It's one of the mantras of the Clipper Race that is drummed into crew and skippers from the outset: look after your boat and your boat will look after you. The teams that do best are those that look after themselves and their equipment. You can't sail it like you stole it and rock up in port expecting to have whatever you've damaged in the process replaced without some kind of payback. The rules of the race are designed to reward good seamanship. This isn't the kind of race where the team with the biggest budget does best – the boats are identical, all of them have the same kit, the same sail wardrobe, the same budget and the rules are there to ensure that the racing is as fair as it can be.
No one is realising the truth of this more strongly than the crew of Cork, Ireland, who shredded a kite on Leg 1. It was judged beyond repair in Rio so they are now without the most valuable of their three spinnakers – just when they really need it.
Skipper, Richie Fearon, says, “We have had our spinnaker up now for just over a day and a half now and we are finally feeling as if we are moving. Since we shredded our medium weight kite on Leg 1 due to a nasty wrap we only have our lightweight and heavyweight. Currently we are running with our lightweight but the increase in wind is posing the dilemma of whether to change down or not. The lightweight is bigger but the winds aren't strong enough to justify the heavyweight yet. We have a steady Force 4 but it's occasionally touching Force 5 and is holding a 5 more often now. If only we had our medium weight kite which is the same area as the light but with thicker material…”
Nevertheless, Cork is posting some of the fastest 12-hour runs of the fleet and moving up through the rankings as their southerly routing puts them in an excellent position to take advantage of the winds. They could well move ahead of erstwhile leaders Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and Jamaica Lightning Bolt whose more easterly route has lost the breeze.
This has allowed Hull & Humber to swoop in and steal the overall lead during the night. Skipper Piers Dudin said from the outset of Race 3 that they wanted to be the most southerly boat and were mentally prepared to appear as the tenth placed boat in the scheds. Their preparation has paid off and the big orange boat now leads the fleet.
“We're lining up for the scoring gate now having gybed south again during the night to escape any light airs to the north,” he explains. “Tom's watch (Tom Salt, 26, a management consultant) arrived on deck decorated with Halloween balloon lanterns set up around the boat and pulled off a NICE 2am gybe to set us up for the scoring gate.
“Don't feel too bad about the others getting stuck in their wind holes as we've had our fair share of them thus far and I'm sure we'll have a few to come. The weather's looking really set for our track to the scoring gate. As I see it it's between us and Uniquely Singapore, the next high pressure is moving in and if any of the northern boys go for goal too far north they'll have a long beat south to get around it after the fact and take a big hit in the fleet positions as a result. In our case our southing is made, less a small duck to the south of the next high, but we can generally start working directly to Cape Town.
“The mood on board is good at the moment and it's not to do with working up the ranks. We established a good routine with the team in Leg 1 and felt nicely settled with our albeit slightly dysfunctional family on our arrival in Rio, but the quality of the watch leading, the effort going into the work below decks and the enthusiasm of new leggers makes me a very proud skipper.”
Uniquely Singapore has tracked south with Hull & Humber and has benefitted from the weather system in the same way, stealing up through the fleet to move into second place this morning – and they'll be pushing hard for the points at the scoring gate. This race to Cape Town could well give the overall leader board a big shake up.
Frustration for the early leading pack now as they watch their early advantage being eaten away.
“The weather forecast was wrong!” says Jamaica Lightning Bolt skipper, Peter Stirling. “For the last 24 hours we should have had a steady 10 knots of breeze from behind but not so. The wind has been much less than that and coming from all directions. Most of the rest of the fleet have been having better winds and have managed to substantially reduce our lead over them. The light winds have however kept the crew very busy with multiple sail changes and constant trimming which has stopped any chance of boredom creeping in. The outlook is not much better for the next 24 hours so looks like another busy day coming up!”
They're hard at it on Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, too, trying to find some breeze. Matt Pike, skipper of the Scottish boat says, “The light weight spinnaker became harder and harder to keep full, then finally collapsed for the last time when our light NE breeze gave out. Half way through dropping it to our surprise a southerly wind picked up from an overcast sky. Perhaps a distant rain cloud? It was followed by a rainbow then cleared leaving a gentle 8kt breeze. Never ones to miss an opportunity we soon had the Number 1 set and sedately sailed at 5 knots into a beautiful sunset. Later a gathering of Halloween witches in the cockpit witnessed the wind read 0.00kts the boat speed 0.00kts so the wind seeker is now set to do its thing.”
“It's been a night of frustration on California with the wind filling in for a time and just when you feel that we are through the light patch, the wind dies again. Anyway, it shouldn't be long and we should start to pick up the westerlies and be putting the kite up,” says California's Cape Town-based skipper, Pete Rollason.
Eero Lehtinen, Team Finland's skipper is keeping an eye on what is going on with the early leaders. “We made some gains on most of the fleet while the most southern pack (Hull & Humber, Uniquely Singapore and Cork) have pulled further away from us. However we like to think that we belong to the southern part of the fleet, that way it looks like our prospects for the coming days are slightly brighter than the more northern ones.
There's another watch change taking place and it's good to see everyone back to full strength again. The rest of the leg will most likely be a pleasant one for us as a team; lots of miles still to go and a very interesting situation in the race. As before, Team Finland will make sure no one beats us easily, while aiming at the earliest possible arrival in Cape Town to spend some valuable time with some special little people. Hang in there Hanna, Ed and Alex… I am doing my best to see you shortly!”
Spirit of Australia and Cape Breton Island are both finding making progress painful. While the Aussies continue to claw themselves out of their wind hole Cape Breton Island's crew are a little despondent about being at the back of the fleet.
Skipper Jan Ridd, says, “We're not too happy with being back of the fleet but we are working hard at trying to sail our way out of this wind hole. A lot of the crew are quite down, even though I keep on telling them that there are thousands of miles left with plenty of weather systems to go through.”
The biggest of those weather systems awaits on the other side of the scoring gate – the South Atlantic High could well make even more mischief for the fleet than the winds of Halloween.
POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, SUNDAY 1 NOVEMBER
1 Hull & Humber DTF 2601
2 Uniquely Singapore DTF 2613 DTL +12
3 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 2628 DTL +27
4 Cork DTF 2634 DTL +34
5 Team Finland DTF 2645 DTL +44
6 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 2648 DTL +47
7 California DTF 2651 DTL +51
8 Qingdao DTF 2662 DTL +62
9 Spirit of Australia DTF 2710 DTL +109
10 Cape Breton Island DTF 2723 DTL +122