Clipper 09-10 Race 3: Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town Day 17

* Cork expected at Royal Cape Yacht Club this afternoon
* Team Finland and Uniquely Singapore locked in battle for second place
* California's crew show they have what it takes – no matter what fate throws at them

The first of the ten 68-foot racing yachts competing in Clipper 09-10 is expected to cross the finish line in Table Bay, South Africa between 1500 and 1800 local time (1300-1600 GMT) this afternoon. The 4,300-mile race from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, across the South Atlantic to Cape Town has tested the crews to their limits, providing them with some of the fiercest conditions they've had to deal with so far in this edition of the race.

This stage is particularly important to the skipper of California, Pete Rollason, who has made Cape Town his home and is looking forward to being reunited with his wife and young son.  California seems to have had more than her fair share of bad luck in Clipper 09-10 and on Monday reported they had switched to their secondary steering gear after the spindle holding the wheel sheared off.

The crew may be bowed but they are definitely not broken and this morning Pete's report to the race office showed just what his team is made of.

“If this doesn't show the California fighting spirit I don't know what does,” he says. “I couldn't resist sending it and it made us all smile this morning. Under secondary steering and just a Yankee 2 we managed over the last twelve hours to: take three miles out of Cape Breton Island, take 32 miles out of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, take 24 miles out of Hull & Humber, take 18 miles out of Qingdao, take seven miles out of Spirit of Australia and keep pace with Cork.”

Cork, Ireland, is expected to be the first to arrive in the shadow of the iconic Table Mountain – this morning shrouded in cloud. The wind has picked up again this morning, although the rain has stopped and there is some blue sky and sunshine breaking through the clouds on a blustery spring day in Cape Town.

Skipper Richie Fearon says, “With 80nm to go we are on the home straight. We've had quite a frustrating night of no wind and a few gybes which isn't helping our anticipation of finishing. We have had a healthy lead now for a week and for the last 1,000nm we have taken our foot off the gas a bit, knowing that if the lead came under threat then we could up the pace again. We decided to go a bit easier on the boat as it would have be gutting to keep pushing and break something major that may have compromised our position. In saying that, these boats can take any punishment that we have thrown at it so far. We've had some big seas and high winds in every direction and it hasn't fazed this old girl in the slightest! The confidence the crew have in her has exploded, everyone always had confidence in the boat but it has grown tenfold. We are really looking forward to getting into Cape Town now and having a week or so to chill out and get ready for the Southern Ocean in Leg 3. Bring it on!”

Talented Cape Town sailor, Marlon Jones, 20, joined Cork in Rio de Janeiro for the race across the South Atlantic. His whole family will be at Royal Cape Yacht Club to greet him and his team mates when they arrive later this afternoon.

Locked in a battle royal for second and third place are Team Finland and Uniquely Singapore for whom a podium finish would be their first of this race. With just over 100 miles to go they are eight miles behind Team Finland.

Eero Lehtinen, the Cape Town-based skipper of the Finnish team, says, “We are nearly there. We are having a close battle with Uniquely Singapore and I think it will be decided only at the very end. We had a healthy lead on them yesterday when we gybed under poled out Yankees and later hoisted the spinnaker. After that we lost them both from the horizon and the radar screen, then made a mistake by sailing too high in the confused seas and now we have to see if they have managed to close the gap or overtake us by sailing lower and on the inside of us in relation to the finish line. A bit of an annoying error, but so easily done when there is no more direct sight of the competitor. Time will show…

“The good news is that we have got some of the lost pressure (wind) back and are now moving at 12 knots straight to the finish. We are all excited to spot the coast line, Table Mountain and finally the host club of our stopover, Royal Cape Yacht Club. For me this is going to be really emotional getting together with my three kids after an eight month break. I might not be the tallest anymore…”

Behind the leading three teams, Hull & Humber and Jamaica Lightning Bolt are also having their own private contest. In this morning's report to the race office, Peter Stirling, skipper of Jamaica Lightning Bolt, wrote, “With only 200 miles to go to the finish line our fifth place is pretty secure but what we really want is Hull & Humber's fourth place. Over the last few days we have been steadily reducing the distance between us and them and it is now going to be very close at the finish. At midnight we went into stealth mode in order to deploy our cunning master plan to take that place!”

The race rules state that no team can be in Stealth Mode within 250 miles of the finish line. Jamaica Lightning Bolt only had a few hours under cover but it was enough to see them pull ahead of Hull & Humber – exactly the scenario they had been working for.

Piers Dudin, skipper of Hull & Humber said, “It's so close to the finish line and it's getting interesting. It's been a busy night for Hull & Humber and her crew. During the afternoon the masthead block started making funny noises but with only one halyard remaining and a sloppy sea made sending our resident mast monkey, Tom Salt, up the mast impractical. We assumed it was damaged rollers inside the block causing the noise and carried on. Sure enough, at 2am the masthead block and the two extra strops (there to encourage it to stay there) all chafed and down came the kite into the water in front of the boat.

“The on watch quickly set to, dragging the kite through the letter box and back on board. We set up the Yankee, waited for dawn and, with a slightly less bumpy sea, sent Tom up to re- run the halyard which he managed without getting bashed about too much. In his own words, 'It's not the being up there that's the problem; it's the getting there and back that's the tricky part.'

“So the kite halyard is set, the kite is repacked, David Johnston is now watch leading Port through the motions and Charlie Mulliner has taken the reins of Starboard watch for the final few days. Hopefully tomorrow morning we'll be reaching into Table Bay.”

There is another interesting tussle going on between Qingdao and Spirit of Australia who are separated by just 15 miles.

“It's been a frustrating night with light winds and a rolling heavy swell that took the shape from the sails as soon as the wind created any,” says Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major. “Squalls of ten minute duration punctuated the calm conditions bringing heavy rain winds of 25 knots and 100 degree wind shifts that kept the helmsmen on their toes all night long.

“Twice we threatened to put up a spinnaker but the swell would have wrapped it around the rigging as soon as it was aloft, I'm sure, so we held off, cursing our nav computer which, having made thousands of observations of our speed in varying wind strengths, kept pointing out that we were sailing at 80 percent efficiency.

“All eyes are towards the goal now, our arrival in Cape Town. We had very much hoped to get up alongside Jamaica Lightning Bolt and race them to the line but that is not to be; they seemed to have pulled a lead of 80 miles on us whilst we were concentrating on driving past Spirit of Australia. We will keep pushing up to the last minute but, realistically, unless the wheels totally fall off the Lightning Bolt it is unlikely we will close such a gap in two days.

“The Dragon Wagon is getting ready to be alongside again with all the maintenance jobs and cleaning being stepped up a gear now to create free time once in port. Some crew are talking about going shark diving and wine tasting, others are primed ready to take a tour out along the famous Garden Route towards Knysna to sample the South African countryside and, oh, some more wine. Until then we will monitor Spirit of Australia and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and conserve our gear and our position: sixth again, not legendary, I had hoped to improve on our Race 2 position but we are all safe and well, our vessel is in top condition and we are mentally ready to take on the Southern Ocean having ventured the furthest south on this race. Another day dawns on the dragon wagon, one more until the call of 'Land!'”

The final stages of this race have not been easy for Spirit of Australia. Having got their main sail back up to full speed again, last night it was the spinnakers that bore the brunt.

“Everything comes in threes and last night was our third disaster filled night,” says skipper, Brendan Hall. “At about 8pm the spinnaker halyard broke, dumping the heavyweight spinnaker in the water, dragging alongside the boat and it took a gargantuan effort to retrieve it. As soon as it was recovered, it was repacked then re-hoisted, only to come down about 3 hours later with a tear in the foot. The medium weight spinnaker was hoisted in its place and it has been brought down with a tear in it as well, where it has snagged on the bow roller. What more does the South Atlantic want from us before it will just let us to Cape Town?!”

Friends and family of crew, plus those joining in Cape Town for the next race across the Southern Ocean to Geraldton-Greenough in Western Australia, have begun gathering at Royal Cape Yacht Club in anticipation of the teams' arrivals.

All the yachts are expected to be alongside by Sunday evening.

POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, THURSDAY 12 NOVEMBER

1 Cork DTF 56
2 Team Finland DTF 108 DTL +51
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 116 DTL +59
4 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 179 DTL +123
5 Hull & Humber DTF 184 DTL +128
6 Qingdao DTF 298 DTL +242
7 Spirit of Australia DTF 313 DTL +257
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 370 DTL +313
9 Cape Breton Island DTF 510 DTL +454
10 California DTF 583 DTL +527

(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.

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