Hull & Humber has become the first of the ten ocean racing yachts to play their joker, going into Stealth Mode and under cover at 1800 UTC on Monday evening.
Each of the boats has the option to disappear from sight of the rest of the fleet for one 24-hour period during Race 2 from La Rochelle to Rio. As safety is the number one concern for the race organisers, the yachts in Stealth Mode must still report their positions to the Race Office on a six-hourly basis as normal. By hiding their tactics from their competitors, the yachts in Stealth Mode hope to gain a tactical advantage during the position blackout.
They could radically alter their course, or double bluff and continue as they have been. Which is it for Hull & Humber? Did skipper Piers Dudin have his poker face on as he typed his report to the race office at 0600 this morning?
“OK, so we had a plan, taking into account the light airs,” he says, “But we didn't factor in the possibility of NO WIND! So we are being especially stealthy in no particular direction. Hopefully a bit of sun will get the wind moving a bit but it's looking like a bit of a park up at the moment.”
Truth or bluff? Have they parked up, or have they found some breeze and are moving swiftly towards the scoring gate? Or are they going to miss out the scoring gate altogether? Find out when they're uncloaked again at the 1800UTC sched on Tuesday – it's going to be a frustrating day of waiting for supporters hooked on the three-hourly updates on the race viewer!
A boat can cross a scoring gate when it is in stealth mode – they must email their position and time of crossing to the Race Office immediately they do – and that time will be made public and sent to the rest of the fleet at the next routine position schedule.
Race Director Joff Bailey has been studying the weather charts and says in addition to the dying winds and even potential headwinds for the most westerly yachts of the fleet, there are also a number of wind holes to test the skippers' and crews' patience.
Joff says, “At the moment the scoring gate is in a large wind hole and any of the leading group will be trying to avoid any of those. The scoring gate is optional so we may even see the leading boats miss it, preferring to go straight for the win and the ten points they'd get for that. I think the optimum route is going to be through the east of the Canaries.”
This is one of the age old dilemmas for transatlantic ocean racers; skirting around the outside of the islands requires a greater distance to be sailed but the winds may be steadier. The route through the islands is the shortest and the mountainous terrain of the volcanic islands can have a tunnelling effect on the local wind systems, pushing yachts through the islands. But that same landscape can just as often produce a wind shadow creating wind holes that bring the yachts to a screaming halt.
Cork, Ireland has been battling away in the middle of the fleet since destroying their medium weight spinnaker in a disastrous wrap, but they're keeping pace with Team Finland as they head through the Canary Islands, opting for the shortest route through the island chain. Cork's skipper, Richie Fearon's family boat, Faustina, is based in the Canaries so his local knowledge may well be one of the factors in his team's routing decision.
One of those boats whose mileage has dropped dramatically in the last 24 hours is California. Skipper, Pete Rollason, has a different interpretation of the GRIB (weather) files. He says, “It has been a frustrating 24 hours on board with very little wind and therefore slow boat speeds. It has been some very good light wind helming and trimming practice for the crew and I think our current location to the northwest of the fleet should benefit us considerably over the next few days – if the forecast can be relied upon!”
Equally frustrated are the crew of Qingdao where the fire of the dragon has been damped down a little overnight, according the skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, who gives an insight into the tension the lack of wind creates on board.
“The pressure this situation creates on the crew is palpable. People are quieter, laughter a little further away than normal. It is difficult to race hard when there is no wind; harder yet when the knowledge needed to get what little breeze there is working for you is still being learned and developed. On Qingdao this morning the crew are trying everything they know, can guess, can think to try to squeeze a little more out of our sleeping Dragon. We will try and keep trying and, despite a worrying lack of cloud on the horizon, we are certain that in the end the breeze will return.
“See now, As I write my last words here I hear a whoop of joy from the helm and turning see 10 knots registered on the wind instruments and 5.5 knots on the log.
“Take note Clipper fleet, the Dragon wakes at dawn.”
POSITIONS AT 0900UTC, TUESDAY 29 SEPTEMBER
1 Hull & Humber DTF 3566 (at 1800 UTC, 28 September. Now in Stealth Mode.)
2 Spirit of Australia DTF 3522
3 Team Finland DTF 3531
4 Qingdao DTF 3558
5 Cork DTF 3594
6 Uniquely Singapore DTF 3650
7 Cape Breton Island DTF 3654
8 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 3698
9 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 3700
10 California DTF 3753
(DTF = Distance to Finish)
Full positions are updated every three hours and can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.