Clipper fleet splits in two as the boats head south

It's a far cry from the 'champagne' sailing conditions all the crews experienced on Leg 1. Most of them haven't seen this kind of tough, upwind sailing since their pre-race Clipper Training, although some had a taste of things to come in the gales on the way to the race start. So the much more physical conditions of Leg 2, as opposed to the largely mental challenge of Leg 1, have taken a lot of getting used to.

“We are going upwind into 25-30 knots apparent so it's completely different from Leg 1,” confirms Richie Fearon, skipper of Cork, Ireland.

Overall race leader Spirit of Australia, one of the group opting for a more southerly route, is not immune – and it's frustrating for the fiercely competitive crew, led by Brendan Hall. He says, “The rough conditions have made the last 24 hours very challenging indeed. Only half my crew are functioning on deck, which is frustrating for us all as we need to be making more headsail changes to keep the boat going at full speed. At present, we can only perform these heavy manoeuvres at a watch change, when most of the 'fit' crew are on deck.”

Closest rivals Team Finland are also struggling in the early stages of this race, according to skipper Eero Lehtinen, who reports, “We have been slow through the night. We made a couple of sail changes that just took way too long and we lost the first reef line while taking it in and had to go for reef two straight away. Later we dropped the whole sail to get first reefing pennant onto the sail again. Sea sickness, tiredness, new crew who are settling in on board and changes in the watches are all taking their toll. Even the basic things are going slowly; we are far from our top form. It is good news that the wind is dropping and we can have some time to recover and regain strength and focus. I know we can do these things way better.”

While confidence may have taken a knock on Team Finland, on California spirits are sky high. “At the moment they are going into orbit as we eagerly await the next sched to see if we are at the top of the leader board!” explains skipper Pete Rollason. “It has been a great night's racing with Jamaica Lightning Bolt always visible on the horizon, waiting to capitalise on any mistakes. We are pushing hard and aiming to get points at the scoring gate as well as a good finish into Cape Town.

California and Jamaica Lightning Bolt are in the northern-most group heading east, hot on the heels of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the current leader of Race 3. Peter Stirling, skipper of the Jamaican entry, says, “Two days on and we are still battling into head winds under grey skies and rain – a bit of a rude awakening for the crew after the much nicer conditions encountered on Race 2! We are of course delighted to be currently lying in second place but it is early days and are ever conscious of the other yachts.”

Out in front Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's skipper, Matt Pike, reports, “We are now bashing through warm waves and cold rain in a continuous struggle to maintain the right sail plan to keep her driving along. A job not made any easier by the short number of crew, we have lost five to sea sickness and another two or three have gone down with a bug that's doing the rounds.”
While Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and co have opted for the more northerly route, the rest of the ten-strong fleet has headed south. Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major explains the reasons behind the split.

“It's a result of a high pressure area forecast to the south east of Rio,” he says. “We are all jostling for the position we feel will give us the best chance of slipping through unscathed. After Race 2 we feel we have done our time bobbing around with slatting sails.

“I find myself this morning within hailing distance of Team Finland and Spirit of Australia which, as two times leg winners and overall leader respectively, puts us in good company. All the teams are committed to sailing their own race but it is always nice to discover that others have had the same results from a decision making process involving so many variables.

“On the other side of the high pressure is the gate which, at 900 miles wide, should present us with no navigational problems – it's just simply a question of getting there fast enough to score points. At the moment with three separate groups forming it is still unclear who will make it into the favourable westerlies and collect the first points of this race.”

That's the question on board Uniquely Singapore, to the south of Qingdao, according to skipper, Jim Dobie. “South is the word being uttered at the moment. South. Looking at the fleet positions it's an interesting case of, will Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Jamaica Lightning Bolt and California keep the lead with their early east route? Or will Uniquely Singapore, Hull & Humber, Cork and Qingdao shoot up the leader board with our straight south route? Well, I'm quietly confident and the next two days should be interesting.”

Confident, too, is Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin. “Tactically, I'm happy with our position. I don't see us losing out to the rest of the fleet in the long run. Coming south earlier has also allowed us to stay further west and hopefully avoid any wind holes which caught us out on previous legs. In some ways we're pulling the same move the rest of the fleet pulled on us in the last leg when they went a further distance with a high chance of better winds.

“Some of the new and old hands have had brief run ins with seasickness but most were fine once horizontal or up on deck. The long johns and thermal base layers are starting to appear. Saw a small albatross today, a sign of things to come!”

The effect of the rough conditions on his crew have caused Cape Breton Island's skipper to make a slight change to tactics and allow his crew to get over their seasickness. Experienced Clipper Training skipper, Jan Ridd, knows preserving crew and equipment while still remaining competitive during the 35,000-mile race will play a large part in any team's overall success in Clipper 09-10.

He says, “I decided to calm the boat down and sail away from the stronger winds, just to give some of the crew a break from being ill. I'm not sure how this race will pan out with the high pressure building, but there is a definite split in the fleet. Some of the boats are going a long way south. It will be interesting to see how it works out.”

Race 3 is going to be a thriller to watch from dry land – and nail biting on the water.

“We will find out in the next few days who has invested their money most efficiently, who is chasing short term wins at the gate and who would rather be looking at an earlier finish – or can someone pick up both?” asks Eero. If the teams are to take the traditional route around the bottom of the South Atlantic High it looks like they'll have to go a long way south to do it. Says Eero, “Nothing seems to come easy this time.”

POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER

1 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 3025
2 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 3037 DTL +12
3 California DTF 3040 DTL +15
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 3104 DTL +79
5 Uniquely Singapore DTF 3122 DTL +97
6 Team Finland DTF 3123 DTL +98
7 Spirit of Australia DTF 3125 DTL +100
8 Qingdao DTF 3133 DTL +107
9 Hull & Humber DTF 3143 DTL +118
10 Cork DTF 3161 DTL +136

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