The Clipper Race fleet has emerged from some of the toughest conditions faced in the 2017-18 edition of the race to date, and as the teams continue racing across the North Pacific Ocean to Seattle, all are being praised by their skippers for exceptional handling of what will be a storm to remember.
Less than a year ago, the majority of the Clipper Race crew were amateurs or completely new to sailing. Now, after successfully negotiating hurricane force winds and a phenomenal sea state with waves greater than 14 metres, conditions even some professional sailors never get to experience, the skippers could not be prouder of their crew.
Nikki Henderson, skipper of the eighth placed Visit Seattle, comments: “The sea was just like something off the 'Perfect Storm' – huge towering waves, boiling, seething, breaking, swirling.
“When we sailed over the top of one, it felt like we had just summited a peak in a mountain range – rolling hills as far as the eye could see. But unlike bleak mountain tops, or the dark black of the films, the sea was the most beautiful mix of colours – dark deep blue, white where it had broken, and bright turquoise as the surf mixed it all up. Just breathtaking.
“But the best part was definitely the crew. Just seeing these guys and gals managing the weather, enjoying it, experiencing it was incredible. Their smiles and wide eyes are something I won't forget in a long time. These people who sign up to do this race really are one of a kind.”
Whilst all boats got through the front without any major mishap, largely due to the professionalism shown by the skippers in making the decision to put safety above racing, the huge conditions caused a couple of headaches for a few teams.
Spinnaker wraps and a damaged main meant a busy 24 hours on the seventh placed Garmin, but skipper Gaetan Thomas says: “The noise of the wind, the sound of the waves breaking around you, the squalls, it was very intense and I'm really proud of my pirates. We were all together in it and we fixed it all. Okay, we lost ground but the priority was to keep the crew and the boat safe no matter what.
“We will remember this storm for a long time. We are all tired, the temperature is still very cold, and everything is wet, but smiles are still on faces and the boat still surfing around 22-25 knots in the right direction.”
The second placed Sanya Serenity Coast also had to do some running repairs in the midst of the storm. Skipper Wendy Tuck reports: “The guys did an awesome job overnight.
“The steering cables on the starboard helm that connect the wheel to the rudder had come off. I check these every day for tension, but with the force of the gybe they came off. Luckily, we have two wheels, so Doc (David Sturge), who was sitting by the main could quickly jump on the leeward helm to steer.
“Then it was a job for Glenn (I can fix anything) Manchett to break out his super-duper spanner set. He loosened them off even more, re-ran them, and then tightened them in place. Whilst down there, he also snugged up the port cables a little, they do need a little bit of play, so then all was well again.”
With the coming high-pressure system acting as a buffer zone to the next low it's relatively calm, with Qingdao skipper Chris Kobusch commenting: “This morning the wind started to ease and we are now what feels like 'light wind'. It is still blowing 25-30 knots outside, but after the past 48 hours, this does not seem to be too daunting anymore.”
Qingdao remains in the lead for a second straight day, though it is tight at the front of the fleet, with just 30 nautical miles separating Qingdao from the second placed Sanya Serenity Coast and Unicef in third. It's also close in the chasing pack, with just 40nm between the fourth ranked HotelPlanner.com and Garmin in seventh.
In the biggest change on the leaderboard in the last 24 hours, PSP Logistics fell from second to fifth and 100nm off the lead.
Skipper Matt Mitchell says: “There is still a not inconsiderable distance to go and the long-range forecast appears to have the standard end of race wind hole forming right over the finish line so it's a race against time to make sure that we don't get caught.
“We also have a bit of ground to make up as when the wind shifted late last night, I deemed it too risky to gybe in the dark as the waves were still pretty big and the wind still quite strong. It was a recipe for disaster so we waited until first light. We lost a fair number of miles though which is a bit annoying. Safety always takes precedence over racing though.”
The fleet was originally expected to finish Race 9: The Race to the Emerald City and arrive into Bell Harbor Marina between Saturday 14 and Thursday 19 of April, but conditions in the early part of the race means the boats are now expected between Thursday 19 and Saturday 21 April.