Competing in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race, Gold Coast Australia have just taken the lead as they race south in Race 10 of the series from Oakland, USA to Panama where they will transit the Panama Canal. Entering into our second week of racing the weather beings to get really challenging with variable and fickle winds.
Starting out our morning watch at 08:00 local time with the winds already light at 7 knots we were still sailing along quite nicely with 5 knots of boat speed under the medium weight spinnaker and full main sail. By the end of the watch at midday the sun had burnt off any chance of clouds with its extreme heat that will only get hotter the further south we sail. Our wind fell to a dismal 2 knots of breeze, if you could call it wind at all; the ocean was like a mirror with barely a breath of wind to mark it as our boat speed fell to a sad 0.4 knots. As the winds dropped we completed the necessary sail changes from medium weight spinnaker to light weight spinnaker to the wind seeker trying to catch any little puff. We drifted all afternoon with those who were on watch working hard at catching the wind and those who were off watch were laying in front of their fans trying to cool themselves with very little success.
Late in the afternoon a fishing vessel was spotted 7 nautical miles away, as we drifted south with the current this fishing vessel continued its course around us in a big ark. A short time later a Danbuoy was spotted just off the bow, this is a float with a stick marked with a flag on the top and can be used for a Man Over board or to mark the end of fishing nets. In this case it was the later, making a quick decision we passed the Danbuoy to the right as we could not see any nets there but it soon became apparent that we had sailed right into the centre of a Persen Fishing Net and the only way out was to sail over the net… There was nothing we could do but keep sailing and hope that we did not catch the net. Lady luck was on our side as we sailed smoothly over and did not catch a thing. Later that day we were again encircled with another net but managed to get free without getting snagged. Just another challenging element of ocean racing.
The days and nights began to take on a pattern, with the sun rise any wind that was around is burnt off with the heat so that we are drifting for most of the day in 2 to 6 knots of wind, in the afternoon there may be a chance of a sea breeze if we are lucky that will offer a nice 10 knots of wind, at sunset the wind will inevitably disappear until the sun is below the horizon and we get what we like to call the Sunset Squirt of 10 to 15 knots of wind. The evening will start off with a light breeze helping to cool off the day’s heat and we will likely receive a land breeze late at night and hold this until the early morning where once again the sun will burn the wind away. This is very challenging as we make all the necessary sail changes to suite the frustrating and variable winds.
Just to add to the distractions was the abundance of wildlife in this part of the ocean and on day 8 we were greeted with a pod of Pygmy Killer Whales that decided to join us for lunch. These sleek grey and white whales that are the size of dolphins played on our bow as we drifted in the current. Over a hundred were scattered around the cool blue water surrounding us in groups of ten or more and they stayed with us drifting on the current on the surface as if they were sleeping, later in the day they returned with renewed vigour and jumped and played at the bow. Other animals were turtles, lots of dolphins, tuna, sea birds and even a butterfly.
At sunrise on day 9 at sea we held a lead of 8 miles on Welcome to Yorkshire who could be seen over our stern on the horizon. Making us focus more we trim, trim, trimmed to try and make some ground on them and by sunset our efforts had paid off as we held a new lead of 15 miles and once again the only thing with in sight was us as we were surrounded by an unbroken horizon line. Day 10 was 25 April, Anzac Day, and for Australians this is a very special day of remembrance for those who have sacrificed their lives to give us our freedom. Crew member Wayne read out some of the history of Anzac Day to the international crews and we held two minutes of silence as we remembered. Lest we forget.
Our days were filled with seeking winds while our evenings were spent counting shooting stars. On day 11 we crossed the first of a series of compulsory gates in first place. Due to the nature of this race and the fact that the winds normally stop as we sail down the coast of Mexico the race officials have a series of these gates so if the need should arise to shorten the race course than they are able to do so without the fleet being spread out across the pacific. De Lage Landen crossed it in second place 20 miles behind us. Due to the fact that any one of these gates could potentially become the finish line our tactics were to finish first across every one of them, which we did.
On day 12 we were greeted at dawn with another huge burst of wildlife as a feeding frenzy erupted just of the bow with tuna leaping from the water in desperate efforts to flee the chasing dolphins and circling sharks turning the ocean white from the spray. Sailing most of the day with De Lage Landen only 6 nautical miles behind us in the morning and slowly slipping over the horizon as we work the sails as hard as we can to escape them. It was welcome news at sunset to find out that they were now 15 miles away. For once we had wind, a healthy 15 to 20 knots that stayed with us for the night giving everyone a much needed break from the stifling heat.
On the evening of day 14 we unfortunately got caught up in an unlit long line and managed to wrap it around our keel slowing us down, we went for an emergency spinnaker drop and spent the next hour busy trying to free ourselves. Due to the size of the hooks it is likely that this was a line for shark fining where they catch a shark and cut away their fins then throw the still living but now helpless shark overboard to slowly bleed to death. In Australian such lines are illegal and the act is so horrible that I did not feel so bad in cutting some of it away. Once we were free we re-hoisted the spinnaker and stay sail, Later when the winds had shifted again I was in too much of a hurry to drop the stay sail and tripped as I walked forward to the bow and sprained my hand so I am now all bandaged up as I rest it.
One of the new jobs we found ourselves doing on board was a spinnaker anti-chafe watch on the bow where you would sit and catch the spinnaker before it rips on the pull-pit. Late on day 15 I went forward to perform this job and was greeted by 8 to 9 dolphins swimming under the twilight illuminated only by the phosphorescence reacting to their movement through the water outlining their every move as they jumped, divided and criss-crossed each other under the black ocean looking like spirits of the sea.
The following day the Clipper Race Office announced that the race was to finish at the Puta Remedios Gate which was only 270 miles away but in this wind it is likely to take us days. We drifted some more and slowly got closer and closer to the finish with De Lage Landen right on our heels the whole time and every windless day that we floated we did not know if they had found wind and sailed around us or not so the tension was high as we waited for each schedule to relieve us of our fears. On day 17 the race officials announced that the last 6 boats were to finish at one of the earlier gates as they were by now 200 miles behind us and we needed to make the Panama Canal for a specific time or we could be waiting a long time to go through. For us there was only 30 miles to go until the finish and this seemed to take us forever to sail but by 02:53 after 18 days at sea we finished taking first place once again and to finish of this beautiful race was a pod of over 200 dolphins hunting together as they herded up great schools of fish putting on an amazing show of leaps and spins for us.
- Lisa Blair
"It is interesting to sea these wize bang sailing boat america cup boats falling apart while suposed to be the ..."
howard timbury on ACEA confirms America...
"Tweak the club handicap to include a variable for the length of fish caught on a one design fishing rod during..."
Ideas Man on Racing banned on Lake Lowe...