The Clipper Race fleet has officially begun the penultimate race of the 40,000 nautical mile, eleven month circumnavigation – a two week race across the North Atlantic to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
The Le Mans style start for Race 12 began at 1900 UTC in perfect champagne sailing conditions under bright blue skies off the coast of Long Island. Sanya Serenity Coast was quick off the mark, followed closely by Nasdaq, though it quickly became apparent that it wouldn't be a straight forward start.
GREAT Britain Skipper Dave Hartshorn explains: “Ten minutes after the Le Mans start, the point when you are free to choose your own course and point of sail, we could see coming towards a series of blow spouts of whales breaking water to breathe. Then Sanya Serenity Coast, which had got off to a flying start, had to rapidly bear away to avoid hitting a whale. PSP Logistics just to our front then had to do likewise.
“As the fleet charged forward, it was if there were large puffs of smoke from small explosions breaking out across the water between the boats. We had two within a boat length of the GREAT Britain boat and a few hundred meters away, we saw the large tail of an unidentified whale break then smash down on the water.”
And if whales were not enough to deal with, Sanya Serenity Coast also encountered another unexpected obstacle, as Skipper Wendy Tuck reports: “Just after sunset, I got asked whilst I was in the Nav Station what was up ahead on AIS. I could only see a fishing boat which was not going to be an issue, when all of a sudden, a submarine popped up!”
Once the excitement of race start was over, early tactics came into play, with the fleet splitting into two groups. Just like in Race 11 to New York, PSP Logistics, GREAT Britain, and Nasdaq opted to break from the main pack and have chosen a more southerly route. Nasdaq Skipper Rob Graham comments: “Our Le Mans start practice paid off with a fast headsail hoist, and Nasdaq made good use of the clean air in our position as the windward boat. Since then we've been edging South at the end of a very closely matched line.”
Despite the split, there is less than 20 nautical miles currently separating first from last. Garmin is in the main group hugging the rhumb line and Skipper Gaetan Thomas says: “We put our spinnaker up quite quickly after the start, gained a bit, lost a bit, but we still all in an AIS range so it looks like a drag race at the moment.”
With Race 12 to go a long way to deciding the fight for final podium positions, the currently second placed Qingdao is closely monitoring the tactics of other teams. Skipper Chris Kobusch explains: “Since the start it has been a hard-fought battle for positions with quite a few changes on the leaderboard over the last few hours. Sail plans differ quite a bit and we have seen Yankee 1s, Code 3s (Heavyweight Spinnakers), and Windseekers on different boats.
“Tactics seem to be a little bit different as well, as some of the boats are now well south of us, where most of us went for the direct line to the first Virtual Mark A.Smith, which we will have to leave to port. Once we clear the mark, we will be able to bear away a little bit more and we might see more spinnakers going up.”
The fast and flat conditions are also helping to compress the fleet, as Dare To Lead Skipper Dale Smyth explains: “The conditions have meant that we are all extremely tightly bunched still as we head towards our first turning mark and some boats opted for a more southerly route in the hopes of a better wind angle and popping a kite sooner. The conditions have meant a nice smooth introduction for the new joiners and no seasickness is apparent yet.”
The North Atlantic will continue to be kind over the coming days with Clipper Race Meteorologist Simon Rowell reporting the high moving east will allow the fleet to remain in a band of good southeast to southwest winds for the next three to four days.
Race 12: The LegenDerry Race is expected to take up to 19 days, with the Clipper Race fleet estimated to arrive in Derry-Londonderry between 10-14 July – just in time for the Foyle Maritime Festival. The award-winning festival will run from Saturday 14 July until the fleet departs for Liverpool on Sunday 22 July. For more information about Foyle Maritime Festival, see the Derry-Londonderry Stopover page on the Clipper Race website.