Clipper fleet battered in the South Atlantic

The Clipper 09-10 fleet has spent the night in the toughest conditions they've faced so far in this edition of the race. The yachts are under huge pressure, the weather and sea state generating hundreds of tons of load on the mast and rigging and battering sails and crew alike. In an extreme sport such as ocean racing weather like this takes its toll on equipment and crews must be on their toes to react quickly to whatever situation arises.

California's bad luck gremlins struck again last night as, in 40 knot winds and heavy seas the spindle holding their steering wheel sheared and the wheel came off. The crew have reverted to the secondary steering mechanisms on board and everyone is safe and well – albeit a bit cold and wet, according to skipper Pete Rollason.

He says, “It was a devastating night. After we had fought hard to overtake Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, to have our steering break was cruel. I do not think it is repairable out here but will be trying now that we have daylight, so we are making our way under secondary steering towards Cape Town. I think the worst of the depression should be passed already although we still have a very rough sea and winds gusting 30-35 knots. As always everyone is doing great and just wondering when luck will turn our way.”

All the boats carry spares for their steering systems, however they don't have the piece they need on board to make the repair in this particular case. The team is making progress at reduced speed towards Pete's home city of Cape Town and the Race Office is monitoring the situation.

The night hasn't been kind to Spirit of Australia either. Brisbane-based skipper, Brendan Hall reports, “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we sustained some damage to our sail wardrobe last night. A failed compass light lead to a crash gybe which damaged our mainsail, which lead to a situation where the Yankee 2 was flogging and all the hanks burst off the sail and also tore it near the tack. We have taken down all but minimal sail and are proceeding to Cape Town at reduced speed.”

Again, everyone on board is safe and well and setting about the sail repairs, although Brendan suspects some of the damage will need to be tackled in a sail loft when they arrive in South Africa.

In the conditions Uniquely Singapore's skipper, Jim Dobie has just one thought on his mind: safety.

He says, “What a night with wind up to 40 knots, many sail changes and a lot of white water over the decks. In these conditions my responsibilities are simple: protect my crew, protect the boat and the race. This is always the case but in these conditions all the more important; one small mistake tends to get magnified. Saying that we are still on course to Cape Town, making reasonable progress and doing our best to keep our position which we have worked hard for.”

The low pressure system which has reached the whole of the fleet is producing more fast 12 hour runs, with Jamaica Lightning Bolt living up to her name and very nearly hitting the magical 140 miles in 12 hours mark – and the crew are loving it!

Skipper Peter Stirling says, “With under 1,000 miles to go to the finish line there is everything to play for. Of course we would like to climb at least a couple of places and get back on the podium again but our first priority is to keep Spirit of Australia and Qingdao firmly behind us. After a bit of a lull yesterday, as we waited for the next low pressure system to position itself south of us, we are now most definitely back up to full speed. Wind speeds are gusting to 40 knots and the record boat speed to date is 21.8 knots, recorded just a couple of hours ago. It was round the worlder Charles who coined the phrase 'Champagne Sailing' for excellent sailing conditions. Well I'm afraid previous such occasions have now been relegated to 'Babycham Sailing' whilst the current conditions are most definitely Dom Perignon!”

Out in front, the leading boat, Cork, Ireland, is also speeding through the Southern Ocean towards Cape Town. Closest rivals Uniquely Singapore, are 58 miles behind and working hard to maintain their position as Team Finland closes the gap on them.

It's been a pretty exciting night on the Finnish yacht and the skipper, Eero Lehtinen is ready to catch up on a bit of sleep.

He says. “I am soaked to the bone. It has been quite a ride since yesterday's “happy hour” where I briefed the crew about what was coming. It has all happened as promised, except that wind exceeded the forecast by another ten knots. We had 49 knots at the best.

“The crew has been awesome. We started the ride with the full size medium spinnaker, then it was time for the heavy weight which came down just before sunset when wind was already gusting 30+ knots. It was time for Yankee 2 which already had been hanked on to wait for its turn. Then staysail and full speed ahead in a nice reaching angle and 30 knots of wind. More wind came soon and it was time for a reef in the darkest night ever. Our compass light also decided to take a break and we used Evie's head torch to illuminate the compass, the only indicator for the driver to keep us heading towards Cape Town. Not much later the boat was overpowered again and second reef went in.

We were a bit overpowered again and dropped the Yankee in rather interesting conditions; pouring rain, no visibility, serious cross seas, gusting 48 knots of wind and a wet foredeck. But it all went perfectly, Emil's military style briefing and prompt action on foredeck made me smile behind the wheel even if my knees were slightly shaking… Once again the brilliant Team Finland managed through a demanding evolution. Hence no surprise the boats in front of us are feeling some serious pressure. Don't count us out of the podium, it's far from over.

Now it's time to find some drier clothes, a bit of porridge and hopefully some sleep.”

Eero has a special message for one of his family waiting for him in Cape Town – his son Ed. “Happy Birthday Ed, 14 today and I am missing a great party… but we are flying towards Cape Town to have another party with you!”

Team Finland is considering playing their stealth card – something Hull & Humber has already done in a bid to steal a march on the opposition.

“We did have a cunning game plan to put into place when we requested our Stealth option, but whether it is put into action… we'll have to see!” says skipper Piers Dudin.

“We've been ringing the changes all night long on Hull & Humber. It started with a medium switch to the heavy kite, then at about midnight the Yankee 2 went up and the heavy came down, with a reef in the main we were set until the next step up in wind, forecast for the early hours. With one watch down and the next watch up, four of the next six hours were spent wrestling with Yankees on the foredeck. Firstly the second reef went in. The Yankee 2 was changed out for the Yankee 3 and finally the third reef was set and the staysail ditched. The swell his picked up nicely with us rolling on straight towards Cape Town. The sail plan should hopefully be set for the day and so it's a good opportunity for the crew to get some rest before the final push.

“Yesterday's respite between the low pressure system carrying us eastwards allowed us a good clean up of the galley and floor boards and to do some good checks on the kit. The seas are building again making life down below pretty sketchy at the best of times but morale is good.”

On board the Chinese entry, Qingdao, it's been a bouncy night, with the crew experiencing their hardest conditions so far.

Skipper Chris Stanmore-Major says, “We had 40 knots apparent pretty constantly during the early hours with three reefs in the main and the storm staysail up. The skipper got a trick on the helm as the watch went forward to unhank the Yankee 3 and bring it back then swap the staysail for the storm stay.

“As the sun comes up this morning the seas are down and the wind with it.
Birds still wheel overhead totally oblivious to the hassle the night has caused the little white speck below. With the wind due to back and drop a little we are looking forward to some good heavy airs downwind sailing today which hopefully will let us even up the distance Spirit of Australia has opened up on us in the past few days.”

The crew of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital have had a good night on board and now have Qingdao, some 80 miles ahead, firmly in their sights. Skipper Matt Pike says, “The northwest wind came in and we held the spinnaker for a few hours. Then it built to a constant 25 knots with 40 knot gusts kicking up a big sea. So, reefed down, we picked our way through in the pitch dark, surfing the swell. Top speed goes to Colin Campbell with 20.2 knots but there were others that were close. Daylight and the run continues – we're concentrating on Qingdao and the target to beat is covering 70 nm between scheds.”

The first yachts are expected to arrive at Royal Cape Yacht Club on Friday 13 November.

POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER

1 Cork DTF 736
2 Uniquely Singapore DTF 796 DTL +60
3 Team Finland DTF 809 DTL +73
4 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 870 DTL +108
5 Hull & Humber DTF 876 DTL +139 (At 0600 – currently in Stealth Mode)
6 Spirit of Australia DTF 923 DTL +186
7 Qingdao DTF 934 DTL +197
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1014 DTL +277
9 California l DTF 1080 DTL +343
10 Cape Breton Island DTF 1201 DTL +465

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