The Garmin American Challenge from Seattle to Panama is shaping up as one of the most exciting finishes of the Clipper 2017-18 Race so far, with the teams closer than ever off the coast of Mexico.
Though Qingdao and Dare To Lead, which were yesterday in first and third place respectively, have disappeared from public view through Stealth Mode, it will be hard to hide from the other Clipper Race teams, with the top six yachts currently visible on the Race Viewer within 22 nautical miles (nm) of each other. HotelPlanner.com Skipper Conall Morrison describes the situation, saying: “Today at watch change at midday, we could see seven other Clipper 70s with Mark One Eyeball, first place to eighth. I'm sure this is making interesting watching at home.”
Clipper Race Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who is keeping a close eye on the tight racing, comments: “The fleet is now experiencing some very frustrating calm conditions, which is a long lesson in patience. However, these are the conditions where skills in sail handling are sharpened. This is especially the case when the leading boats are so close together and the slightest change in sail set or trim can show results.”
Qingdao will be taking Sir Robin's words to heart, given the conditions the team currently finds themselves in. Before going into Stealth Mode with Dare To Lead at 0600 UTC, Qingdao Skipper Chris Kobusch wrote: “We passed the first Mandatory Gate still in first place but soon after ran out of wind.
“We are now bobbing around in good company with Visit Seattle, Unicef, Sanya Serenity Coast, HotelPlanner.com, and Dare To Lead, which are all still within AIS range.”
The light winds mean the crews are working harder than ever, as Unicef Skipper Bob Beggs explains: “After last night's close racing, we are now trying to eke some boat speed out of the light winds we have at present. The focus on deck is excellent, with a lot of tweaking of sails going on as we try to keep pace with the leaders.”
“We can see the lights of the other yachts clearly to our south, it will be a continued slow drag race to Gate Bowley just over 100nm away. Each of these gates can be considered a potential finish line, so it's important to keep the pace on.”
Having passed the first Mandatory Gate, the majority of the fleet is approximately halfway to Gate 2. Although the present finish line for Race 10: The Garmin American Challenge is in an area due south of Isla Jicaron in Panama, any of the mandatory gates listed in the Course Instructions and viewable on the Race Viewer may be used as a finish line should the Race Committee deem it necessary to conclude the race in interest of the race and crew.
Dare To Lead Skipper Dale Smyth says: “We are slowly heading towards Mandatory Gate Bowley and cannot rest for a second with all the competition so close.”
Though the hot and humid conditions on board show no signs of easing, in some good news for the fleet, Clipper Race Meteorologist Simon Rowell reports a new pulse of breeze is due to come down the coast, whilst the teams should pick up some squall activity in the approach to the next Mandatory Gate near the western end of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Whether the arrival of fresh wind will enable teams to break away remains to be seen. Longer term, the weather conditions continue to be monitored with regards to the potential race finish gate.