Clipper fleet within 800 nm of Western Australian coast

It's going to be another nail biting day for the crews competing in Clipper 09-10, and none more so than for Team Finland as they work to maintain their lead over the chasing pack.

Skipper Eero Lehtinen reports this morning, “Mixed feelings is a mild way to describe the vibes on board Team Finland as we are well into our last thousand miles and still making good progress, bang on course to the Geraldton finish line. We know that soon the reaching will be over, speed will drop and wind will die before we start seeing the south easterly flow on the other side of the high pressure.

“How and when do we get there remains to be seen, it could well be up to 48 hours. We are also expecting the chasing pack to once again squeeze closer to us. It has not really been the leg of the rich this time, breaking away has been difficult and there's been pressure behind the leaders most of the time.

“Again this will be the case for the next 12 hours or so. But all we need is a boat length and we are looking forward to some action, even if in really light breeze to show that we can sail this boat fast in all conditions. Bring it on!”

Almost imperceptibly the margins between the five leading boats are narrowing as the teams approach the lighter airs. For the time being Spirit of Australia is hanging on to some decent breeze. Skipper Brendan Hall says, “The front of steady wind we are riding at the moment is holding out, meaning we can keep fast speed for another 18 to 24 hours hopefully, putting us another 220 nm closer to Geraldton. Yesterday we passed the 1000nm-to-go milestone, with a sigh of relief, but also a renewed determination to push hard for the finish line.”

In third place Uniquely Singapore is beginning to note the change that is on the way. Skipper, Jim Dobie, says, “So far the expected light winds have not yet happened, although there is definitely a trend for periods of lighter wind to come in at times. We are struggling to keep the boat above ten knots which has been the bench mark for the last few days. Team Finland will be the marker for the rest of us and as they approach the centre of the high first their mileage should start dropping. They are doing impressively well having made a lot of miles on us. With most boats still having Stealth up their sleeves I would expect a flurry of Stealth Modes being activated in the next 48 hrs – which will only add to the excitement as we approach Geraldton.

“Our game plan is still the same: get around the top of the middle of the high and then go like a bat out of hell once we gain the south easterlies on the other side.”

It sounds simple enough but anyone who has been watching the Clipper Race from the start will know just how much an area of lighter airs can play havoc with the best laid plans.

Cape Breton Island's crew, pushing hard and closing in on Uniquely Singapore, is keeping a firm eye on the leaders, hoping to take advantage of the weather information their chosen route will show up and to capitalise on any reduction in speed that it might bring to the Finnish team.

Skipper Jan Ridd says, “We are currently watching the boats ahead to see when their mileage starts dropping significantly. It is nice to have them as pathfinders, hopefully showing us where the very light winds are and allowing us to make a course change to avoid them!”

Jan won't be relying on his own experience to avoid the wind holes. He has been relieved of that burden by his crew whose pre-race navigation and meteorology training is being honed on the water and used to good effect.

He says, “The next decision is whether we need to make any course deviation from our rhumb line (shortest route) to avoid any lighter winds. I am glad to say the crew have retired 'Captain Wind Hole' from making the decisions and we now have a whole tactical team headed up by Gerry (Vandergrift). The team is analysing all the data that is available. We are only allowed the information supplied to us by the Race Office, a fact I always make my crew aware of as a well-meaning email by friends or family giving weather or routing information would be a clear infringement of the race rules giving us an unfair advantage. All information received this way must be reported. Not doing this, apart from being very unsportsmanlike, could risk disqualification or a severe penalty. So, every day when we receive the new weather information from the Race Office there is a huddle around the nav station as the team discusses and analyses any changes from the previous day's files.

“This has allowed me to spend a lot more time on deck to enjoy sailing this wonderful yacht – which I am loving!”

In fifth place Qingdao is getting ready to pounce. Chris Stanmore-Major, the Hong Kong-based skipper of the Chinese entry, says, “As we head into the high pressure ahead we feel we are ready for what lies ahead. We have positioned ourselves as best we can, choosing ultimately to take a tactically more conservative position in procession behind the leaders and directly between the finish line and those behind. We have, as a crew, talked through the various scenarios that will play out over the next few days. We think we have covered all the bases.”

They'd better hope they have because Jamaica Lightning Bolt is not letting this race go without a fight! Skipper, Peter Stirling, reports, “On Jamaica Lightning Bolt there is absolutely no time for complacency as every mile gained is a step closer to regaining fifth or possibly even fourth place. Better still, of course, would be if the crew could claim another podium position and get into the third place spot. In this game it is never over until you cross the finish line.”

Cork has taken a small dip south overnight, positioning themselves to ride the low pressure system and make best speed towards Geraldton. Race followers in Ireland can hear an interview with skipper, Richie Fearon, on RTE Radio 1's Seascapes programme tonight at 10.30pm.

Hull & Humber has put in some good 12-hour runs, which means their new crew challenge is off to a good start as they race towards Geraldton.

Skipper Piers Dudin reports, “Operation: Get-Katy-home-for-Xmas is off to a good start. I announced at our daily meeting about my executive decision to launch Op:GKHFX which went down well – until the part about the ten-knot average speed over the next 2,800nm we need to accomplish it. But we posted a solid 12 knot average during the night and are still running strong, holding onto the back of the low pressure system at least for the remainder of the day.

“The helming has been spot on in the building seas and winds gusting more than 25 knots. The whole crew has been on an extended all night surf session. All the big stars were out to watch – Acrux and Gacrux in the Southern Cross along with Alpha and Beta Centauri and Orion was out with his dogs again. Even the moon made a late appearance plum on the bow as we trucked east, helping keep Hull & Humber on the straight and narrow. We'll see how long it lasts!”

The Clipper team has arrived in Geraldton to establish the Race Office there and the first of the yachts are expected next week, with Cork and Hull & Humber due by Christmas.

In the meantime the first competitors in the Clipper Virtual Race are already enjoying a virtual beer and a steak at the virtual Geraldton Yacht Club having completed Race 4 yesterday. With crew from more than 40 nationalities competing in the real Clipper Race, the Virtual Race is even more internationally diverse and it was a double for Russia as Nshar and Antonman finished first and second. Third place went to Christy16, sailed by a French skipper living in Cambodia. There are now more than 67,000 players taking part in the Virtual Race with hundreds more signing up every day.

As with the Virtual Race, the Clipper Race is open to anyone, regardless of sailing ability, and berths on Clipper 11-12 are filling up faster than ever before. For more information on how to apply for a place email oceanracer@clipperroundtheworld.com.

POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, FRIDAY 11 DECEMBER

1 Team Finland DTF 802
2 Spirit of Australia DTF 839 DTL +37
3 Uniquely Singapore DTF 859 DTL +56
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 864 DTL +62
5 Qingdao DTF 885 DTL +83
6 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 905 DTL +102
7 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 920 DTL +117
8 California DTF 1008 DTL +206
9 Cork DTF 1725 DTL +923
10 Hull & Humber DTF 2674 DTL +1871

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