The front runners have finally reached the high pressure system and its associated light winds, which has been threatening to slow the fleet down for days. Current race leaders, Team Finland has chosen this moment to go into Stealth Mode which is a new feature in the 09-10 race. It allows a boat to 'vanish' from public view for 24 hours and allows them to make a tactical course change unseen by their competitors.
Skipper Eero Lehtinen explains why he chose to play his stealth card now. “We have sailed into this massive high pressure at the front of the fleet with all eyes peeled on our performance and possible opportunities to overtake us should we get stuck in a big wind hole. So the fact that I can choose not to give our chasers the information they so eagerly want is a no-brainer really.
“If we are lucky – really lucky – you will see us finishing late on Tuesday, but more likely we will be there sometime on Wednesday, or even Thursday, who knows? Anyway, put the bubbly on ice please.”
Spirit of Australia is still trying to regain the lead they lost to Team Finland a week ago and achieve a much sought after home port victory, but they too have been beset by light winds. Skipper Brendan Hall says, “Three days ago, 6.5 knots would have seemed like an unbearably slow speed. Last night, 6.5 knots was the golden goal, the ultimate number which we were striving for and trimming the boat like demons to achieve it. The patience and skill required to stop this 32 tonne bus from slowing down to nothing is great, especially after such a long and demanding leg.”
Until yesterday evening Uniquely Singapore had been doing a great job at holding on to third place and slowly narrowing the gap between themselves and the front runners. However, 24-hours sailing in light winds and Canadian entry, Cape Breton Island, has managed to take advantage and move ahead. Uniquely Singapore's skipper, Jim Dobie, is unperturbed, saying, “Let the battle commence. We've rolled the dice and now face the winds, sailing as best as we possibly can and using all our knowledge. We hope we are in better winds than the others but a certain amount of luck comes into play here. Sometimes, however, you have to make your own luck and what's needed is optimism and concentration.”
Having moved into third place and only a few days remaining on board for the current leg, round the world crew member, Carol Reed, a 45-year-old media relations director from Surrey, England, is particularly looking forward to her team's arrival. “Only a few days to go before returning to the country where I learned to sail – what a thrill to be arriving on a sailboat, particularly one named Cape Breton Island!” she says. “This is the part of the Clipper Race I've been looking forward to most. I have to admit I'm a bit envious of the Virtual Race sailors who have made it to Geraldton ahead of us!”
With only 1 nautical mile between their distances to finish at the 0600GMT position report this morning, a three-boat battle has commenced between Jamaica Lightning Bolt, Qingdao and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.
Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major, says, “There are two kinds of wind hole, ones you find alone and ones you find with friends. My favourite is the shared kind and by happy coincidence in the last hour we have evidence that we are not alone. Far away to the south a tiny triangle of white has hove into sight and it would appear that after a storming night Jamaica Lightning Bolt, kings of the wind hole, are with us. Whilst it is a pity to have lost the lead we had over them it is also great to have someone to race against in a very tangible manner.
“It is amazing that after 4,000 nautical miles we are together again – the last time we saw Jamaica Lightning Bolt was in the wind hole under Table Mountain nearly a month ago! With 20 miles between us and the boat currently lying in third and 750 miles to go, this race is razor close and potentially anyone's.
His thoughts are echoed by his closest rival, Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper, Pete Stirling. Pete says, “During the night we made substantial gains on the yachts ahead of us but this was to be expected as they ran out of wind before us. Now this race becomes very tactical with the most focused crew and the team with the best strategy coming out on top. I am quite sure there will be some position changes over the course of the next couple of days, leaving some crews very happy and others very disappointed. Bring it on!”
“The great squeeze has begun!” announces California's skipper Pete Rollason, referring to the compression of the fleet caused by the light winds. “Everyone is picking what they feel to be the best route through and on California we are no different. It is all building for a grandstand finish into Geraldton as it appears that all the boats will arrive within a short period of time.
“I am sure everyone will agree with me when we wish a speedy passage to Cork and Hull & Humber to ensure that they arrive in time for Christmas and can join in on the festivities,” he adds.
All being well Cork should certainly be alongside before Christmas Day and the skipper of the Irish entry, Richie Fearon, is literally counting the hours.
“At the moment we are at 86 degrees east and with every 15 degrees sailed we add on another hour to our boat time. The good thing from all this is that no matter when we arrive in Geraldton, we will have an acceptable time zone to fully appreciate the Geraldton welcome and a few beers!”
Meanwhile Hull & Humber has sailed into a light patch and put Operation GKHFX (Get-Katy-home-for-Xmas) in jeopardy. Katy Bell had signed up for two legs of the race and having raced from Rio via Cape Town, was planning to step straight on a flight in order to get back to the UK for a family Christmas. The crew continues to push hard and skipper, Piers Dudin, has taken advantage of the calmer weather to get some maintenance done on board.
“The winds have gone light as our favourite low pressure system disappears off east and we wait for the next low pressure wave to catch us up,” he explains. “We're still making good progress however and whilst conditions are benign, Hull & Humber is being given a thorough going over to maximise our downtime in Geraldton.”
Positions at 0600 UTC, Saturday 12 December
Boat DTF* DTL*
Spirit of Australia 690nm 0nm
Cape Breton Island 719nm 29nm
Uniquely Singapore 721nm 31nm
Jamaica Lightning Bolt 750nm 60nm
Qingdao 751nm 61nm
Edinburgh Inspiring Capital 751nm 61nm
California 136nm 98nm
Cork 823nm 124nm
Hull & Humber 2502nm 1811nm
Team Finland Stealth Mode