Finland clears out in Clipper race

Team Finland is the first team to cross the Equator into the southern
hemisphere and continues to stretch the lead over the chasing pack. King
Neptune had a courtier for this morning's hearing of the sins of the
crew – watch leader Mark Cole has crossed the Equator several times in
his regular job in the Merchant Navy, although this is the first time he
has raced from north to south on a yacht.

The Doldrums have been very cruel to half the fleet, the leading group
managed to get through virtually unscathed but the ITCZ pounced on the
middle order and refuses to let them through.

Team Finland's skipper, Eero Lehtinen, says, “We just slipped through
while it was still heading north and have since been enjoying improving
pressure and recently even more open wind angles. Luck certainly plays a
big role in these waters, but we surely are loving the great progress
and constantly growing lead. We will soon be back to the same gap what
we had before Doldrums. It's nice to see a game plan work so well for
once!”

It's not quite going to plan for Qingdao, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
and Hull & Humber, who are all caught fast in the ITCZ. “The main
Doldrum belt is moving south at the same rate we are, so it's proving
tricky to shake,” explains Piers Dudin, skipper of Hull & Humber.

“We spent yesterday on the lookout for any breath of wind to catch to
help push us south, the Equatorial Counter Current also sets us
eastwards and once in a while we get to hook into a rain squall which we
use to charge off for about 20 minutes, hopefully in the right
direction!

“This part of the course was always going to be a lottery. As it turns
out we missed our window of opportunity by only a few hours earlier in
the week to stretch across the area as the current top five did. Which
is a pretty tough pill to swallow but that's the way it goes.”

“Patience is stretched to its maximum,” according to Matt Pike, skipper
of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital. “The strongest helms when it's windy
rarely have the patience for this. The heat is relentless as is the bang
of limp sails rocking in the ever present swell. The scheds came in and
we'd done three miles in six hours!

“There are clouds around and under them is the wind. We edged closer,
put the kite up and yes we are sailing… 2.4 knots, 4.6 knots and over
the sound of cheering on deck I called for it to be dropped. The message
hits home – we're about to get a whole day's wind right now!

“They're the best; the kite was down the hatch as it hit – hot rain and
30 knots, cold rain and 35 knots, back to warm rain. It's as dark as
most nights with warm rain as large as marbles falling at the rate of a
power shower. We are flying for the best part of an hour with no
visibility beyond a boat length ahead with the warm rain pelting us. We
doubled our day's run in the first 15 minutes, barely dipping below 12
knots with only the main up. But it didn't last long before were back
drifting in circles again.”

Qingdao has altered their watch system to take account of the sweltering
conditions. Cleaning is done in the morning before the sun climbs too
high, and maintenance is done in the couple of hours before it sets as
the heat abates slightly. During the day watches have been pared back to
have as few crew on deck as possible.

Chris Stanmore-Major, skippering the Chinese boat, says, “As we
listlessly sit here waiting for the breeze the front runners draw
further away. Cork, whom we were just 25nm behind two days ago, is a
long way over the horizon now and Team Finland is fast approaching the
Equator.”

Race Director, Joff Bailey, says, “The leading pack has and will
continue to extend their lead over the next few days. California is
still making painfully slow progress in lighter than normal trade winds,
and they still have the ITCZ to deal with. They have however
significantly reduced their deficit on the middle order and may still be
in with a chance. Once all of the teams are through the ITCZ they can
hook into the reliable SE trade winds and start to really power their
way towards Rio.”

In the meantime it is still frustrating. Skipper of the Irish entry,
Richie Fearon, says, “We are doing our best to keep Cork going as fast
as we can in these variable conditions with the wind dropping on and off
constantly, going from 15 knots down to three knots. And to rub salt in
the wound the boats off to the west have good steady breeze and are
pulling miles away from us! We enjoy a challenge and hope this one works
out in the end – we aren't giving up until it's over!”

Despite their huge deficit, California's crew refuses to be bowed.
“After some good speeds yesterday the wind has deserted us overnight and
we are once again crawling along, however, it still seems like we are
gaining miles on the boats in front at each sched.”

Cape Breton Island, Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Spirit of Australia are
enjoying a hugely engaging three-way battle for a podium spot when they
get to Rio. The advantage seems to change with every position report and
Peter Stirling, skipper of Jamaica Lighting Bolt says, “We are
desperately doing everything we can to keep the boat sailing fast and
keep them at bay. In the same respect I'm sure both the other teams are
doing everything they can to get past us. I would love to put a few more
miles between us but at least being close keeps us all on our toes and
keeps us all fast. Within 24 hours the wind should have freed us off
enough to set a spinnaker again and it will be a downwind dash to the
finish line. The question is who will make the break first and get the
upper hand?”

That's the million dollar question and the answer is not
straightforward.

“Is the writing already on the wall?” asks Chris Stanmore-Major. “I
suspect not yet – the coast of Brazil has quite a few tricks up its
sleeve with strong currents, wind holes and variable breeze. It may be
that before the fat lady sings the audience may well change seats
again.”

Eero echoes his comments, “The next interesting point to watch is the
corner of Brazil. Are all boats laying the course around it without
tacking or will they end up in the bad current and possibly less wind?
It looks like we will have no problems and can start easing our sheets
soon. We might be flying a spinnaker again in a couple of days' time.”

POSITIONS AT 1500UTC, SUNDAY 11 OCTOBER

1 Team Finland DTF 1519
2 Spirit of Australia DTF 1652 DTL +133
3 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1656 DTL +137
4 Cape Breton Island DTF 1658 DTL +139
5 Cork DTF 1717 DTL +198
6 Qingdao DTF 1961 DTL +442
7 Hull & Humber DTF 1993 DTL +474
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 2017 DTL +498
9 Uniquely Singapore DTF 2052 DTL +532
10 California DTF 2418 DTL +899

(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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