, yesterday’s sailing was relatively calm, with Qingdao Skipper Chris Kobusch commenting: “This morning the wind started to ease and we are now what feels like ‘light wind’. It is still blowing 25-30 knots outside, but after the past 48 hours, this does not seem to be too daunting anymore.”

Qingdao remains in the lead for a third straight day as of this morning, Saturday 14 April, though it is tight at the front of the fleet, with just 36 nautical miles separating Qingdao from the second-placed Sanya Serenity Coast and Unicef in third. 

It’s also close in the chasing pack, with 60nm between the fourth-ranked Dare to Lead and Garmin in seventh.

In the biggest change on the leaderboard in the last 48 hours, PSP Logistics fell from second to fifth and 100nm off the lead. Skipper Matt Mitchell says: “There is still a not inconsiderable distance to go and the long-range forecast appears to have the standard end of race wind hole forming right over the finish line so it's a race against time to make sure that we don't get caught.

“We also have a bit of ground to make up as when the wind shifted late last night, I deemed it too risky to gybe in the dark as the waves were still pretty big and the wind still quite strong. It was a recipe for disaster so we waited until first light. We lost a fair number of miles though which is a bit annoying. Safety always takes precedence over racing though.”

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#ClipperRace - The forecast big weather arrived right on schedule with the Clipper Race fleet hit by powerful winds and waves on Day 19 of Race 9: The Race to the Emerald City (Wednesday 11 April).

While the south-easterly low-pressure system moved through the teams quickly, it definitely left its mark. Bob Beggs, skipper of the third placed Unicef, says: “How the world has changed for us over the past 24 hours. We wriggled through the night with increasingly fickle winds, peeling to lighter code sails, a gybe in the night followed by preparations for the new weather to come. And come it did!

“We are now on the wind with three reefs in the mainsail and staysail only and 35-40 knots of apparent wind speed.”

After seeing the forecast earlier in the week, fourth-placed PSP Logistics decided to head south, a decision skipper Matt Mitchell feels was justified following the conditions overnight. 

“Following a period of very light wind, the expected front came on in earnest. Thankfully we had changed early to our Yankee 3 in preparation. Very quickly we were down to three reefs and 40 knots of wind on the nose.

“Spending all that time coming south was worth it though as we were able to bear off as the wind turned to the south. Now the front seems to have passed and the wind has abated somewhat. It looks like we will have a bit of a reprieve for 12 hours or so before the wind really comes back in earnest.”

Despite the gale-force winds and wild sea state, the strong safety culture across the fleet ensured all 11 teams remained on track and racing well across the mighty Pacific Ocean towards Seattle.

The importance of putting safety first was vindicated on board seventh-placed Garmin, as skipper Gaëtan Thomas explains: “The wind was supposed to turn and it did back on a broad reach facing the waves from the previous gale. The boat jumped in the air and a nasty wave when we were shaking out a reef hit us badly.

“All the team were washed down. All the lifejackets inflated and the cockpit was full of water. Dave West was on the mast to spike the handy billy and he was safely double clipped but he was projected on the mast. 

“Mei Fullerton in the cockpit received James Lawrie on her and her shoulder is quite in pain, but both of them are inside the boat now and nothing major medically is wrong - big scratch on the top of the nose and a couple of bruises but they are smiling and OK.

“Now the chaotic sea state due to the prevailing winds will come down soon and the waves will come more from the back which will be a massive relief for everyone.”

The front is yet to reach leading teams Sanya Serenity Coast and Qingdao which, due to their northerly course, could potentially experience hurricane force gusts of between 70-80 knots. 

But Sanya Serenity Coast skipper Wendy Tuck is ready. “We now have three reefs and our storm jib the ginger ninja up. It’s a bit unpleasant as its only slightly off close hauled, in the next couple of hours the breeze should come round to a nicer angle, but the gusts will increase later. The sea state is all over the shop and will get worse.

“We went a bit conservative because of the sea state, we didn’t want to risk kite, boat or people damage.”

The conservative sail plan has cost Sanya Serenity Coast its lead. By earlier this morning, Qingdao has sliced 45 nautical miles off the gap to move to within five nautical miles, and as of 1pm UTC (2pm Irish time) was half a mile in front.

Racing remains tight between first and second, but the rest of the fleet has spread out over the last 24 hours. 

Dare to Lead in fifth is some 30 nautical miles behind PSP, with Conall Morrison’s HotelPlanner.com just three few miles astern.

Things are even worse for Liverpool 2018, more than 200nm behind the leaders, and GREAT Britain another 100 miles further back in last place.

Leading the back markers, in ninth, Visit Seattle has now crossed the International Date Line and is more than halfway through the mighty 5,600nm race to its home port in Bell Harbor Marina. 

It will be a tricky day for the team, as skipper Nikki Henderson reports: “Our mast track has suffered a few bumps and bruises and will need repairing as soon as the weather calms down. Looks like it's reef three for the next 24 hours then!

“Honestly, there is some serious breeze forecasted. I'm less bothered about racing and more about keeping everyone and the boat safe and in one piece. Being confined to reef three isn't such a bad thing.”

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#ClipperRace - For most competitors in the Clipper Race fleet, it’s the relative calm before the storm, with teams bracing themselves for a period of textbook North Pacific Ocean weather on day 15 of the 5,600 nautical mile race to Seattle.

In what should result in excellent racing conditions, the current south-westerly gusts of 30 to 40 knots are predicted to hit 60 to 70 knots over the course of today, Saturday 7 April. 

PSP Logistics, which has fallen out of the lead to third for the first time in four days, remains one of the most southerly teams. 

Skipper Matt Mitchell says: “Later on in the forecast there could be some strong southerlies too which I am keeping an eye on. I want to make sure that we have plenty of room on the race course to the north so that we can sail downwind when they arrive as going beam on to that sort of stuff out here is a recipe for disaster.”

The crew on the fourth-placed Dare To Lead are likewise busy making preparations for the approaching front and the conditions it will bring with it.

Skipper Dale Smyth explains: “We continued to make good progress overnight but ended up stuck in a small ridge of high pressure for most of today whilst we transition two low pressures. The next system looks to be another fast, rough ride so we are busy preparing on deck with smaller sails.”

Fresh from its Scoring Gate triumph yesterday (Friday 6 April), Sanya Serenity Coast moved from fourth to first on the leaderboard overnight, and skipper Wendy Tuck is watching with interest to see who has positioned themselves best to utilise the coming low, the boats to the north or to the south. 

“We have sailed through a little light breeze area that we were expecting,” Tuck says. “The tactics have been varied over the fleet with a couple of boats heading south to try and avoid it, so will be interesting to see how it all pans out.”

Unicef’s decision to tack and stay south is certainly paying off, with the team jumping from eighth to second. In the last 12 hours, the Unicef crew crossed off another 106 nautical miles off the distance to Seattle, more than double the distance covered by some of the more northerly teams. 

However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, with skipper Bob Beggs explaining that the team was kept on its toes throughout the night. 

“We had a busy night of hoist and drops of kites and ended up with only one halyard available forward at the top of the mast. This resulted in two trips to the top in the dark in testing conditions to resolve the issue, so we now have a full complement of halyards and are powering along with our Code 3 in company.”

Like Garmin, who has dropped from second to sixth, the fifth-placed Qingdao is experiencing an unwelcome calm spell. Skipper Chris Kobusch reports: “After a few days of fast downwind sailing, we are stuck once again in light and patchy winds. We saw it coming and, in an attempt to sail around it, headed south for a while. PSP Logistics and Garmin had the same idea, but we got stuck nevertheless. So currently we are sailing at 4 knots in thick fog and a rolling swell, with the main banging from side to side. Lovely.”

HotelPlanner.com, currently in seventh, remains the most northerly of all 11 boats and is experiencing similar conditions to Qingdao as the team waits for the approaching low. 

Skipper Conall Morrison comments: “The low-pressure to the north has moved east and the sea has become more regular. We sailed all night with the Yankee 1 and changed to Code 3 at first light. The area between the low-pressure passed and the one due soon has left a ridge of high and not much wind. Unfortunately, we are upwind in light winds now and the current weather forecast suggests boats further south may do better.”

The cold is continuing to test both skippers and crew alike, with Dare To Lead and Garmin both reporting snow on deck.

Despite the excellent current progress, the light conditions and wind holes that hit the Clipper Race fleet in the days after leaving Qingdao has resulted in the arrival window for Seattle being altered.

The fleet was originally expected to finish Race 9: The Race to the Emerald City and arrive into Bell Harbor Marina between Saturday 14 and Thursday 19 of April. But conditions in the early part of the race mean the boats are now expected between Thursday 19 and Saturday 21 April.

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#ClipperRace - After a long wait, the stronger winds and big surfs for which the Pacific Ocean is renowned have finally arrived for the Clipper Race fleet on Day 12 of Race 9: Race to the Emerald City.

The 11 teams recorded some of their best speeds towards Seattle over the last day and night and are now (Wednesday 4 April) preparing for their first taste of a North Pacific low-pressure system.

The two leading teams from yesterday are pursuing very different tactics, with PSP Logistics maintaining first position having stayed furthest north, while Unicef has dropped down the leaderboard, having opted for the most southerly route of the teams away from the rhumb line.

PSP Logistics skipper Matt Mitchell says: “It’s been a fast 24 hours and as the sea state is slowly starting to build, the sign of things to come is becoming apparent as we are starting to get some good surfs off of some of the waves.”

As the winds continue to build, the skippers and crew are also preparing to batten down the hatches in expectation of the low-pressure system that is coming their way from Japan in a northeasterly direction.

HotelPlanner.com skipper Conall Morrison reports: “So, here we are, the sky’s getting greyer, the temperature dropping, the barometer falling and the familiar sound of water rushing past the hull and cavitating off the rudders as the wind is filling in.

“We have stowed down below as best we can and are getting set for dropping down a gear or two as the front passes. Winds look favourable in the week's forecast ahead and crew are chomping at the bit to get involved.”

On the racing front, Sanya Serenity Coast has moved up into second place, with a cluster of Clipper Race yachts close behind. Skipper Wendy Tuck explains: “There are quite a few of us on AIS at the moment and it looks like the race is well and truly on for the Scoring Gate. 

“PSP Logistics is just inching away from us and we have tried everything to rein the team in to no avail, but we seem to be holding our own amongst the others we can see.”

Currently in third, Qingdao has also secured the most Scoring Gate points to date, and skipper Chris Kobusch is focussed on the next opportunity to secure bonus points.

“We are now less than 500nm away from the Scoring Gate and, as it looks, half the fleet is aiming at it. With everyone being so close together this will be one of the toughest sprints to the Scoring Gate since Liverpool.”

The teams behind are waiting for the winds to fill in but have still been making good progress, with Liverpool 2018 skipper Lance Shepherd, in ninth place and over 60nm behind the lead, reporting: “We did 248 miles in the last 24 hours and we’re currently waiting for the wind shift and for it to increase which should speed up our progress albeit a little bumpier.”

Further back, Visit Seattle is battling it out for 10th position with GREAT Britain, and skipper Nikki Henderson remains philosophical. 

“We are doing the best with the wind we have. Unfortunately, being 150nm behind the fleet means we tend to have different weather and if the wind blows less for us than them there is just nothing we can do except sail as well as we can (hence ‘sail with style’), while we watch them increase their lead on us and sail into the sunrise.”

The expected front should shake things up a bit today, with winds gusting up to 50 knots and localised squalls bringing sudden increases and occasional large shifts.

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#ClipperRace - A mixed bag of weather conditions has kept each of the 11 teams in the Clipper Race busy through the night — and any big tactical moves at bay, as a ridge of high pressure brought any attempts to take advantage of the open Pacific ‘playground’ to a standstill.

HotelPlanner.com skipper Conall Morrison, whose team has held fourth place for three consecutive days in the easterly pack, says: “Last night, all was going well with the Code 1 (lightweight) spinnaker up. We gybed in order to negotiate a ridge of high pressure and fell into an area of light winds where we needed the Windseeker then the Yankee 1 and even the Yankee 2 for a while … and back through the wardrobe we went again.”

While the conditions — which included huge wind shifts, differing wind strengths and some windless zones — affected the entire fleet, the easterly teams seemed at a slight disadvantage, with greater patches of light winds hindering progress, although all teams are benefiting from currents helping them to make good progress.

Explaining just how localised the weather conditions were, second-placed Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch says: “Just before sunset last night we watched [the top two teams] PSP Logistics and Unicef stopping in their tracks and doing U-turn after U-turn.

“Especially with a big black cloud ahead, this is usually not a good sign. So, we prepared for the worst, got the required crew on deck and prepared everyone for a spinnaker drop. The wind shift came, but instead of an increase, the wind dropped completely and left us sitting and drifting around for a while, before it filled in again from the north east.”

Despite this, there has been no change to the structure of the fleet, with yesterday’s three groups still in place, though there has finally been some change to the top half of the leaderboard, with Qingdao leapfrogging PSP Logistics and coming within less than a mile-and-a-half of first-placed Unicef. Nevertheless, there remains less than 27 nautical miles between first and eighth place.

As they enjoy the steadier building southwesterly breeze, the attention of each of the teams will turn to the upcoming days, where they will be looking to finally take advantage of the weather systems.

PSP Logistics skipper Matt Mitchell explains: “The weather now looks great as far as our forecast reaches and there looks to be a real train route through the classic double high/triple low pattern that is absolutely textbook North Pacific.”

According to Clipper Race meteorologist Simon Rowell, however, there will be one more hurdle, with the upcoming 24-36 hours set to be interesting yet again for the teams as a developing low pressure system over Japan spins up and moves north east over the fleet.

Although with some luck the boats will encounter the edge of the low, in its path it will bring predicted wind speeds of 40 knots, then an energetic front trailing behind it of up to 50 knots, which is promising to bring with it some fast, fiery conditions.

Race 9: Race to the Emerald City will finish at Bell Harbor Marina in Seattle, with the teams expected to arrive between Saturday 14 and Thursday 19 April.

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#ClipperRace - Day 4 of Race 9 (Tuesday 27 March) has been a case of ‘Groundhog Day’ as the light winds that had been a feature of the previous 24 hours continue to frustrate the Clipper Race teams. 

Despite not making much progress towards the southern tip of Japan, before facing the North Pacific, the racing continues to be close with less than 45 nautical miles separating the 11 boats.

It is even closer at the top, with new race leader Qingdao less than one nautical mile ahead of second-placed Visit Seattle, although neither has managed more than 20nm over the past 12 hours.

Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch reports: “The wind is gone. We are pretty much becalmed and started a drift race with Visit Seattle which is within sight on our starboard beam.

“Every time the boat speed exceeds one knot the crew cheers and it sounds like fireworks are going off on deck. The water is so calm one can hardly see where the sea ends and the sky starts. It seems the weather forecast was correct and we are sitting in the eye of the high and will be here for another day or so.”

Third-placed Unicef was less than 8nm off the lead this morning with Skipper Bob Beggs explaining: “Light wind sailing requires lots of concentration with ever shifting winds between 0 and five knots - we are getting lots of practice at this.”

However since the team’s blog, Unicef has reported a malfunctioning watermaker and due to the light airs and current lack of progress of the fleet, Race Officials have made the decision to arrange a rendezvous with PSP Logistics to collect a spare unit it is carrying. 

Unicef is now motoring to carry out the exchange which will have minimal effect on PSP Logistics’ position and course before motoring back to its original position, where the team will then re-join the race.

The chasing pack, consisting of teams positioned from fourth to ninth, is closely bunched together and is just over 20nm off the top three. 

Dare To Lead is currently in fourth but skipper Dale Smyth is concentrating on his own team’s progress rather than being too concerned about the others.

“I don’t have very much to say about the current grand ‘drift off’ that we are all having against each other. The overwhelming thought is that it is going to take an awful long time to reach Seattle in this fashion,” Smyth says.

“Not the most exciting sailing on earth although it is pretty exciting when the boat gets a zephyr and creeps forwards at 3 knots! We are however slowly creeping across the chart and will get through this eventually.”

Many of the teams have been using the opportunity of being becalmed to clear the underside of their boats with PSP Logistics and Sanya Serenity Coast, in fifth and sixth respectively, clearing netting and weed. Both teams are now in sight of Garmin — which had climbed to seventh after clearing its rudders, keel and prop — and Conall Morrison's HotelPlanner.com, a fraction of a mile behind in eighth and which has gained some miles in the fickle winds.

Meanwhile, Liverpool 2018 has lost a few positions today. Skipper Lance Shepherd explains: “It has been an extremely frustrating time aboard our little pink boat. After becoming catch of the day for a Chinese fishing boat two nights ago we have struggled with boat speed and we have steadily slipped back through the fleet to ninth position.”

Towards the back of the fleet, just over 40nm from the leader, the racing remains close. 

Nasdaq skipper Rob Graham, currently in 10th, reports: “Nasdaq managed only 90nm in the past 24 hours, having seen a maximum wind strength of just 7 knots and frequently too little to register in the instruments. Oh well, at least 84 of those 90nm were on course towards Seattle, which seems a very, very, very long way off right now.

“As I type we are neck-and-neck with GREAT Britain [11th] under Windseekers, and are close enough to have Sanya Serenity Coast, PSP Logistics, Liverpool 2018, Garmin and HotelPlanner.com all showing on our AIS so although the racing is certainly not fast, it is close.”

Clipper Race meteorologist Simon Rowell says the high-pressure cell is pretty much over the fleet now but heading down to join the ridge along the south coast of Japan. During the next 24 hours, the teams should gradually get more breeze — not much, and likely on the nose — but at least a bit of breeze.

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#ClipperRace - Things are starting to look up for the Clipper Race fleet on Day 2 of Race 9: The Race to the Emerald City today, Sunday 25 March. 

Glorious sunshine has emerged after a challenging 24 hours for the teams trying to navigate their way through the notorious Chinese fishing fleet, and its many obstacles, in pea soup fog conditions.

Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch describes the conditions: “Since yesterday we have been sailing through thick, thicker and even thicker fog. At one stage the helm was not even able to see the bow anymore.

“This morning the fog lifted, the sun came out and we have been sailing along in flat waters and sunshine at around nine knots over the ground. It is still a bit fresh, but quite pleasant on deck. Champagne sailing in the Yellow Sea!”

Kobusch’s team retains the lead for a second day and he adds: “Somehow we managed to take the lead and even though it is still early days in the race, this is great for the crew morale. 
“The next few days will be quite challenging, as the weather forecast suggests very light to no winds and we will need a bit of luck to make it through without losing positions. Time will tell.”

The top six teams are within around 10 nautical miles of the lead, with PSP Logistics once again in second place. And as the fog lifts, the teams are starting to see just how close the racing continues to be. 

Unicef skipper Bob Beggs, currently in fourth place, reports: “Today the sun has burnt through and the horizon is now visible, we can clearly see PSP Logistics (good morning Skipper Matt) five miles ahead; earlier this morning we couldn't make out our own bow from the helm.”

Nikki Henderson, skipper of third-placed Visit Seattle, says the sun has lifted spirits on board her boat. 

“About two hours ago we sailed out of the pea soup and into the most glorious day - sun shining, flat seas and a happy crew - the payment for this of course is lighter winds. But we are moving at the moment and every mile we make towards Seattle makes for a happy skipper and crew over here. We are going home!”

Liverpool 2018 has slipped to fifth place today but skipper Lance Shepherd says that the light winds have provided an opportunity for the new crew.

“The team are all fine and dandy and we’re taking advantage of the kind weather to run through a bit of wind theory and boat prep for the rest of the crossing.

“Although as frustrating as the low wind and flat seas have been, it has been great to get the leggers and rest of the crew to be able to establish the ship’s routine and really get into life on board.”

Rounding out the top six is Dare To Lead, which has made up a lot of ground this morning as skipper Dale Smyth is contemplates the next challenge ahead.

“We are all settling in well but almost don't feel like the race has even started till we round Japan and start getting some proper weather.

“The enormity of the North Pacific is actually beyond comprehension and probably best not to think too hard about. I've always found a good approach is to break a trip down into manageable mental portions. At the moment getting around Japan is our goal.”

Sanya Serenity Coast and HotelPlanner.com, in seventh and eighth respectively, have lost some miles due to encountering obstacles in this busy area.

HotelPlanner.com skipper Conall Morrison reports: “Sanya Serenity Coast recently did a little donut to clean their rudders and we have spotted a scrap of abandoned fishing net just floating recently, so it is important to keep a sharp lookout.”

Around 36nm behind the lead, GREAT Britain has climbed a place to ninth, with Garmin in 10th and Nasdaq 11th, and skipper David Hartshorn has been describing some of the challenges.

“As the afternoon progressed we found a few wind holes, more fog and fishing and commercial shipping who appeared to like playing music over VHF Chanel 16 more than talking about collision avoidance.

“So, having watched the fleet slip away, we are now playing catch up and although there is still over 5,000nm to go, every mile gap between us and the runners in front seems equally challenging.”

While the fleet is enjoying the sunshine for now, the visibility for the next 24 hours is forecast to be patchy due to the fog, and Clipper Race meteorologist Simon Rowell says that the high-pressure system isn’t showing any sign of going anywhere in a hurry.

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#ClipperRace - Yesterday was a day to remember at Wanda Marina and Yacht Club in Qingdao as the full Clipper Race fleet berthed at the brand-new facility, following the arrival of last-placed HotelPlanner.com just before 11pm Irish time/UTC.

Crew member Tom Parker from New York received one of the the loudest cheers from the locals when he put his impressive Chinese language skills on show to make a speech along with his skipper Conall Morrison.

In what was yet another consistently high-performing race, the team finished just 31 hours after the Race 8: Sailing City Qingdao Cup winners Visit Seattle, and had its nearest competition, Unicef, in sight on the horizon just two days out from the finish.

Watch leader and circumnavigator Roseann McGlinchey said: “It was a real race of mixed conditions. We had extreme heat, extreme cold, lots of wind then no wind, upwind conditions then downwind conditions, just everything. It was brilliant!”

Having experienced the highly anticipated Qingdao welcome first-hand, the entire Clipper Race crews were treated to fresh food and drinks inside the grand Wanda Yacht Club building. With the Qingdao stopover now underway, the host of events will kick off with an arrival press conference and prizegiving ceremony today, Friday 16 March.

As reported yesterday, the Clipper Race teams will remain in Qingdao until next Friday 23 March when they will set sail across the North Pacific Ocean to Seattle on the sixth leg.

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#ClipperRace - Visit Seattle has pulled off a sensational victory after a dramatic twist in the tale of Race 8, swooping past PSP Logistics to steal victory in the final few miles of the race to Qingdao, China.

PSP Logistics, which had led the Clipper Race fleet for eight successive days and were 25 nautical miles ahead at 9am Irish time/UTC yesterday (Wednesday 14 March), succumbed to a wind hole just 30nm from the finish line, allowing Visit Seattle to sneak up on their eastern side to take the race win.

Visit Seattle, led by 24-year-old British skipper Nikki Henderson, crossed the finish line off the coast of Qingdao at 00:04:11 local time (16:04:11 UTC) to complete the 1,700 nautical mile race stage from Sanya in 10 days, 9 hours, 34 minutes and 11 seconds.

After her team crossed the finish line, Henderson said: “This reflects the hard work and determination and grit displayed by everyone on this boat - naturally a lot of luck and whilst we do feel for PSP Logistics, we can’t hide our elation.”

This is the third podium in eight races and a second victory for Visit Seattle, who went into Race 8 in third place in the overall standings, just four points behind the race leader.

The team is also yet to play its Joker Card, a bonus tactic, which each team has the ability to ‘play’ for one of the thirteen race stages, which doubles the number of race points earned for that chosen race.

Commenting from on board the boat shortly after finishing was crew member Chrissie Laming, a photographer who joined the Visit Seattle team for Leg 5 and 6.

“I am in total shock and am completely blown away at managing to come in at first position - we were keeping everything crossed for second place and had been driving hard through a tough 10 days. It had always been my dream to come into Qingdao as a winner - and it’s just come true - what a lucky lady I am, and team we are!”

Just over an hour later, there was further agony for PSP Logistics, which was left bobbing around in no wind less than five nautical miles from the finish line, as two other teams overtook in the east.

Sanya Serenity Coast took second place after crossing the line at 01:12:58 local time (17:12:58 UTC). Skipper Wendy Tuck said: “I didn’t know that we had got second till about 90 minutes, after we had finished. I really feel PSP Logistics’ pains as we have been there after losing from a 200nm lead in Race 3.”

Sanya’s fourth podium position of the 13-stage Clipper Race series is an especially big result as the team had chosen to play its Joker Card in this particular race, which means its 11 points are doubled to 22, extending its lead over the 10 competing teams in the race. The team also won two points in the Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint part of the race.

Liverpool 2018 crossed the finish line in third place at 2.25am local (6.25pm UTC) to take the team’s second podium position. Skipper Lance Shepherd said: “It has been a very tactical race with every weather you could imagine - except snow.....but that might come yet.

“The racing has been very close and we have been playing cat and mouse with Sanya Serenity Coast and Visit Seattle. It’s always exciting when one gybe or tack can make all the difference. It is also fantastic to get our second podium, with a third place.

“The crew have performed amazingly and they should be very proud of themselves having achieved something special. Really looking forward to a cold beer and a warm bed. Bring on the mighty Pacific.”

PSP Logistics ended up finishing Race 8 in fourth place, eventually crossing the finish line at 7.43am local (11.43pm UTC).

Taking to the stage at the team’s arrival ceremony, skipper Matt Mitchell, who was clearly disappointed, explained: “It was a very difficult race. We were leading from the start but in the last five miles the wind just died on us and we watched our competitors sail around us. That last five miles took us twelve hours to complete.”

However, the PSP skipper added: “It might have been a tough experience but we’re still very proud of ourselves, we had such a good race together until that last part and the welcome here has been absolutely fantastic as always so thank you for making us feel so welcome.”

The race leaders are the first vessels to arrive at the new Wanda Yacht Club in the West Coast New Area of Qingdao, which is hosting its seventh Clipper Race and is now the event’s longest serving host port partner.

Boats will remain in the city until Friday 23 March, when the fleet embarks on the Mighty Pacific Leg 6: a 5,600 nautical mile race across the North Pacific from Qingdao to Seattle.

Meanwhile, two more boats crossed the finish line overnight Irish time: home team Qingdao (10:40:42 local/02:40:42 UTC) in fifth even after redress was applied, and Garmin (13:38 local/05:38 UTC) in sixth.

Behind them the battle for race points continues with less than 10nm separating GREAT Britain, Nasdaq and Dare To Lead, currently in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively – although Nasdaq, like Qingdao, has 1 hour 45 minutes of redress to be applied.

GREAT Britain is leading the final charge this morning with around only two and a half miles to go to the finish line as of 10am Irish time/UTC.

After a busy night of gybing to avoid fishing nets, skipper David Hartshorn reports: “We are expecting the winds to back from south to the north-east as the next low, with the associated front, comes across the race track and dominates the weather. So, after a number of days under the kite, the last push is expected to be an uphill beat in 30 knots of wind.”

Nasdaq skipper Rob Graham, whose vessel is less than a mile astern, has also had a tense night of gybing. “It’s still very close between us, GREAT Britain and Dare To Lead. The fog is thicker and colder than ever this morning, as the wind has switched into a building icy north-north-easterly after a light and fickle phase full of sail changes. We're hoping to get in before it starts blowing too hard and the sea state builds.”

The conditions have certainly started to turn chilly as the teams head north, with Dare To Lead skipper Dale Smyth, currently 5.5nm from the finish line, explaining: “We are beating upwind in 35 knots of very, very cold wind to make the finish line. We actually had a little bit of snow when it first came through. To make it even more exciting the visibility is virtually nothing in thick fog. This has truly been a very tough interesting leg.”

Arriving into Qingdao will be a welcome return for Unicef skipper Bob Beggs, whose team is just 30nm away. “The team are as always upbeat and are looking forward to arriving tomorrow morning,” he said. “I am looking forward to catching up with all the familiar faces from our tremendous welcome two years ago when, as Qingdao crew, we sailed into our home port.”

A little over 80nm finish this morning is HotelPlanner.com, which has had close encounters with the world’s largest fishing fleet. Skipper Conall Morrison reports: “Now we are in thick fog and becalmed… This is not forecast to last for long and soon we expect 30 knots from the north-east. This will bring colder and drier air to blow the fog away and we will be living at an angle for the last few miles.”

Clipper Race meteorologist Simon Rowell says that the strong north-north-easterly winds being on a weather shore will at least make for reasonably flat seas as the teams make their way to the finish line and the wind is forecast to say much the same for the next few hours before gradually veering and easing.

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#ClipperRace - As the Clipper Race fleet pushes north up the eastern Taiwanese coast, a real contrast in wind and conditions have been reported over the last 24 hours, resulting in a vast range of fortunes and emotions for the teams.

One thing for certain is that the air temperature may be dropping, but the competition level in this race to Qingdao is properly starting to heat up.

PSP Logistics has extended its lead and is now around 50 nautical miles ahead of nearest competitor, Visit Seattle, though it hasn’t been plain sailing, skipper Matt Mitchell reports.

“What a frustrating 24 hours we’ve had! The wind has been so fickle, massive wind shifts and a huge range of wind strength. It made the sailing very tough, in a different way than that we experienced just a few days ago. Keeping the boat going was a real challenge and choosing sail plan was also difficult.”

Behind the leaders, five teams are spread from east to west with less than 25 nautical miles separating them, making for an intense chase to reach the podium.

Visit Seattle has moved up into second place, and skipper Nikki Henderson has detailed the change in conditions that the fleet has experienced over the last 24 hours, saying: “We could not have had a more dramatic change of scene.

“This time yesterday we were thrashing around in a confused sharp sea state and 30 knots of wind (water consistently spraying in your face, horizontal rain, noisy, leaned over, yellow dry suits etc) and now there is not a cloud in the sky – bright, bright blue above us - and calm flat water below - with (unfortunately...but with some relief) not a whole lot of wind.”

After a bold tactical move, Henderson added: “We headed out east last night and made no ground to our destination in an attempt to avoid the forecast wind hole off of Taiwan. As the wind dropped this morning my heart sunk - hopefully the miles in the wrong direction will pay off or we have just thrown our podium position out the window (hatch).”

The biggest winner of the day is Qingdao, furthest west of the five chasing teams and up to third after continuing its steady climb up from the bottom of the leaderboard.

The team is well placed now following a brief diversion to rendezvous with Nasdaq at the beginning of the race for the transfer of an essential watermaker spare part, and the race committee has verified redress times for both teams.

Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch says: “Somehow we got a bit lucky with the wind and caught up with GREAT Britain, Sanya Serenity Coast and Liverpool 2018. In ocean racing you really go through lows and highs. One day you ask yourself ‘What am I doing here?’ and the next day you think ‘It’s actually not too bad. Quite enjoyable in fact.’ See how we feel tomorrow on the good boat Qingdao. Today we are definitely on the high.”

Liverpool 2018 is currently fourth, in the centre of the chasing pack, and while the team’s podium position is still within sight in this race, skipper Lance Shepherd is feeling frustrated after missing out on a point in the Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint by the narrowest of margins.

“It’s been a day of highs and lows for the crew of Liverpool 2018. Today we found out that we came fourth in the Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint, by two minutes. It’s crazy to think how close it can be, that’s one round up, a slow tack, or just a tiny mistake. However, our crew are full of praise for all on board Garmin, Sanya Serenity Coast and Dare To Lead as we know how tough it was.”

Tucked in closely behind Liverpool 2018 are Sanya Serenity Coast and GREAT Britain in fifth and sixth position, and around 19 nautical miles further behind is Garmin, hot on the pursuit in seventh place and spurred on by its first place result in the Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint.

Garmin skipper Gaëtan Thomas is delighted with the result, explaining: “I opted for a fine reach than a close haul and it did pay as we won it! Well deserved, we worked very hard on it and I'm proud of my pirates!”

Nasdaq, in eighth, is 13nm behind after managing to maintain good progress in the light winds, resulting in a 30nm gap being opened over ninth placed Dare To Lead, though that since been halved in the last few hours.

Dare To Lead skipper Dale Smyth says: “We are now finally through Luzon Strait with a straight run north ahead of us. We were pleased to hear that we at least scored a point on the Elliot Brown Ocean Sprint so that slightly helps us to feel better about our awful position at the moment.

“We have a wind hole close in to the coast of Taiwan that we are trying at the moment to avoid and this has required us to yet again do an offshore tack with no progress forward, but rather that than get stuck!!”

At the back of the fleet, Unicef (10th) and Conall Morrison’s HotelPlanner.com (11th) are a fraction of a mile apart, both hoping to play catch up in the remaining miles.

Relief has been reported across the fleet that the gale-force headwinds are over for now and that life has returned to more normality in the flatter waters, but now crews will have to battle hard again as they look to avoid wind holes.

The good news is that they are at least aided by the Kuro Shio current, also called Japan current: a strong surface oceanic current which flows between Luzon of the Philippines and the east coast of Japan and provides a natural push, which should keep teams from standing completely still.

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Page 5 of 12

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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