The thirteenth and final race of the Clipper 2017-18 Race remains anyone's, with the fleet still tightly packed as the upwind beat down the western Irish coast continues.
And with now less than 36 hours left until the teams reach Liverpool, the battle for the overall win and illustrious Clipper Race Trophy between Visit Seattle and Sanya Serenity Coast is starting to heat up, with the two boats still virtually neck-and-neck on Day 3 of Race 13.
After dropping in the standings yesterday, Visit Seattle worked hard overnight to move back in touch with the main chasing pack. Skipper Nikki Henderson explains: “Life feels brighter today. We have been thinking and trimming and driving this boat like we have never done before and bit by bit yesterday we managed to make up some ground back to the fleet. We are now joined by Sanya Serenity Coast, Dare To Lead, and PSP Logistics in the middle pack – so it's a fight to stay in fifth at the moment.”
Whilst the four leading teams – Liverpool 2018, Qingdao, Garmin, and Unicef – are all still in AIS range, Nikki is concerned time is running out to make a move, adding: “The four up ahead will be hard to catch once we turn the corner of Virtual Mark Fastnet. They will crack off their sails and zoom along at probably 10-12 knots whilst the rest of us slog it out at 7-8 in the wrong direction. So still thinking, trimming, and driving to see if we can make it there first! In the words of Dory … 'just keep sailing, just keep sailing, sailing, sailing'.”
Sanya Serenity Coast is also having to put in the hard yards to keep the competition in check. Skipper Wendy Tuck comments: “Again it's been an up and down day and night. Sometimes we do ok, then sometimes we don't do so ok. But all is well on the mighty Sanya Serenity Coast.
“Overnight the breeze picked up a little more so it's back to living on the north edge, good thing the green monster has left the boat.”
Despite veering away from the main pack yesterday after being hit by a wind-shift whilst tacking, Liverpool 2018 is right back in the thick of things leading the pack. But with less than ten nautical miles between the first nine boats, Skipper Lance Shepherd isn't getting carried away, saying: “It is so tight I think the positions will be contently changing right up until the finish line.”
The currently third placed Unicef is eyeing up a podium position, with Skipper Bob Beggs reporting: “We are now about a third of our way between Virtual Mark Siraut and Virtual Mark Fastnet and we are engaged in a great battle out here heading for Liverpool in this, our final race. The fleet is very tight and really any boat may have a chance of winning.
“The weather has been kind in this latter part of the race and after tonight's blow passes through, the weather forecast is promising some great light wind spinnaker action via St Georges Channel and the Irish Sea.”
As the finish line draws closer, realisation is dawning about just what the teams have accomplished over the last eleven months. Dare To Lead Skipper Dale Smyth says: “Sailing against the ten other Skippers has been such a pleasure and challenge. Each Skipper individually has become a close colleague and friend as we have travelled around the world racing each other.
“Individually, each of us has our own style and personality and although we sail our hearts out against each other, we have really had each other to rely on for the last year. It is comforting to know that any one of the eleven would stop racing instantly to come to your assistance if need be. Skippering in a Clipper Race is a lonely role in some respects, carrying the responsibility of these 70-foot machines full of people and their hopes and dreams, in a hugely hostile environment. We have truly had a group of Skippers that have supported and been there for each other and I would like to express my deepest thanks to all of you individually for your friendship, support, and competition this year.”