The fleet of dubious 68-foot yachts gave the spectators a fantastic show at the start of Race 10 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Tacking out of San Fransisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and then reaching in good winds down the coast of California as we raced to Panama, a total of 3300 miles.
As we approached Guadalupe we had worked our way up the leader board and now sat in the top three. The decision was made to sail down its western side as the wind conditions made it too tight for the spinnaker to fly for us to make it around the top and into the accelerated wind corridor between the island and the mainland. Rounding the bottom of Guadalupe to make some miles towards the shore I estimated the wind shadow should not extend more than 35 miles, I was wrong, and after I thought we were safe I had put my head down for some rest, only to wake up one hour later, the boat sitting upright and the rest of the fleet sailing past us. We gybed out of the wind hole, and gradually began to pick the wind up again and resume our chase on the leaders.
Guadalupe lies under Mexican sovereignty and lies 100 miles off the coast of Mexico and is one of the more interesting islands that we have sailed past since race start in Southampton UK in July last year. Its rocky shape extends almost vertically out of the ocean to 1295-foot and is the home to the nearly extinct Guadalupe fur seal, a few of whom we saw lazing in the water as we sailed past.
Gold Coast Australia began the next day with good wind from the north west that gradually eased through the day. The tactical decision was made to head closer into the Mexican coast of Baja California to gain some benefit from more wind with better angles in that were amplified by the land over the following days. We were sailing higher angles to the rest of the fleet we were making good speed to the east passing 13 miles astern of De Lage Landen around midday as we continued on away from the rest of the fleet who stuck to the more obvious wind corridor to the west of the Rhumb Line and towards the Scoring Gate.
By the first sked the next morning we were sailing past Hutchins Bank in last place and over 70 miles behind. While the new crew members onboard showed some concern, I and the more experienced crew had faith in my tactics. Towards the afternoon, the other yachts had more wind and continued to power away from us. Sometimes it is hard to have faith in your tactics in a offshore race when it is so obvious the other yachts are sailing away, but we stuck to our plan, and by sunset we started making up the miles.
At about the same time I suffered from a mild sickness I now believe was food poising. Were my tactics that bad that my crew had now decided to poison me? Either way, I was week and needing sleep. The wind had filled in, and the crew were sailing the boat well, and would as usual come and question me about important decisions that needed to be made as I lay with a fever in bed.
By midday the next day we were back to fourth place and only 20 miles behind the leading pack of three boats who were going for the scoring gate off Cabo Falso and I was already feeling better. Knowing we had no chance of points from the gate we remained inshore and continued south.
After passing the gate the other yachts gybed to make more ground to the east, and by the next morning sked we were back in first place with a lead on the next boat of over 50 miles!
The wild life close to the Mexican coast is amazing and the further south you go the better it gets. We have been regally seeing numerous groups of dolphins, pods of whales of various species migrating south, turtles, seals, flying fish, squid and schools of large pelagic fish during this race. Today we even saw a turtle with a bird standing on its back. All of these beautiful animals have provided hours of entertainment for us, which becomes a relief as the amount of wind reduces as you head south making the sailing less and less exciting.
As we paralleled the shores of the southern edge of Baja California I scanned the skys for any signs of a forming sea breeze. Seeing no signs we gybed offshore to cover the fleet and put us in a good position to maximise wind over the coming days. Some of the unfortunate yachts who had not given up on the possible sea breeze and kept closer to the shore sat becalmed for over 12 hours until the land cooled down. It is interesting to see that the fleet is was still reasonably close even after numerous different tactical strategies had been played. The yachts offshore were now looking in a good position as they raced down the coast in the newly formed offshore gradient wind while the winds for us and the other front runners began to gradually fade away.
As the winds got lighter, the temperatures go hotter. It is now a far cry from the bitterly cold and windy conditions we were experiencing last month in the north pacific, as bare feet burn on the sun beaten decks and crew do their best to keep cool and hydrated while on watch. Down below the stripped out interior feels more like an oven than a yacht. Fans only recycle the hot air as the off watch do their best to sleep.
As I write we sit 90 miles to the west of the Mexican city of Manzanillo, and 390 miles to the north west of Acapulco. Gold Coast Australia retains the lead 30 miles to the south, south west of the nearest yachts. The entire fleet is basically becalmed and we have only made 20 miles between sunrise and sunset, a poor amount of milage for the effort put in by the crew in these sweltering hot conditions. We are trying to battle our way east towards the coast to cover the fleet and utilise the sea breeze that shows signs of developing for the next few days. At an average speed of two knots, it may take some time. The news of an erupting volcano in Mexico may possibly cause more strange meteorological disturbances over the next few days, and who knows what a cloud of ash could do to the predicted weather systems and possible sea breezes.
There is still 1600 mile to race to Panama, and Gold Coast Australia is working hard to maintain its lead, doing all we can in the light airs to keep coasting along. Persistence will be the key for the rest of the race, after many days of racing in light airs it is easy to get tired and complacent and maintain focus. Every gust counts, every gust pushes Gold Coast Australia one bit closer to victory.
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