Spirit of Australia out of Stealth mode and 15nm in front of Clipper fleet

NOTE: Since this was written, Australia has emerged from stealth mode and leading the charge to the scoring gate.

 Monday, and it's poised to be an exciting start to the week both on and
off the race track.

At Royal Cape Yacht Club there are swarms of orange uniforms all over
one particular 68-foot ocean racing yacht as the crew of Hull & Humber
take charge of their beloved boat once again. They are getting stuck
into the clean up after the major work to repair the hole in the side of
the boat, sustained in the start line collision with Cork eight days
ago.

The crew are loading the wardrobe of eleven racing sails back onto the
boat, along with new supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables and all
their kit bags; the carpenters are installing a new toe rail along the
edge of the deck; Clipper's maintenance chief, Justin Haller, is
overseeing the work to install a new block, stanchions and guard wires
as well as a few other fittings that had to be removed to allow the
repairs to be made. Race Director, Joff Bailey, is monitoring all the
activity, knowing that all that stands between the crew and the yacht's
departure later today is the marine surveyor's signature on the safety
report that will allow Hull & Humber to resume racing.

There is another strong south easterly blowing in Cape Town today, which
will make for a lively start for Hull & Humber. Piers Dudin and his crew
are anxious to get out and get going to reach Australia before
Christmas.

Cork, with a different weather system in a different part of the ocean
to the rest of the fleet, is also making gains on the boats up ahead.
Having not yet dipped to 40 degrees south they are already experiencing
the strong winds typical of the region and posted the fastest 12-hour
run at the 0600 sched.

The teams are closer than ever in their race to the scoring gate. Spirit
of Australia went into stealth mode at 1800 yesterday and their current
position is top secret and only revealed (for safety's sake) on a need
to know basis. They top seven of the visible yachts are separated by
just 84 miles and any one of them could make it to the scoring gate
first.

Even with the serious business of racing there is time for a few light
hearted moments as Spirit of Australia's skipper Brendan Hall proved
this morning in his 0600 report to the race office.

“Black face paint: Check. Black Oilskins: Check. Stealth mode engaged…

*in a low whisper* “Last night we chose to use our stealth mode in the
dash to the scoring gate and so far, everything is panning out very
nicely. Communication is made through tactical hand signals and curt
nods and movement around the deck is restricted to tiger-crawling from
one piece of cover to the next. Stealth mode is not just a race option,
it's a state of mind.”

They'll be back in public view at 1800 this evening. In the meantime,
Uniquely Singapore is leading the visible field, despite a frustrating
night.

Skipper Jim Dobie says, “We had light winds and the crew had to work
really hard to keep the boat speed up. We had some great runs yesterday
and were delighted to get into second place. It is so hard to gain
precious miles so now we need to make sure we keep the concentration up
especially with Spirit of Australia in stealth and a nail biting 24
hours to see where she pops out.

“The wind has finally tracked to the west and we are under kite again;
the watch led by Rachel and Detlef had it up while I was snoring away in
my bunk. As the race progresses the guys confidence and skills get
better and better and I get more and more sleep. It's a real credit to
Clipper's training that the crew are as good as they are. So we wait for
the next sched report to see our progress and we watch the miles to the
gate. It's still looking very close.”

Jim is not the only one to comment on the quality of seamanship the
crews have developed since they began their compulsory pre-race
training. (Remember, 40 per cent of the crew who sign up for this
challenge of a lifetime have never sailed before they begin their
training.) Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper Peter Stirling is equally
impressed with his own team's abilities.

He says, “In these cold conditions the crew really appreciate being kept
busy on deck as they have been this morning. It stops them getting cold
and helps make the watch go faster. One thing that is never lacking in
any Clipper crew I have sailed with is enthusiasm by the bucketful. Such
is my confidence in the crew now that as I sit here typing this they are
organising another evolution on deck. As a skipper it is very satisfying
now to be able to tell the crew what you want and then let them get on
with it largely unsupervised.

“With the wind now out of the west it is not quite as cold as it has
been. We ran through the night with a full mainsail and Yankee 1 with
the wind angle just behind the beam. The plan was to hoist the medium
weight spinnaker at first light but with thick black clouds gathering
from behind we changed instead to a full mainsail and poled out Yankee
2. They say 'fortune favours the brave' but in this part of the world
caution is the watchword. We have already seen several times how quickly
the weather can change in complete contradiction to the forecast. Also,
with the course required being dead downwind, we can safely lay the
required line with the poled out headsail whereas we couldn't with the
spinnaker.

“It's all about VMG (Velocity Made Good), as I keep preaching to the
crew. This basically means that even though we may be able to go two
knots faster with the spinnaker than we can with the poled out Yankee we
will be 20 degrees off course. Therefore our actual speed made good to
the waypoint will be the same or more with the poled out headsail.”

Team Finland is nipping at the heels of Uniquely Singapore in the race
for the scoring gate but after a great start from Cape Town it hasn't
been without its disappointments for the Finnish crew.

Skipper Eero Lehtinen reports this morning, “Recently we have had
several moments where we got all excited seeing a winning moment
unfolding in front of us. But instead, most of the times we were let
down and the magic wind hole that was supposed to land on our dear
competitors never happened and a couple of times we slowed down while we
were supposed to be flying ahead of everyone. The more northern track
has been risky and has proved wrong so far. So, here we are hoping for a
miracle and thinking when and at what cost are we going to cut south.
Not before the scoring gate, but how soon after? I think we will play
the gate part with open cards, saving the stealth option for later.”

Eero may be rueing taking the northerly option he thinks is wrong, but
Cape Breton Island, as the most southerly boat, are also having their
own challenges.

“Captain Wind Hole does it again!” exclaims skipper, Jan Ridd, in this
morning's report. “It's hard to believe when the rest of the fleet are
enjoying a decent breeze I manage to navigate the big blue canoe into an
area of light and variable winds – pretty hard to do in the 'Roaring
Forties'. On the GRIB files I was working from I was aware of the
lighter winds but they were well below our predicted position. The
updated weather files came in at midnight so, after plotting the
midnight positions, I had a quick glance with tired eyes and nothing had
appeared to change, so went of to my bunk for a couple of hours' sleep
with the boat fine reaching in a Force 6 with the wind due to come aft
into a beam reach.

“It was when Phil, my watch leader, woke me and said he had got the
Yankee 1 on deck at wanted to know if he should change up that I knew
things were not as they should be! Phil and his watch changed up to the
number 1, and we spent a painful couple hours sailing very slowly in
light airs with the wind direction moving all over so we had to sit it
out, knowing until we got an indication of where the wind was going to
fill in from, we had the best sail plan we could.

“The wind started to fill in from the south west so the crew set up the
spinnaker lines and pole and waited while I pondered which spinnaker to
fly; play safe and go for the heavyweight but lose speed or the
lightweight and risk damaging it if the wind suddenly built. In the end
I took the middle road and went with the medium which is up and flying
nicely with elisa working hard on the helm keeping it filled in the
shifting wind. Speed over ground is now back into double figures which
is a relief. I do have an uneasy feeling of being caught out if the wind
builds quickly with our biggest sail flying but we are racing and we do
need to make up some ground!”

Most of the teams, it seems, are finding wind holes in between them and
the scoring gate. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's Matt Pike reports, “The
race for the gate is on but where is the wind? The sea is flat and it's
perfect weather for medium spinnaker but a long frustrating wait for it
to settle. In the meantime we poled out the Yankee 2 only to sit in a
wind hole!! Dawn brought us some progress; we are on the move again but
have we bled too many miles to catch up?” The million dollar question!

Qingdao and California are focussed on the big picture, knowing they are
unlikely to pick up scoring gate points. Although, as California's
skipper Pete Rollason points out, stranger things have happened at sea.
He says, “The wind has finally swung round behind us after several days
of beating into Force 6 and more, and being very wet and cold. The crew
relished the opportunity to do some work and warm up so we are now
running well under poled out Yankee 2 and single-reefed main. We are
watching the six-hourly scheds with great interest and are focused on
the bigger picture of the result in Geraldton as it is extremely
unlikely that we can get any points at the scoring gate. Although
anything is possible; remember the Canaries? (Sorry Qingdao!)

It is important for us to put in a good performance on this leg and even
the Australian amongst our crew does not want to let Spirit of Australia
win the race to her home port. We have been matching the fleet for speed
over the last few days with small gains and losses but the crew now want
to put the foot a little firmer on the gas pedal and show the fleet that
we can work our way up the positions, especially after our unfortunate
experience on Leg 2. Talking of which, it may have taken a while but the
crew are getting used to steering the boat with a wheel again! It's
quite a novelty, although it has been said on more than one occasion
that some people preferred the emergency tiller!”

Chris Stanmore-Major and his crew remember the Canaries only too well
and hasn't entirely given up on picking up scoring gate points if this
morning's report from Qingdao is anything to go by. He says, “With the
gate beckoning we are indeed perhaps too far back to get points this
time but much can happen in 500 miles and as we know from our own costly
experience in Leg 1 these things sometimes have a funny way of not
working out exactly the way one expects.”

The Chinese team are recovering ground lost after suffered some damage
to their mainsail.

“Yesterday we began clawing back lost ground on the rest of the fleet
after we spent the previous day dealing with our mainsail which had
become damaged during heavy weather. We had multiple issues to deal
with, the biggest of these being a foot long rip halfway up close to the
mast. To make these repairs we reduced the mainsail area until in 20
knots we were down to what we would normally carry in 40 knots. This
allowed us to work easily on the sail on deck but unfortunately left
only a scrap still flying. This reduced our speed until, thankfully,
after 12 hours we were able to re-hoist with all the work complete and
our main pulling us back up to target speeds.

“The effect on the crew of losing what is effectively their main engine
could have been hugely demoralising but instead, the Dragon Wagon team
got stuck in. When the sail went back up we knew we would have taken a
beating mileage-wise so we chose not to look at our DTFB (Distance to
the Finish Boat) until the next morning when, to our great delight we
could see exactly the point at which our sail came down and the fleet
started to get further away and, importantly, exactly the point at which
it went back up again and they started getting closer.

“Today it's a simple task of mile-munching for us. With a strong weather
system ahead and the lead boats being held up momentarily with light
winds it may be the time for us to show what we can do; if not before
the gate, then after.”

POSITIONS AT 0900 UTC, MONDAY 30 NOVEMBER

1 Uniquely Singapore DTF 3301
2 Cape Breton Island DTF 3305 DTL +4
3 Team Finland DTF 3306 DTL +5
4 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 3319 DTL +18
5 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 3347 DTL +46
6 Qingdao DTF 3382 DTL +82
7 California DTF 3387 DTL +86
8 Spirit of Australia DTF 3417 DTL +116 (at 1800, 29
November. In stealth mode.)
9 Cork DTF 4249 DTL +948
10 Hull & Humber DTF 4773 DTL +1472

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