Spirit of Australia still in touch in Clipper first leg

Fast, comfortable, downwind racing was the order of the day yesterday,
said Spirit of Australia's skipper, Brendan Hall, this morning. “We
hoisted the heavyweight spinnaker mid morning and ran with it all day.”

As the fleet charges down the English Channel towards the notorious Bay
of Biscay, all the teams are continuing to enjoy the fast downwind
conditions, with some boats reporting speeds in excess of 20 knots. The
north easterly winds have swung a little more to the north overnight and
built in strength, with consistent 25 – 30 knot winds pushing the boats
quickly towards Ushant.

Over the past 24 hours a fight has been taking place at the front of the
fleet as Hull & Humber and Cork push hard in an attempt to take pole
position away from Team Finland. Finnish skipper, Eero Lehtinen, gave an
account of yesterday's battle and the resulting drama. “We led the fleet
into the English Channel but since then have spent some of our lead in
order to save our crisp heavy weather spinnaker,” said Eero. “Instead we
opted to pole out our Yankee 2, whilst the chasing pack has been pushing
their spinnakers to catch us up. As the closest two were on our heels we
hoisted our kite again and had a good battle with Cork and Hull &
Humber. After managing to pull away from them slowly I called for a drop
which, despite going quickly, allowed Cork to come alongside for a
rather closely matched speed duel. I told my crew that sooner or later
the conservative decision would pay off and sure enough it did as Cork
wiped out and is now back on our stern side.

“In the meantime, however, we have also had our share of drama as we now
only have one whole spinnaker pole,” said Eero. “A spectra strop
attaching the pole downhaul to the spar let go and before we could gybe
the sail off the pole it snapped and is now in two pieces. The good news
is that no one got hurt and the crew sorted out the dangerous situation
in a fantastic manner.”

Meanwhile further back down the fleet the US team has managed to move up
a couple of places overnight and skipper, Pete Rollason, complimented
his crew on their driving skills. “A good night on board California,”
said Pete. “The crew has achieved some excellent helming in rough
conditions which has enabled us to make up miles on the boats ahead.
Spirits are high and if this wind continues we are all looking forward
to an early arrival in La Rochelle.”

Uniquely Singapore has now replaced California in tenth place due to a
snapped outhaul hampering their progress overnight. Skipper Jim Dobie is
starting to feel the pressure, reporting this morning that his crew is
feeling a little dejected about being at the back of the fleet. “This is
where the mind games come in to see whether you start to push the boat
and crew hard, or take it easy knowing it's only the first race,” he
explains. “It's a tough one as nobody likes being last, but there aren't
many miles left in this first race and time is running out.”

As the fleet heads south past the Channel de Four the boats will start
to experience some strong currents. This combined with the forecasted
wind conditions is likely to create some rough seas, testing the crews
for the first time since the race start. A decrease in wind strength is
expected overnight tonight and, with the north westerly direction
holding, more fast and exciting racing is still to come.

Clipper Race Director, Joff Bailey, says, “The boats are currently very
close together, with the entire fleet separated by only 35 miles. Being
in such close proximity to each other the teams will be able to see
their closest competitors. This makes the racing even more exciting as
the crews are able to see for real the gains and losses they make on the

Positions AT 0600 GMT, 15 September 2009

Team Finland 49.21.58N 3.15.59W 313nm
Cork 49.26.23N 3.15.38W 316nm
Hull & Humber 49.27.11N 3.14.37W 317nm
Spirit of Australia 49.26.40N 3.05.50W 321nm
Cape Breton Island 49.31.40N 2.59.38W 327nm
Jamaica Lightning Bolt 49.30.45N 2.54.49W 329nm
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 49.35.06N 2.49.49W 334nm
California 49.40.16N 2.41.36W 342nm
Uniquely Singapore 49.37.23N 2.37.16W 343nm
Qingdao 49.42.44N 2.32.53W 348nm

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