Clipper Round the World :Singapore wins Ocean Sprint bonus point

Monday, 20 February 2012


All of the ten 68-foot ocean racing yachts taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race have completed the Ocean Sprint with Singapore emerging victorious, covering the distance in 28 hours 20 minutes and 54 seconds, bettering De Lage Landen’s time by just under 14 minutes to claim the valuable extra point.

As the team close in on Qingdao, China, skipper Ben Bowley reports that despite the busy waters, the Singaporean entry is working hard to stay in a podium position as they slip down a place to third in this sprint to the finish.

“Well that was a busy night! Compared to the night before, the plethora of fishing boats, unbelievably, had multiplied. Keeping a minimum CPA (Closest Point of Approach) of half a mile became impossible and soon CPAs had to be measured in yards for some vessels. This combined with the wind going rather light and fickle made for quite a hectic evening. We were able to just about keep the boat moving and seemed to make some good ground back on Geraldton Western Australia. 

“As the last 370 miles stretches out in front of us we are about to hoist ‘Mabel’ (our medium kite) due to the wind veering round to the east south east. This should be fine in the daylight but there is a chance that we shall have to drop after the sunset if the fishing fleet does not thin out a bit this evening. 

“The weather today is glorious with clear bright skies and the crew are in tearing high spirits. We are getting rather excited about arriving in the next 48 hours and anticipate a spectacular welcome ceremony in China's Olympic ‘sailing city’.  Get the beers on ice please!”

Despite losing out on the Ocean Sprint point, De Lage Landen, has emerged from Stealth Mode in the last 24 hours and is currently occupying pole position. With only two miles separating the Dutch entry from Geraldton Western Australia in this neck and neck race to the end, skipper Stuart Jackson knows there is still all to play for.

“With just over 300 miles to go, the final stretch of this race has only just begun. There are only a couple of miles separating the first boats from each other, which means that everything can still happen in terms of positions.

“Since yesterday Geraldton Western Australia has been hot on our heels, and early in the morning we could see them appear on the horizon. Last night we were surrounded once again by a massive group of fishermen. Trying to avoid them, as they have right of way, whilst fending of Geraldton Western Australia and Singapore wasn't easy as the fickle winds barely gave us enough boat speed to keep steering over the boat.

Stuart adds, “Now for the last stretch everyone is focusing again on trim and fine helming, as we are trying to hold on to our first position.”

Hot on the heels of De Lage Landen and keen to keep their place on the podium, skipper Juan Coetzer reports that Geraldton Western Australia’s crew have had a busy 24 hours negotiating the waters of the East China Sea.

“If you take Christmas shopping, for example, imagine there is an 80 per cent sale going on at the time and this is the only shop in the country which is open and give everybody trolleys…think of how busy that's going be,” says Juan by way of analogy.

“Well that was our night last night, making our way through the fishing fleets with random lights and drift buoys flashing red, white and blue just to confuse the situation.”

Juan adds, “The crew are really working hard to keep our second place as the wind is filling in from behind once again and with still 350 miles to go anything can happen.”

Derry-Londonderry has also emerged from Stealth Mode in the last 24 hours, and has maintained its position in the fleet, occupying fifth place just behind Visit Finland, after experiencing what skipper Mark Light describes as, “a very light start to the day,” with blue skies, flat seas and steady winds.

“Last night was pretty challenging as we encountered the largest single fishing fleet I have ever seen. We first noticed a couple of lights on the horizon and then slowly a few more appeared. As we approached, over a hundred fishing vessels appeared all lit, most on our AIS (Automatic Identification System), and all travelling in different directions at varying speeds. This huge fleet was too large to try and skirt around and as we got closer even more lights appeared, so we made the decision to head straight through the middle.

“With this in mind we armed ourselves with our powerful search lamp and plenty of warm clothes as this was to be a long, sleepless night. All crew were briefed and positioned strategically around the boat to allow an effective 360 degree watch, the engine was readied in case of evasive action and we ploughed on through. With a few close calls, a decreasing wind and lots of stress we emerged from the masses unscathed, if a little weary!

“Daylight brought a wind increasing again steadily and veering to the east, all helping our progress to our destination of Qingdao. Now we are able to sail a little freer off the wind, decreasing boat heel and making life a whole lot more comfortable,” Mark adds.

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital skipper, Gordon Reid, agrees, “I have never seen so many fishing boats packed together so densely into one area!

“There are fishing boats everywhere, our Seapro Navigation display is packed full of AIS signals. There must be hundreds showing up at any one time. There are dense patches of fishing boats and lots of container ships all moving between the patches of fishing boats and we are constantly adjusting course to avoid the boats and the net marks or pot markers which are also everywhere.”

He adds, “The wind has now veered as the high pressure system gets compressed by the intense low to the south of us, bringing with it a very flat sea and a decent 15 knots of breeze. We have maximised our sail plan and with a constant eye on the trim, we are moving at a very respectable ten knots plus.

“The temperature has dropped significantly and you could liken the conditions to a fresh winter morning on a Scottish mountain side, Sunny, with a fresh breeze and a wee nip in the air. Near perfect conditions to get the ‘Purple Beastie’ screaming along. The focus is now on teasing out every tiny little bit of boat speed in a perfect straight line, as we truck on towards the next race mark and beyond.”

Only six miles ahead of the Scottish entry, New York, in seventh place has spent the night dodging the fishing fleet of the East China Sea.

“The last few days have been about trying to avoid the fishing fleet which is impossible to do. We have worked out that if they have one red flag showing, most of the time they are in a pair and the other boat has one too. If they’re working alone then they show two flags and change course at any time without notice, so you have to keep an eye on them at all times which can be hard when you have around 30 or more around you,” skipper Gareth Glover, reports.

“At night the sea is just lit up with boats to a point where the horizon looks like sun rise. The temperature has also dropped overnight and the crew are now wearing their mid layers, hats, gloves and boots trying to keep warm on deck. The crew are now trying to make up miles on the leaders as there is still a few hundred miles to go and may be some more light winds ahead. We will not give up until we have crossed the line.”

Welcome to Yorkshire is the last in the fleet to pass the northern tip of Taiwan. Skipper, Rupert Dean, reports, “All of the team is pleased to have got the passage across the Luzon Straits and up the east Taiwanese coast out of the way. Gone are the horrendous seas and continual slamming that have been endured for the past five days. Near impossible sleeping conditions, etching tiredness and sluggishness of thought on the faces of all on board, is thankfully behind us.”

Rupert continues, “It's a credit to all crew on board that they have pulled through this together so well. Time now to re-energise before temperatures truly plummet and headwinds come our way again, which could happen in three days.

“In the meantime, according to the leaders ahead, there's plenty of action to be had dodging enormous fishing fleets, a new challenge indeed. Out of the frying pan into the fire!”

Gold Coast Australia’s crew have been racing hard to catch back up to the front runners in the fleet after their diversion to Taiwan.

Skipper, Richard Hewson, says, “As we sail into the Yellow Sea conditions are getting colder and fishing vessel populations are getting denser. Last night there was barely a gap between a massive line of fishing vessels, and the radar just looked like a blob of land it had so many targets on it. All we could do was to find a gap, or if required tack until a gap opens up and then tack back at the first available opportunity. These nets are long and strong and if one of them gets wrapped around your keel or rudder its game over until you can cut the boat out. This would mean dropping all sails and jumping over the side in freezing water to cut the nets away and is not a very desirable situation.”

Gold Coast Australia entered into Stealth Mode at 0600 UTC so none of the rest of the fleet can see what tactics they are employing for the next 24 hours.

“We are playing our final cards towards the end of the race, hoping to gain enough extra time and miles to win a position on the podium,” explains Richard.

It’s a massive challenge to try to gain over 50 miles on the three leading boats in two days and will require one knot of extra boat speed over the other boats constantly. The crew have accepted the challenge and are willing to work hard to defy all odds and get back on the podium.” 

Meanwhile, on board Qingdao, skipper Ian Conchie hopes that a busy night of sail changes and weaving through the localised traffic will pay dividends for the Chinese entry’s arrival into their home port.

He says, “We finally cleared Taiwan. Near the northern end of the island we had to bear off to keep the apparent wind in the range for the Yankee 3 and this morning we were greeted by the first of many fishing fleets that caused us to alter course to get past them. In the sunshine the wind is dropping and veering. As a result we have been slowly changing sails and shaking out reefs until we now have full main, Yankee 1 and staysail.

“We are hoping now that the Chinese flag on our mainsail will encourage the fishing boats to keep out of our way. We are pushing hard north with good speed so we may still make it in for my birthday on Friday!”

The first teams are expected to arrive to a spectacular welcome in Qingdao between 22 and 25 February.

Heather Ewing,
See Clipper Round the World Race images :

Positions at 1200 UTC, Monday 20 February 

Boat                                                     DTF*

1 De Lage Landen                              316nm

2 Geraldton Western Australia            318nm (+2nm DTL**)

3 Singapore                                         334nm (+18nm)

4 Visit Finland                                      366nm (+50nm)

5 Derry-Londonderry                          374nm (+58nm)

6 Gold Coast Australia                         395nm (+79nm) Stealth Mode: position at 0600 UTC

7 New York                                         401nm (+85nm)

8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital              410nm (+94nm)

9 Qingdao                                           475nm (+159nm)

10 Welcome to Yorkshire                   482nm (+166nm)

*DTF = Distance to Finish, **DTL = Distance to Leader

Last Updated ( Monday, 20 February 2012 )