Clipper fleet lines up for a dash to the scoring gate

On your marks, get set for the race to the scoring gate. If you take a
look at the race viewer on you will see the
yachts lined up like sprinters in the starting blocks, poised to fly
down the track. The distance to finish figures belie how close the eight
ocean racing boats are to the scoring gate at 55 degrees east and the
curvature of the earth is not apparent on the map. With approximately
500 nm to the gate, the next two days will make for thrilling racing and
the points to be won could go to any of the eight leading teams.

The crew of Spirit of Australia maintained their lead overnight with
more upwind racing. “While it's less comfortable with the boat on a
lean, it gives us all a break from the stress of heavy airs downwind
sailing,” reports skipper, Brendan Hall. “Things on deck are wet and
wild with at least one or two lifejackets automatically inflating during
every headsail change. The generator has been working overtime as a sock
and glove dryer.”

It's no more comfortable or dry on Cape Breton Island, where they have
spent another very cold night, heeled over and beating into Force 6
winds. “We have just started to get lifted and are at present heading
east again instead of north east, looking forward to being lifted some
more so we can ease the sails and flatten the boat out. It is very cold
with the wind chill and spray,” writes skipper, Jan Ridd, in his 0600
report to the Race Office. Jan is planning to leave the comfort of the
nav station for a while: “I am going to stand a watch myself just to see
what the crew are all moaning about,” he explains. “Luke (Dampier,
19-year old student) keeps saying, 'Man up, chin up and shut up!' to
anyone moaning about the cold!”

Uniquely Singapore's crew have their eyes firmly on the scoring gate
points. The first boat through will take three points, the second two
and the third one point. “After another cold chilly night going upwind
we are constantly looking at the race scheds to see how we are doing. At
the moment, as well as looking as our position, the most important thing
we are looking at is our longitude compared to the other yachts. This
tells us quite simply who is closest to the gate and, with the way the
fleet is spread out, there are six boats all in with a chance. So to get
the points we need to sail faster and straighter than everyone else. As
I write this there is a slight bit of westing in the wind. The back of
my ear gets chilly on deck and one word instantly springs to mind:
spinnaker. So once more we're looking forward to be racing down waves
soon, getting that speed up and getting those gate points.”

There is single-minded determination on board Team Finland, too,
according to skipper, Eero Lehtinen. “We will focus on the scoring gate
at 55 degrees east. It will be a close call between several boats to
deal out the extra points for the first three crossing the invisible
line. We haven't scored a point at a gate yet in this race. It is my
last chance… so we are hungry for a couple of bonus points.”

Eero and his team are also looking forward to getting back on the sleigh
ride when the wind comes around and they can enjoy some more fast,
downwind sailing. “I want to pole out the headsail, hang on and surf
down the big rollers while eating up miles towards Australia.”

Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has been having a great race. The 0600 sched
showed them to have covered the most ground of all the yachts in the
previous 12 hours and the crew are in good spirits, despite the tough,
freezing conditions.

Skipper, Matt Pike, says, “Wave after wave roles noisily over the deck,
spray and rain constantly shower everyone on deck but still we plough on
east when we can, north east if not, slamming our way through the sea.
No one seems to be able to sleep but they cheerfully go on deck to helm
and trim, helm and trim.

“The scheds look good for us but every boat length is paid for by
determination and hard work. When the wind drops below twenty knots the
crew emerge from their oilies expecting a sail change (often
disappointed by my cautious approach) but minutes later in slams the
wind again, gusting low 30s. Slowly overnight it backed south; we eased
the sheets and are now flying east towards the gate. The fleet looks
tightly packed and the gate could be anyone's. More importantly, the
next low should be coming to give us the fast downwind sleigh ride I
promised in the crew brief!”

Don't discount California in this race. They have been making good
progress, claiming back the advantage Qingdao stole from them yesterday
and creeping up on the top half of the field. Pete Rollason, the skipper
of the American entry says, “Although the winds eased overnight and
backed slightly causing us to take a more northerly track, this morning
sees us back on our preferred course sailing along well under full sail
at more than nine knots. The last couple of days have seen California
pull miles out of most of the other boats however the next sched may
show something different after some slower hours overnight.

“There is a long way to go and we are all very upbeat about our recent
speed and playing the strategy of 'slowly, slowly, catchy monkey'. It
appears that most of the fleet has closed up and tracked further north
to try to pick up the better winds that are due to come through in the
next couple of days and I think that California is well placed to take
advantage and make some further gains on the leading boats.”

Cork's crew are also settling back into life at sea after their extended
stopover in Cape Town. Richie Fearon, the skipper, says, “We are happy
to be back out on the water and sailing again thanks to an amazing
effort from the Clipper team and guys who carried out the work. Everyone
is settling into their routine and we have had an easy few days to start
off with after clearing Cape Point. We are expecting some wind from
behind us later on today so we can start enjoying some Southern Ocean

Back in Cape Town, where they are switching on the city's soccer-themed
Christmas lights this evening (the draw for the World Cup takes place
here on Friday), work to repair to Hull & Humber is progressing well. In
the early hours of this morning the carpenter finished dry-fitting all
the internal woodwork, ready for the final layer of fibre glass to be
applied. He is back at Royal Cape Yacht Club to complete the work today.
On the outside of the hull there is a little more work to do on the deck
section that was replaced before the toe rail is installed and the
stanchions and guard wires put back in place.

Skipper Piers Dudin and half a dozen of his crew will begin work this
afternoon to prepare the yacht for departure, which is still scheduled
for Tuesday, subject to the consent of the marine surveyor who must
carry out a whole raft of safety checks before Hull & Humber can leave
the marina. The whole of the crew will be back on duty tomorrow for
victualling, immigration and to make their 68-foot yacht ready to resume
racing across the Southern Ocean.



1 Spirit of Australia DTF 3529
2 Cape Breton Island DTF 3544 DTL +15
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 3553 DTL +24
4 Team Finland DTF 3562 DTL +33
5 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 3578 DTL +49
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 3593 DTL +64
7 California DTF 3637 DTL +108
8 Qingdao DTF 3645 DTL +116
9 Cork DTF 4479 DTL +950
10 Hull & Humber DTF 4773 DTL +1243

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