Spirit of Australia up to third place in the Clipper race

The Race Committee is considering evidence that Cork and Hull & Humber
did not correctly sail the race course. Both teams are thought to have entered the separation zone of the Dover TSS in contravention of the sailing instructions for Race 1 of Clipper

The Race Committee has been discussing the possible infringement this
morning and will decide whether to protest the two teams. If either of
the boats is found to have contravened the rules the punishment will
take the form of a time penalty – and, with the leading four boats in
close contention, this could be of huge benefit to Spirit of Australia
which has just squeezed ahead of Hull & Humber into third place.

This drama is set to unfold over the next 24 hours once the race has
finished and the skippers have submitted their race declarations. The
finishing positions will remain provisional until the Race Committee has
made their ruling.

The first teams are expected to cross the finish line just outside La
Rochelle sometime this afternoon. The excellent downwind conditions on
the race down from the Humber have sped the fleet towards the French
port much more quickly than originally anticipated.

And those benign conditions have prompted some general speculation
across the fleet this morning as to what they might expect as they head
back out into the Bay of Biscay after the restart from La Rochelle next
Tuesday (22 September).

Brendan Hall, skipper of Spirit of Australia – a serious contender for a
podium placing in this first race – commented in the 0600 sched, “We've
had a pretty easy start to this adventure, let's hope our luck holds out
as we exit Biscay, too. We had more fast downwind sailing in the last 24
hours. We gave the heavyweight spinnaker a real work out and then
decided to take it down as a large rain squall approached. Now we are
back under white sails heading directly for the finish in La Rochelle,
doing a steady 10-11 knots.”

Piers Dudin, skipper of Hull & Humber, one of the two teams now
embroiled in a possible protest drama, says, “It was great to be given a
free ride into Biscay. Hopefully the exit next week will be just as flat
and fast. We saw Spirit of Australia and Cape Breton Island chasing us
down from over the horizon so we changed up a gear back up to the heavy
kite this morning. Overnight it's been a fast fetch down the French
coastline steering with Orion sitting on the spreaders.”

Thoughts are similar at the back of the fleet. “All is well on Qingdao.
We have the bit between our teeth and look to have picked up some ground
on the rest of the fleet,” reports skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major. He
continues, “The big kite run and then reach around the point has left
everyone hungry for the open ocean.”

“It was definitely a morale boost seeing that we had moved up into
seventh place overnight,” says Jim Dobie, skipper of Uniquely Singapore.
He and his crew will have to knuckle down and wring every last knot of
speed from their boat if they are to stand a chance of catching up with
Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Cape Breton Island who have been enjoying a
good two-way tussle in the middle of the fleet.

Jim says, “It was a very dark night and that made conditions hard for
the helm. It is good experience for the crew who will need to sail by
the wind and not by visual references for most of the ocean races. The
wind stayed pretty constant for most of the night and has eased off a
bit now – whether the yachts which stayed offshore got more breeze…
All we can do now is steer a straight course, trim our sails right and
look forward to our first finish.”

The fast conditions for Race 1 mean the fleet is expected to arrive
ahead of schedule. The Race Team is in La Rochelle to greet them and the
first yachts are expected on this afternoon's high tide. The fleet will
be berthed in the Bassin des Chalutiers. The yachts can only lock in
until 1645 local time (1445 GMT), otherwise they will have to wait for
the overnight high tide. Latest predictions suggest the first four,
possibly five will arrive in time to enjoy some French hospitality this

Positions AT 0900 GMT, 16 September 2009

Team Finland 47nm
Cork 52nm (Distance to Leader [DTL] +5nm)
Spirit of Australia 54nm (DTL +7nm)
Hull & Humber 54nm (DTL +7nm)
Cape Breton Island 65nm (DTL +18nm)
Jamaica Lightning Bolt 70nm (DTL +23nm)
Uniquely Singapore 82nm (DTL +35nm)
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 87nm (DTL +41nm)
Qingdao 88nm (DTL +41nm)
California 96nm (DTL +49nm)

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