Clipper fleet splits in race up the coast to Airlie Beach

The New Year has brought a new determination to the Clipper Race fleet which, after a short stopover in Hobart, is back racing and charging across the Bass Strait in the sixth of this fourteen race series.

The Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race is just over 1600 nautical miles and already after one full day of racing it is proving to be an exciting contest. Diverse tactics see the teams split between those sailing offshore in a bid for bonus points at the Scoring Gate and those inshore, seemingly willing to sacrifice the chance for extra points in order to focus on a podium place finish.

Ash Skett, skipper of leading team Garmin, explains why they have opted to race inshore: “Some boats have made a big move for the Scoring Gate but for us the focus is on finishing position. The next stopover sees a big changeover for us, as all but one of our leggers are leaving. Two of them, Leo Bowen and watchleader Mal Anderson have been on since London and desperately want a winner’s pennant to take home. They deserve it and we are going to try to deliver!

“There's not much in it according to the last position report. The races are getting noticeably closer and tougher to lead as teams learn more about the boats. I'm sure that it's going to make for an interesting second half to the race back to London.”

While Garmin remains the most westerly boat in the fleet, in contrast, GREAT Britain is the furthest east, and at loggerheads with Clipper 2015-16 Race leader LMAX Exchange as they head for the Scoring Gate. Skipper Peter Thornton, whose GREAT Britain team is currently second in the race overall, but eleventh in Race 6 having opted to sail so far offshore, says: “The south east winds on rounding Tasman lighthouse to pick up our northerly course meant that with the efficiency of an asymmetric spinnaker, we were already being angled out to sea.

“However it is the strong counter-current that we are risking by continuing to go so far across. The wind and sea state forecast is also a big factor as it is due to swing into the east which will make progress tight to actually manage to cross it without being too hard on the wind and losing valuable distance on the rest of the fleet. But there are points up for grabs so it would appear that a few of us have taken the gamble and it's now a drag race to the Scoring Gate – one which is pretty close!”

While the choice of some teams as to whether they are going for the Scoring Gate or not is obvious, there are those who are yet to make the call. Visit Seattle, Unicef, PSP Logistics, Mission Performance and Da Nang – Viet Nam have all opted to sail slightly west of the rhumb line, keeping their options open as winning skipper of the Clipper Race class in the Sydney Hobart, Wendy Tuck says: “So here we are again in the Bass Strait, bouncing along, making good speed, but still living on the north face, wedged in as per normal at the nav station. The talk on board Da Nang – Viet Nam is all about the placing of the Scoring Gate and the jury is still out on that one. Do we or don’t we…? Can’t tell you just yet.”

The forecast for the next 72 hours suggests that the fleet will continue to benefit from favourable winds, helping the teams make fast progress towards the finish line at Abell Point Marina where the Australian Coast to Coast Leg will draw to a close.

Tune into the Race Viewer below to follow the fleet’s progress to the Whitsundays.

All positions correct as of 0800 UTC.

JPK August 2023
Jeanneau JY55