Clipper boats are about a week away from Geraldton

As the ten 68-foot yachts close in on Geraldton, Western Australia, you
can almost feel the tension growing – both among the crews and the
supporters watching at home. The last few days of any race always seem
to pass the most slowly for those following the action from dry land and
the temptation to return to the race viewer more and more often to see
the boats' positions becomes stronger – even though we know we must wait
three hours for the next update!

On board they must wait even longer as the scheds from the Race Office
come through every six hours and it is only then that they crews of
people from a huge variety of backgrounds and nationalities competing in
this challenge of a lifetime can chart their progress against the other
crews. And it can be a source of great frustration or huge elation as
fatigue begins to set in and emotions become polarised.

Over the last 24 hours on Qingdao those scheds have brought some kind of
satisfaction to those on board. Skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, reports,
“This morning all concentration is on straight line speed and our helms
and trimmers have been working hard to hit our speed targets and to stay
bang on course. So far so good, with Qingdao being the fastest boat in
the fleet over the past 24 hours and taking mileage from everyone.

“As we approach the front of the pack however, the amount we can take on
each six-hour sched reduces and reduces – those in front are working
just as hard to stay ahead of us as we are to catch up. The only
question now is how long will these perfect conditions last and how much
will we be able reel in Uniquely Singapore and Spirit of Australia, who
are directly ahead of us, before we hit the lighter winds ahead or get
rolled by the system sneaking up from behind?”

Spirit of Australia's skipper is giving nothing away this morning as his
team bids to be the first on this edition of the Clipper Race to win a
stage to their home port, merely reporting “More fast sailing – we're
just eating up the miles to Geraldton.”

There is just a slight hint of frustration creeping into the report of
his usually laid-back rival on Uniquely Singapore, Jim Dobie, who says,
“For the last 24 hours we have been close reaching in a near consistent
Force 5, giving us a consistent ten knots boat speed. It's great sailing
however, with the rest of the fleet seeming to have very similar
conditions, it is very hard to make gains and it boils down to good
helming and good trimming.

“So far our course is good and we track north with a plan to get through
the high. Luckily it is moving, and moving south, so seems to be opening
up a route which, although will give us a few days of light winds, once
on the other side there should be some good south easterlies which,
hopefully, will allow us to finish the race with some fast downwind
sailing. The race is still wide open and as the fleet approaches the
high there could be a few position changes.”

“Approximately a week to go before arriving in Geraldton and what a week
it could be,” comments Pete Rollason, skipper of California. “At the
moment the fleet is very closely bunched and would potentially all
arrive within a 24-hour period. However, there is one big thing that may
have something to say about that: the high pressure system. It seems
that a number of the boats are tracking to the north while one or two
are tracking more easterly so we are possibly going to see a split in
the fleet in an attempt to navigate the best and fastest route through
the lighter winds of the high.

“We are very happy with our position as most northerly boat and feel it
gives us the best options. And, as we all know, with 1,500 miles still
to run anything can – and probably will – happen. The fleet will
certainly compress as the lead boats hit the lighter weather first and
then it is all down to the all too familiar task of keeping the boat
moving as fast as possible in light winds; good trim, good helming and
good spirits.”

Jamaica Lightning Bolt, with the exception of Cork and Hull & Humber who
are still racing through the Southern Ocean, are in the most southerly
position of the leading pack and are beating upwind into 25 knots of
wind and a large swell. But, says skipper Peter Stirling, the crew is
unbowed.

“The crew are getting used to living at a 30-40 degree angle again but
it's never easy particularly as the inside of the boat is getting more
and more damp and there is no way at present to dry it out. Despite
this, and our recent loss of another race position to Qingdao, crew
spirits are high.

“In a couple of days the weather should significantly improve as we sail
into the high pressure system between us and Australia. Progress for the
whole fleet will, however, slow down with the lighter winds and the
yachts that do best are the ones who can pick their way best through the
wind holes.”

One team hoping to avoid any wind holes after falling victim to one that
saw them go from second to sixth virtually overnight in the run to the
scoring gate is Cape Breton Island. The crew have been working flat out
to regain those lost miles.

Round the world crew member, Elisa Jenkins, a physiotherapist from
Sydney, Cape Breton Island, reports this morning, “After days of
shifting winds and sail changes, Cape Breton Island has been given a
reprieve with steady winds and favourable seas. For the past 24 hours,
we've been keeping excellent speeds and course to Geraldton.

“Yesterday started with a weather warning from the Australian Navy, so
we prepared for a blow with our Yankee 3 on deck. The wind built to
about 25 knots, so we put it up to be ready for more wind, and double
reefed the main. Luckily, we stayed just outside the weather system with
wind speeds between 20-25 knots. What a treat to have steady winds for
such a long period, and more forecasted to come!

“The name of the game now is keeping a consistent course and optimum
trim to gain miles on our competitors – even an extra 0.1 knots on the
other boats each hour will make all the difference over 1,400 miles.
Cape Breton Island's crew are working hard to pull ahead in this fast
paced race with close competition.”

Cork and Hull & Humber are keeping pace with the fleet, racing through
the Southern Ocean as the leading pack of eight head up in to the warmer
conditions of the Indian Ocean. Hull & Humber's skipper Piers Dudin
says, “It's pretty cold, day and night. We're clipping along nicely,
putting in some solid kite runs. We shied away from heavy kite reaching
overnight last night due to minimal visibility but maintained a solid
average nevertheless and we were ready to rehoist at first light. We're
still just holding onto the back of the low pressure wave which the guys
up front are setting themselves up on and looking forward to some warmer
northerlies setting in later in the week. Progress is good, company is
great, pace is strong – all's good in Hull & Humberland.”

The leading team now has fewer than 1,300 miles to run and Team
Finland's skipper Eero Lehtinen has spent the last two days below decks
– in large part to prove a point to his crew.

He says, “I just ended my 48 hour period in 'business class', travelling
below decks without sticking my nose up on deck once! I have been doing
a lot of admin work, trying to think ahead and helping with the transfer
to the new Team Finland skipper, Rob McInally. I also have been making a
strong point, demonstrating how the crew are able to sail the boat on
their own, encouraging further initiative and responsibility amongst
them. They have surely responded beautifully and I have been struggling
to keep myself busy down below…

“However, this morning I could not handle it anymore and was even given
a job on the sheets while another perfect sail change from Yankee 2 to
Yankee 1 was orchestrated by the crew on deck. It has been straight line
sailing, focus on helming and trimming – a pure speed contest. We have
been fast and pulling away more each sched lately. A little gap is more
than welcome looking ahead to the light airs in connection to the large
high pressure system between us and the finish line.

“It should be the last week on board for all of us on this leg and for
some of us altogether. Our plan is to make it as fast and as smooth as
possible, enjoy the sailing in the warming up weather conditions and
hopefully not get too frustrated in the light winds ahead of us. It
sounds like Geraldton is planning to give us a warm welcome and we are
already feeling the warm hospitality of this port. Needless to say, we
are all very much looking forward to spotting the lollipop coloured
lighthouse of Geraldton, parking the boat safely in the fantastic
looking marina and then enjoying the beers and the showers and whatever
else we all are dreaming about.”

It is hard at this stage of the race not to dream about ice cold drinks
with the condensation running down the side of the glass, of that juicy,
oh so tender steak grilled to perfection on an Aussie barbie, and of the
hugs of loved ones there to greet you on the pontoon as you arrive,
triumphant after taking on one of the most feared and revered expanses
of ocean of the world. It is all within touching distance now. But that
band of high pressure could prove more than a little frustrating as the
end game begins to play out in the Southern Ocean leg of Clipper 09-10.

While more than 430 crew taking part are racing around the world the
tough way, more than 67,000 people have now signed up to play the
Virtual Race. The leader of this leg is also closing in on Geraldton
but, unlike the crews who have been performing sail change after sail
change, getting soaked and freezing in the Southern Ocean, the virtual
skippers can change sails and course at the click of a mouse.

It's free to play – just follow the link from the
www.clipperroundtheworld.com home page and see how you do against your
friends, work colleagues, members of your sailing club or your class
mates – and, of course, the rest of the fleet – by putting your tactical
skills to the test.

It's a great way to spend the time in between checking the race viewer
for those position updates!

POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER

1 Team Finland DTF 1263
2 Spirit of Australia DTF 1295 DTL +32
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 1312 DTL +49
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 1327 DTL +65
5 Qingdao DTF 1347 DTL +84
6 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1361 DTL +99
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1373 DTL +110
8 California DTF 1452 DTL +189
9 Cork DTF 2115 DTL +852
10 Hull & Humber DTF 3132 DTL +1869

Coursemaster Autopilot
M.O.S.S Australia
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey
West System Afloat
Coursemaster Autopilot
Windcraft
Ice Rays UV Arm Sleeves
Multihull Group