Clipper fleet spread out “like surfers looking for a wave”

Following Sunday's start line collision between Cork and Hull & Humber, work is now well underway on repairs to both boats.

Yesterday the boat building team working on Cork finished all the required grinding to remove the damaged areas of fibre glass on the bow, allowing them this morning to begin building up the layers of hard foam and fibre glass from which the hull is constructed.

The work on Cork is likely to take three or four days to complete and the team will leave and continue racing to Geraldton in Western Australia as soon as the boat is ready.

The damage to Hull & Humber is more extensive and requires more work. A number of boat builders and marine surveyors spent yesterday assessing the extent of the damage and looking at the options to repair the hole in the hull. With around 25,000 miles still to race in Clipper 09-10 and the rigours of the Southern and Pacific Oceans to come, safety is the number one priority and the surveyors must be satisfied with the strength and structural integrity of the repair. In the evening the Race Director gave the go ahead to Action Yachting, based in Royal Cape Yacht Club's yard, to begin work.

They will have two teams working around the clock, one inside the boat and one out, to ensure the work is done as speedily as possible and allow Hull & Humber to continue racing. This morning the crew moved all their bags off the boat and cleared everything aft of the mast into the forward crew accommodation, where they can shut the watertight bulkhead door to prevent it getting covered in dust and glass fibres. Large oil drums full of water have been placed on the starboard side to make the boat heel over slightly to prevent any water getting in through the hole.

Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin, says. “The crew are off for the week as we can't work on the boat due to the cutting, grinding, fairing, epoxying, glassing, filling, sanding, drilling and bolting which is about to start. Christmas in Geraldton is still a probability. Cork will hopefully be out of here a few days sooner; their fix started yesterday. We're glad we're not the only ones here and they're some of the best company in the fleet! We're thinking of the other guys out there, bashin' it up. At least we know if we have it bad when we leave it'll be just as the others have had it.”

When night falls this evening, arc lights will be installed to allow the boat builders to continue working. The repairs are likely to take up to seven days and it is anticipated that Hull & Humber will be ready to resume racing on Tuesday 1 December.

The only thing that could cause a delay is the weather. The forecast in Cape Town is generally good, although some rain is expected later this week. Temperatures are also good – an important requirement for the epoxy resin to cure properly.

A team from Clipper will be staying in Cape Town until both boats have departed. With a three week race ahead, it is still possible for both boats to arrive in Geraldton in time for Christmas. It is important to note that both boats are still racing until the finish line is crossed. The Race Committee will meet before that time to discuss the technical issues. Hull & Humber is likely to receive redress, while Cork will not. The Race Committee's decision will be announced in due course.

The eight other boats have had rather a trying start to Race 4 – sea sickness taking its toll as the yachts bash through strong headwinds and lumpy seas. Matt Pike describes the scene on board Edinburgh Inspiring Capital this morning. The skipper says, “The sky is grey, the sea is grey and, in the dawn light, even the crew look grey. The wind's easing but still heading us, leaving a cold looking lumpy sea. It's been tough for many to find their sea legs again as a lumpy swell and variable wind make for uncomfortable conditions. We have a good view of Uniquely Singapore only two miles off our port side, to keep us focused.

Watching the fleet spread out, positioning themselves across the sea waiting for the next system to come in, is like surfers waiting for the next good wave. We know how important it is to get that following wind a few hours before the others, it will be close once the kites are set and we're all trucking east.”

The crew of the current leader of Race 4 have been feeling a little green as well, according to skipper, Brendan Hall. “The first few days of any ocean passage are hard on any crew and Race 4 is no exception. Sea sickness has taken a heavy toll on the Spirit of Australia crew and the atmosphere on board has been lower than normal,” he says. “Despite this, we are making great progress and the last two scheds have shown us leading the fleet, which has been a great boost to all. The upwind conditions we are experiencing now are very testing and tough and the crew is looking forward to the downwind surfing conditions we had on the last leg, minus the crash gybes and mainsail damage this time!”

Cape Breton Island is looking for a good result on this race to offset the disappointment of the last one. Jan Ridd, the skipper of the Canadian entry, says “It has been a baptism of fire for a lot of the crew – even the round the worlders – as we faced our first strong headwinds of the race with a lot of waves crashing over the deck. Yesterday morning the moment a crew member opened the hatch to come down below coincided with the largest wave breaking over the deck, allowing gallons of water to pour down below directly into the nav station, soaking me and everything in there. I hastily shut everything down and went about drying out the electrics. After rebooting, all equipment is working fine.

“It has been a hard couple of days for the crew as the wind has varied so much and changed so quickly, our tactics, unashamedly, were to follow Team Finland or California out of Table Bay as both skippers had extensive local knowledge. All was working well until we stalled in the wind hole behind Table Mountain and were just 50 metres away from Team Finland with 2 knots of breeze. We could even hear them talking on deck as a line of breeze filled in and allowed them to sail over the horizon while both California and ourselves watched the line of breeze recede with Team Finland.

“When we finally caught a breeze it was amazing how quickly the wind built and we actually changed directly from the windseeker to Yankee 3 and hastily reefed the main down to third reef. We had the frustrating problem of two reefing lines breaking as we put the reefs in. Fortunately we could still use the third reef, allowing us to continue sailing whilst we re-run reefs one and two.

“Everyone is in good form on board and are eventually finding their sea legs. It is nice to be at the front of the fleet but it is very early days and there is an area of light winds showing on the GRIB files in a couple of days which could cause the whole fleet problems.”

Team Finland's crew are getting used to life at sea again as they head towards the Roaring Forties and the Southern Ocean. The man in charge, Eero Lehtinen, says, “We have passed the Agulhas Bank and are now measuring depth under our keel in kilometres. No more fishing boats around us, not so many birds either.

“We are feeling strong and our main goal is to get to Australia with a boat and sails in good shape and crew unhurt. We don't need to win this leg, just bring another consistent result, and we are in good shape for the rest of the race. I believe that the final (seventh) leg with 50 points in it will decide it all and the boats that still have reasonably good sails and lots of self confidence at that stage will be the winners. And however one looks at it now, there won't be many of those teams come May 2010. That is the whole trick – avoid chaos and catastrophes, build confidence and consistency. The rest will come to you automatically.”

“Since race start on Sunday it has been a pretty tumultuous ride for the crew,” reports Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper, Peter Stirling. “The drama began with the start line collision between Hull & Humber and Cork. We were less than 100 metres away from them when they collided directly in front of us. It was a heart in mouth moment deciding which way to turn to avoid a three boat pile up. Fortunately the two boats separated before we got there and we sailed directly between them, running over Hull & Humber's trailing spinnaker sheets and guys as we went. I'm sure I speak for all the other skippers and crews in saying how sorry we feel for the crews of both Hull & Humber and Cork that they are unable to race alongside us to Australia.

“Table Bay is famous for its very changeable wind conditions and they showed their full range on Sunday. The wind was gusting 25-30 knots on the start line then no less than an hour later we were becalmed. We spent a further six hours making almost no progress and at the 1800 sched were actually further away from Geraldton than we had been at the start! The wind picked up again just as quickly as it died as we finally moved out of the Table Mountain wind shadow. In the space of four hours we went from full mainsail and windseeker to third reefed mainsail and staysail with 40 knots of wind. Currently we are holding our own in fourth place making good speed close hauled on port tack with full mainsail, Yankee 2 and staysail. Uniquely Singapore is visible just a couple of miles away on our starboard beam so the fight is on to keep them behind us.”

So with Uniquely Singapore in the sights of both Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, what is happening on board? “Crew I haven't seen for a while start to appear on deck as the wind and swell eases off and those with seasickness gradually get better and come on deck,” says skipper, Jim Dobie. “This start has been non-stop. A few hours of no wind at the start and then charging into 30 knots with the rough conditions, it certainly threw us back into the race. So now we look ahead once again, watching the weather systems to see how far south we go. It looks like we are set for another small light patch of breeze before the wind will fill in again from the west and we can start on the sleigh ride that is the Southern Ocean.”

After the issue with their reefing lines yesterday, California is making good headway. “The sea has finally decided to calm down a little and the wind has eased,” reports skipper, Pete Rollason. “We are back to full sails and moving along nicely. Everyone on board is slowly regaining their sea legs and settling into the routine of life on board. We are making good progress south in order to pick up the sleigh ride towards Australia and hopefully pick up a couple of places that we lost on the first night out of Cape Town with the broken reefs. It is starting to get colder and we are all pretty much living in our foul weather gear especially with the amount of spray that is coming across the deck.”

The fleet is due to arrive in Geraldton-Greenough, Western Australia, between 14 and 18 December.

POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, TUESDAY 24 NOVEMBER

1 Spirit of Australia DTF 4465
2 Cape Breton Island DTF 4476 DTL +11
3 Team Finland DTF 4481 DTL +16
4 Uniquely Singapore DTF 4512 DTL +47
5 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 4518 DTL +53
6 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 4518 DTL +53
7 California DTF 4574 DTL +109
8 Qingdao DTF 4599 DTL +134
9 Cork DTF 4773 DTL +308
10 Hull & Humber DTF 4773 DTL +308

Pantaenius Sailing
Windcraft
Ice Rays UV Arm Sleeves
GME GPS
Coursemaster Autopilot
Windcraft
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey
Multihull Group