Doldrums splits Clipper fleet in two

The effects of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone), or Doldrums, are now plain for all to see with two well defined groups – one that has managed to slip through to the other side with little or no difficulty and is now powering towards Rio de Janeiro; the other still trying to free itself from the area.

California is still trying to latch on to the back of this second group and has made significant gains on them but the skipper and tacticians will be closely studying the weather files as they position their team for the assault on the shifting area of light winds.

Half the fleet has now crossed the Equator into the southern hemisphere and are benefitting from the steady south east trade winds, all five of the teams clocking up some good 12-hour runs. The winds will become more easterly as they close in on their target of Rio.

Mark Cole, watch leader on Team Finland, says, “With a slightly better sailing angle than the boats to the west of us for the last 24 hours we have pulled further ahead of the chasing pack and are looking good for the run down to Rio. As long as we keep our heads, continue sailing the boat like we know we can, and then be first with the wind angle to hoist the spinny we should continue do well. And now with Neptune's blessing we'll hopefully reach Rio just in time for me to grab a birthday drink on the 17th…”

Team Finland crossed the Equator at 0638 UTC on Sunday and everyone gathered on deck to watch the GPS tick down to zero. Only Mark and skipper, Eero Lehtinen, had faced Neptune's court before so the King of the Depths had 17 trespassers to find worthy of crossing his domain.

Cork, Ireland crossed the Equator at 0316 UT today and offered their gifts to Neptune but will hold off on the ceremony until later today when the watch system brings the entire crew together for an hour. Normally this is the time the skipper holds his daily team briefing; today King Neptune's court will also be called into session.

Reaching this major milestone has given the crew's spirits a huge boost. “With the chat on board you would think we are just about there,” reports skipper, Richie Fearon. “But I suppose with 1,500 miles to go in steady breeze and, taking into account some of the light weather we have had, we are good as there. Our position is still strong being east of the pack of three just ahead of us and, with some wind movements in our favour, hopefully it will strengthen our position further.”

The three-way battle between Cape Breton Island, Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Spirit of Australia continues to be an entertaining one, with the positions changing at every sched. And, amazingly, after 3,000 miles of racing across the huge expanse of Atlantic Ocean, they can see each other.

Jan Ridd, skipper of Cape Breton Island, reports his team crossed the Equator at 0045 UTC today. “We celebrated in style with lots of fancy dress. The sight of Luke (Dampier, a gap year student from the UK) in a micro skirt will stay with me for far too long. Hande (Bayik, a product brand manager from Turkey) also entertained us with some belly dancing in authentic costume and we had a fun, relaxed hour. Maybe a little too relaxed because towards the end we noticed the lights of another yacht, which we presume was a Clipper yacht. The yacht crossed our bow clearly hard on the wind, crossing less than a mile ahead.”

Could it have been Spirit of Australia? Skipper Brendan Hall says, “After a few thousand miles of solitude, out horizon was broken today by the sight of Jamaica Lighting Bolt's sails. Shortly afterward, we could also see Cape Breton Island. I expect we will be seeing each other a lot over the next 1,500nm into Rio and, if our close finish with Hull & Humber in La Rochelle is anything to go by, the finish is going to be very exciting indeed.”

Further back in the fleet, but no less closely fought, is the tussle between Qingdao, Hull & Humber, Uniquely Singapore and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, all of whom have been held fast by the Doldrums for longer than they would have liked.

Skipper of the Scottish team, Matt Pike, says, “0.02 of a knot is a distant memory. Now it reads 0.00 and we have lost the ability to even point in the right direction. The lightweight kite hangs idly from its halyard, one clew sitting on the pole, the other in the water. The midday scheds showed the rest of the fleet moving (all be it slowly) only a few miles either side so there must be some wind. It's a low point for us.

“We start to move again and it brings a new resolve that we are not beaten yet. The helm harnesses what little breeze there now appears to be, we glide forwards, back in control of our own heading, and things are looking up. We are still stuck in the middle of the biggest hole out here but Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's crew are living up to their name. They will face whatever challenge is thrown at them with grace and good humour – but a small breeze would help!”

“Well, every mile counts at the moment and during the last 12 hours we've done 20 of them,” says Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin. “The wind is out of the south south east and we've been uninterrupted by squalls, three pretty strong indicators that we are finally clawing ourselves out of the 'D' word. (We've agreed we're not actually allowed to say the 'D' word anymore, at least not until we've passed the Equator). We managed ten hours with the light kite, strapped tight in, which worked well for most of the day, until the wind pushed round to the south. Just before dinner we had a visit from two whales, probably and mother and baby Fin or Brydes whale, according to our guide from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, we couldn't decided exactly which, but it was a nice occasion. It looked like they were also heading south for the summer.

“The top four are looking out of reach at the moment but if we can hold off Qingdao, to the west of us and catch Cork, then a fifth place with two points for the scoring gate, bearing in mind our run of bad luck in the Dold – sorry, 'D' word – would be a perfectly respectable result. We still have to catch Cork. We're pinning our hopes on a park up just before the finish line. Looks like a great tussle for the podium places happening up front, shame we won't be part of it this time round, but with just under 2,000 nm to go there's still plenty to play for.”

Qingdao has used the time in the Doldrums productively, refusing to allow the lack of wind affect their overall campaign. The teams are, after all, just 4,000 miles into this 35,000-mile race around the world.
Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, has been detailing how his crew have used their time to improve their long term game and their attention to detail has been meticulous.

“We have had an issue in the past weeks with our spinnakers picking up tiny tear holes after dropping that threaten to blow the kite out if we were to re-launch and not notice one of the plucks. It has taken some time but we have finally isolated one split pin that has been showing 1 mm of sharp steel to the kite and that was enough – 1mm of steel in the wrong place on a 90-foot rig with probably 180 separate components.”

You can read Chris's report in full online at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.

POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, MONDAY 12 OCTOBER

1 Team Finland DTF 1317
2 Cape Breton Island DTF 1467 DTL +150
3 Spirit of Australia DTF 1468 DTL +151
4 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1477 DTL +160
5 Cork DTF 1517 DTL +200
6 Qingdao DTF 1847 DTL +530
7 Hull & Humber DTF 1913 DTL +596
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1957 DTL +640
9 Uniquely Singapore DTF 1963 DTL +646
10 California DTF 2305 DTL +988 (position at 1100 UTC)

(DTF = Distance to Finish, DTL = Distance to Leader)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.

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