Teams gamble on course through the Doldrums

18 August 2011

With the Scoring Gate points settled yesterday afternoon – Singapore, Welcome to Yorkshire and Gold Coast Australia
taking three, two and one points respectively, the strategic battles
during Race 2 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race are
continuing as teams aim to showcase their tactical nous in the race
through the Doldrums and across the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro.

interesting to watch all the different strategies being played out,
with the fleet now spread out east and west by quite a distance. We are
sticking to the more traditional route and staying close to the run
line,” explains Qingdao skipper, Ian Conchie.

“Fingers crossed we will see how it all plays out south of the Doldrums.

had a great day’s sailing, if very hot. We have been reaching with the
lightweight spinnaker all day and night which set a new record for us
with one kite up for 48 hours! Unfortunately the wind picked up a
little and we managed to pop one of the seams which our sail repair team
is now busily repairing. But some excellent sail handling saw us drop
the lightweight and hoist the medium with the minimum of fuss and lost
time,” continues the Chinese entry’s skipper.

will no doubt anxiously wait for Geraldton Western Australia’s position
to reappear after the Australian entry enabled Stealth Mode at 0000UTC.
Two places behind Qingdao, in fourth, Geraldton Western Australia stood just 15 nautical miles behind the Chinese boat at the time of entering Stealth Mode.

day of decision making; which way do we go? We were stuck between two
options. The result of our decision was to go into Stealth Mode. This is
our make or break moment,” reports Geraldton Western Australia skipper, Juan Coetzer.

the crew had their first shower since Madeira, as a result morale is
even higher. The motto at present is harder, fast, quicker,” continues
the South African born skipper.

With the fleet spread across
three routes Stealth Mode will become a valuable asset as the teams look
to move up the positions table. Available only once during each
individual race it allows each team to go ‘undercover’ for a 24-hour
period in order to shield their tactics from the rest of the fleet.
During this time their positions will still be reported to the Race
Office for safety reasons but they will not be given to the other teams
or appear on the Race Viewer.

Current leaders Welcome to Yorkshire,
who picked up two extra points after crossing the Scoring Gate in
second place, have moved their course from due south to south-east in an
attempt to steer away from the lighter winds.

“We’re feeling
pretty isolated here. Most of the fleet has chosen to go east these past
few days whilst we find ourselves committed to this course along the
north-east edge of the Doldrums,” reports Rupert Dean, skipper of the
Yorkshire entry.

“This approach to the Doldrums has been unlike
anything I have experienced before. Historically I have found them
better defined with far fresher winds at the approach and exit. So far,
in this case, it has been mile after mile of hot, windless conditions
due to the monsoon trough emanating from the African coast – tedious and
very frustrating.

“To add insult to injury it looks like our western strategy will favour current backmarkers De Lage Landen and Derry-Londonderry.
This is because by the time they get down to this latitude, the
Doldrums belt looks set to narrow, meaning that they should sail
straight through with good winds.”

However the Welcome to Yorkshire skipper’s prediction is not shared by his opposite number on board Derry-Londonderry.

GRIB files all looked good for the old ‘west is best’ tactic to come
through the Doldrums but after I checked the latest GRIBs today I am now
not so sure,” ponders skipper Mark Light.

“The boats to the east
look like they may sneak through with little trouble and after all our
westing we may now find a large area of very light airs between us and
the run to Rio – damn those GRIB files!

“A steady day and night
as we continued on our westerly course but with a backing wind we have
course has changed steadily to more south-westerly,” continues Mark,
with his team currently occupying eighth position.

Joining Derry-Londonderry in a westerly course around the Cape Verde Islands is Dutch entry, De Lage Landen, skippered by Mat Booth.

plot the other yachts every six hours with interest. It’s like a big
game of chess watching all the different tactics playing out. It’s
interesting to see Derry-Londonderry have joined us on the western flank!

dropped the spinnaker as we met our first squall of the race. It was
just the edge of a moody cloud but we still got around 23 knots of wind -
far too much for our lightweight kite so down it came. We spend around
18 hours a day in breeze above 15 knots which is good; we’re making slow
but steady progress towards the Doldrums.”

Currently routing through the Cape Verde Islands and with an eye firmly fixed on Welcome to Yorkshire‘s lead is second placed Gold Coast Australia‘s skipper, Richard Hewson, who in his morning report warns, “Look out Welcome to Yorkshire, Gold Coast Australia is coming!”

“While many other teams in the race may have been drifting through the night searching for wind, Gold Coast Australia
have pulled some magic out of the bag and utilised the accelerated wind
between the Cape Verde Islands, averaging speeds of over 10 knots
throughout the night towards Rio,” reveals the Tasmania based skipper.

After undertaking detailed research into the local weather systems of the Cape Verde Islands even the Gold Coast Australia crew were surprised and thrilled to have speeds of over 15 knots throughout the night.

is hoped we will keep this wind for as far as possible as we make our
way south but realise that there will come a time and the wind will die
off. Hopefully by that time Gold Coast Australia will be in a good position to manoeuvre clear of the islands and head for some more wind.”

Joining Gold Coast Australia in routing through the island are Scoring Gate victors, Singapore, who have devised a system to deal with the increasingly high temperatures on board.

“Oh the heat and humidity is sapping the strength from all of us!” says skipper, Ben Bowley.

set our home made ghetto extraction system yesterday. Two large 150W
cage fans, one rigged just under the fore hatch to draw cooler, clean
air in from on deck; the other in the main bulkhead door, pointing aft
to draw out the stale hot air and provide some ventilation to the crew
mess area. The result is a five degrees drop in temperature in the main
crew accommodation area, quite a result if I do say so myself!

however is a double edged sword for as the crew are cooler and better
rested, the skipper is far more hot and bothered as the large power
drain calls for the generator to be run more than it is not. This
increases the temperature in the aft cabins and nav station by
approximately five degrees! Still, I will take the hit for a happy well
rested crew, they are much better suited to dealing with a hot and
bothered skipper!” continues Ben.

Singapore currently
find themselves third and intent on following on from their Scoring Gate
success, but after initially deciding upon a route similar to that of
current leaders Welcome to Yorkshire the Singaporean team decided to rethink their plan.

made a very radical last minute course alteration pre-sunset yesterday.
Having decided after the Scoring Gate that west is best, we spent the
day lazily running deep downwind to try and get round the west of the
Cape Verdes. However, on further reflection with the new GRIB files and
finding that the wind was dying away, we altered course to the east,”
explains Ben.

“This has seen us make good progress through the
night, and as you will see through the course of the day, enabled us to
take the most direct route, straight through the islands. A cautious
path is to be woven as all the pilot guides state that positions of
hazards may be charted inaccurately.

“Fingers crossed our gamble pays off, so far so good though!”

Intent on snatching Singapore‘s third position are current occupiers of fifth place, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital.

the crew hungry to continue taking places and the skipper fuelled up on
some very strong but tasty coffee, anything is possible!”enthuses
skipper, Gordon Reid.

“Yesterday Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
deviated from our intended route with a dash to the Scoring Gate, but
unfortunately fell a little short in the points scoring. However we gave
it go and we are satisfied and inspired by the effort we put in.

back on track and with the spinnaker up, we are flying south towards
where we hope will be a good spot to cross the Equator. The fleet is
very much divided into some going for a westerly crossing of the line
and other choosing a more easterly route. Only time will tell who has
chosen wisely!”

Eager to secure a podium position in the race to Rio de Janeiro, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital
have enabled Stealth Mode from the 0900 update and skipper, Gordon,
also sent a message of thanks to the followers of the Scottish entry.

have been receiving some great words of encouragement from friends and
family back home and we all genuinely appreciate their support for the
purple beastie and her crew… so thank you.”

Meanwhile Visit Finland and New York, who decided upon an easterly course, have encountered tough conditions.

“The sailing has been quite challenging with the wind being fickle as it comes off the islands,” reveals Visit Finland skipper, Olly Osborne.

crew are becoming good with spinnaker work now and went through five
kite hoists yesterday. We are almost within reach of the south westerly
trades which will lift us onto a good course for Rio. I think everyone
will be glad to see some upwind sailing and the cool breeze it will
generate over the deck,” continues Olly.

“We are joined by a pod
of large dolphins this morning which I do not recognise. They are black
in colour and about twice the size of our common dolphins back home with
a very blunt head and hooked tail. The crew have been mesmerised by
them and the dawn is a bright pink colour today which may hold the
promise of a more consistent breeze.”

In fact, after research at
Clipper Race HQ, the mysterious dolphins could well be pilot whales,
commonly found in the temperate and tropical waters the Finnish crew
currently find themselves in.

Olly continues, “A week into the
race and all is well on board; we have settled into a good routine and
are eating well. I tried some flying fish yesterday which was
surprisingly good but a little bony and even better, have found an as
yet undiscovered jar of Bovril in the galley for breakfast!”

Meanwhile further inshore are New York whose course close to the coast of Africa has not delivered the wind speeds the team hoped for.

“Well we are now officially in the Doldrums” reports crew member Andrew Priest.

do not have any wind to speak of. We have been fortunate so far to have
mostly clear skies on our run south from the Canaries towards the 10
degrees north latitude line where we expect to find fresher breezes once

Joining Geraldton Western Australia in Stealth
Mode at 0000UTC, the American entry’s position will be hidden for 24
hours allowing the team to potentially spring a tactical surprise.

course direction thus far has been very different from the fleet. Our
hope that onshore breezes towards the western Sahara would keep us
moving south largely is fulfilled so far as we reach the one third point
of this race to Rio.

“But, as the Doldrums wraps itself around New York,
beginning as the sun sets on Wednesday, the mood on the boat has
noticeably changed as minds have started to wander to perhaps darker
thoughts brought on by the brooding weather and lack of recent sleep.”

The ten-strong fleet have rolled the dice and will hope their tactical gambles will pay off across the rest of the day.

For more information, visit

Photo: Gillian Pearson