Last night, as California continued to battle through the challenging light wind conditions the satellite connections between the yacht and the Race Committee were kept busy. Following the rules of the race skipper Pete Rollason discussed the options with his crew and sent a message to the Race Office.
“I confirm that at 2005 UTC we turned on the engine and started motoring. I explained the various options to the crew and, after a short period of reflection, we have all agreed to make this decision and accept tenth place in Race 2. Along with the extra point we gained from crossing the scoring gate we can collect two points from Race 2 and move on.
“I can't help but feel that I have let the crew down as they have worked so hard in our efforts to catch up with the boats in front, but it was just not our race. Yes, we have played some unusual strategic moves which seemed to pay off at the time and then Mother Nature kicked us in the ******.
“Our aim now is to get across the ITCZ as quickly as possible and get everybody safely to Rio so that we can prepare for the start of Race 3. By making this decision now we give ourselves the best opportunity to do well in the leg to Cape Town and the overall round the world race. Thanks again for all the support from friends and family and believe me, we will be like a bat out of hell on the way to Cape Town!”
For the last ten days, the team has been crippled by debilitating wind hole after wind hole and, while the leaders have been enjoying 200-mile plus days, Pete and his crew have had to endure days when completing a mile an hour was seen as progress.
The Clipper Race Committee, chaired by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, assessed the situation and, as permitted by the race rules, made an offer to California to accept tenth place, allowing them to switch on their engine and motor through the Doldrums in order to allow them to make the restart in Rio de Janeiro.
Sir Robin observed, “When faced with this situation, it makes total sense for the overall race to say they have nothing left to gain. But if they continued trying to race to Rio, then they were in danger of sacrificing the next leg, too. In sheer sporting terms, to continue so far behind does not make sense.”
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Team Finland is another day and a few hundred miles closer to Rio de Janeiro and it can't come soon enough for the crew onboard. They know this race is not in the bag yet though – the final stage of this race is hotting up and the leading five yachts are getting closer as each hour goes by.
“We find ourselves looking over our shoulders for the boats behind and ahead for Cabo Frio, as the GRIB files and the weather information from them suggests it could be somewhat of a struggle to get round the corner,” says watch leader Mark Cole.
“We've had 24 hours of decent speeds and even a bit of poled out Yankee 2 at one stage but, as you know, the wind gods are fickle and after seeing gust of 28 knots we decided to drop the spinny. No sooner as it was on deck and the Yankee up the wind dropped to a steady 20 knots and it was back up with the heavy weight.
“And each hour closer to Rio we have to remind ourselves the race isn't over until we see the beer on the jetty. At the minute we are taking each watch at a time, each sched at a time, hopefully gaining a few more miles on the opposition before we get too carried away. Sometimes it doesn't feel quite so lonely up at the front!”
It's certainly not lonely in the chasing pack where the gap between second and fifth has closed to just 64 miles and the strain of having to remain totally focussed on sail trim and boat speed, 24 hours a day for several weeks is beginning to take its toll on some.
Cape Breton Island's skipper, Jan Ridd, says, “We had a really bad six-hour run yesterday and lost us a lot of miles. We are at present really working hard to gain some miles back, everyone is getting tired and you can feel the focus and effort from all the crew. We have already pulled back some miles and the boat feels to be going well.
“With the latest GRIBS it looks like the race will become tactical with the light winds approaching Cabo Frio. We hope that we can get ourselves in the right position to find an angle to keep on sailing and not get stuck in it. Everyone is very aware of how well Spirit of Australia sailed out of a massive wind hole in the Canaries whilst managing to find the wind and lay a course to the scoring gate, leaving Hull & Humber and Qingdao struggling to sail in any direction.
“So we will be monitoring their movements and tactics carefully, we also have our Stealth Mode to use which might be an ace if we can find the right course to navigate our way through the light stuff. This is where it will be won or lost.”
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital still has her stealth card to play and the team has decided that today is the day to use it. Skipper, Matt Pike, must feel that he and his crew will be able to gain a tactical advantage over their closest rivals, Uniquely Singapore, when they disappear from our screens after today's 1200 UTC sched. They will be cloaked for 24 hours and will reappear at midday on Friday.
Both Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Uniquely Singapore have now hooked into the south east trade winds and picked up some decent breeze to carry them towards the finish line at Rio.
The Clipper Race Team has arrived in the Brazilian port and is making preparations for the yachts' arrival at the prestigious Iate Clube do Rio.
Race Director, Joff Bailey, has been studying the latest weather forecasts and says, “At the moment conditions suggest that the first boats will arrive this weekend. Team Finland is expected on Sunday 18 October, and the chasing pack of Spirit of Australia, Cape Breton Island, Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Cork, Ireland are likely to arrive late on Sunday or on Monday 19 October. Of course, if conditions change in any way these ETAs are subject to revision.”
Qingdao and Hull & Humber have both now crossed the Equator and have joined the leading half of the fleet in the southern hemisphere. Skipper of the Chinese entry, Chris Stanmore-Major, is guiding the team through the shoals and islands of Fernando de Noronha.
“At the moment our focus on board is holding good speed and good course,” he says. “We want to get close to the coast of Brazil but not at too steep an angle. What we want is to preserve a little sea room so within 24 hours we can turn a few degrees take advantage of the wind, which is coming around more easterly, and put our spinnaker back up. This will signify the last moves in a long game of chess we have being winning and losing for the past month. All the time we do this we know that out there, not too far behind, is Hull & Humber all too keen to park one spot closer to the facilities when we get to Rio.”
And on the big orange boat Piers Dudin and his crew have been celebrating their arrival in the southern hemisphere with fancy dress, offerings to Neptune and a cake, specially baked for their Equator crossing.
“It was made especially for the occasion by Normanby-by-Spital Primary School, so thank you to you all!” says Hull & Humber's skipper.
“Since midnight the wind has backed nicely to the east, a series of squalls has come through giving plenty of work to Chrissie and her team – reef in, reef out, Yankee 1 to Yankee 2 and finally putting the reef back in. So now we're nicely cranking to windward in 18 to 22 knots apparent wind speed, chasing down the red dragon.”
POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, THURSDAY 15 OCTOBER
1 Team Finland DTF 673
2 Spirit of Australia DTF 832 DTL +159
3 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 850 DTL +178
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 856 DTL +183
5 Cork DTF 896 DTL +223
6 Qingdao DTF 1324 DTL +651
7 Hull & Humber DTF 1376 DTL +703
8 Uniquely Singapore DTF 1690 DTL +1017
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1693 DTL +1021
10 California DTF 1897 Finished racing
(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.