Spirit of Australia top of the leader board in Clipper

Spirit of Australia has secured second place in Race 2 from La Rochelle to Rio de Janeiro, crossing the finish line at 22:25:42 local time, Monday 19 October (00:25:42 GMT, Tuesday 20 October), just 6 hours behind race winners Team Finland. The result marks the second time in as many races that the Australian team has finished in second place. The nine points they will be awarded, coupled with the three points for being first through the scoring gate, keeps them at the top of the overall leader board in the Clipper 09-10 Round the World Yacht Race.

Skipper Brendan Hall, from Brisbane, says, “Wow, what a tough one that was! From a no breeze start in La Rochelle to a no breeze finish in Rio. We are simply over the moon on board Spirit of Australia. We got the three scoring gate points plus nine for second place, what a result!

“The crew has worked so hard these last four weeks and they have made me, themselves and each other proud,” says Brendan. “We had a conservative game plan, stuck to it religiously, didn't break anything or damage any of our sails and have a nice points start to our Round the World race campaign.”

Line honours in Race 2 went to Team Finland who, despite having two wins under their belt, has just missed out on taking the overall lead away from the Australian entry by one point.

Team Finland's skipper Eero Lehtinen, says, “Race 2 was a very balanced and professional performance from Team Finland,” says skipper Eero Lehtinen. “The whole team has worked without a word of complaint, in the extreme heat, under pressure from competition, in the long hours with no wind and no boat speed, during the endless sail changes and trimming. “

In a race which has been marked by light winds, Team Finland took an early lead out of La Rochelle but soon lost it by sailing into a wind hole as the fleet rounded Cape Finisterre. As weather forecasts indicated light winds across the 90 nautical mile long gate south of the Canary Islands, Team Finland made the decision to bail out and focus on a ten point win into Rio. Spirit of Australia held their nerve and the decision to go for the scoring gate paid off, beating Hull & Humber across the line and securing the team three valuable points. The decisions made by Spirit of Australia and Team Finland over the scoring gate proved to be the defining moment in both teams' races, as Team Finland moved into the lead and held it to the finish line.

Race Director, Joff Bailey, says, “Brendan and the team onboard Spirit of Australia have proven that there was more than one tactic that worked in this race. With Team Finland going east around the canary islands and Spirit of Australia going west, only six hours separated the two teams at the finish. The team has also shown they have a great fighting spirit; they were able to stay focused and keep good boat speed in the light conditions which caused other teams to struggle.

Consistency in the Clipper Race is key to overall success so it will be interesting to see if Spirit of Australia and Team Finland can hold their form in the next couple of races,” he added.

Periods of light winds have dogged the fleet for the first trans-Atlantic crossing of Clipper 09-10. With virtually no wind at the start in La Rochelle, around the Canary Islands and for half the boats through the Doldrums, the normally reliable trade winds have also been lighter than expected. As the fleet neared its final destination of Rio de Janeiro, once again light conditions brought the leading boats to a near halt. Over the final days of racing a three way battle took place behind Team Finland for the final two podium positions and at one point it looked as though a Finnish victory may not be guaranteed. Spirit of Australia led the charge closely followed by Cape Breton Island and Jamaica Lightning Bolt whose positions swapped on a regular basis as the teams focused on the Cabo Frio finish line.

At midday GMT the Clipper 09-10 Race Committee announced a shortened course for Race 2 from La Rochelle to Rio de Janeiro. The amended Sailing Instructions has given the teams 24 hours notice of the shortened course and the final positions will be taken at midday GMT on Tuesday 20 October. Those teams that have crossed the finish line will be awarded the relevant finishing position, while the others will be awarded the position based on their distance to finish at that time.

This is a standard procedure used in both ocean racing and around the cans events and is called into play by race organisers who must ensure they meet the goals of the teams, the spectators and the overall event.

The decision is not one that was taken lightly. In all around the world yacht races, the first priority is the safety of the crews and their boats and this is most certainly the case with the Clipper Race. Race 3 is due to start on Tuesday 27 October and it is important from the point of view of good seamanship that the teams get the opportunity to prepare themselves and their boats correctly for the next stage of the race, which will take them towards the Southern Ocean on the way to Cape Town, South Africa.

Once finished, the teams will make their way by fastest means, through a combination of using their engines and sailing, to the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro, which will host the fleet for the duration of the stopover.

First priority on arriving in port will be to clean the yacht and begin the routine maintenance required to keep the boats in peak performance condition, as well as catching up on much needed sleep and food other than the tinned and dried variety on offer at sea. The victuallers must also ensure their yacht is fully stocked for the next 3,385-mile race to Cape Town.

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