The forecast big weather arrived right on schedule with the Clipper Race fleet hit by powerful winds and waves on Day 19 of the race across the Mighty Pacific Ocean to Seattle.
Whilst the south-easterly low-pressure system moved through the teams quickly, it definitely left its mark. Bob Beggs, the Skipper of the third placed Unicef, says: “How the world has changed for us over the past 24 hours. We wriggled through the night with increasingly fickle winds, peeling to lighter code sails, a gybe in the night followed by preparations for the new weather to come. And come it did!
“We are now on the wind with three reefs in the mainsail and staysail only and 35-40 knots of apparent wind speed.”
After seeing the forecast earlier in the week, the fourth placed PSP Logistics decided to head south, a decision Skipper Matt Mitchell feels was justified following the conditions overnight. He reports: “Following a period of very light wind, the expected front came on in earnest. Thankfully we had changed early to our Yankee 3 in preparation. Very quickly we were down to three reefs and 40 knots of wind on the nose.
“Spending all that time coming south was worth it though as we were able to bear off as the wind turned to the south. Now the front seems to have passed and the wind has abated somewhat. It looks like we will have a bit of a reprieve for 12 hours or so before the wind really comes back in earnest.”
IMAGE: Life remains at an angle on Liverpool 2018.
Despite the gale force winds and wild sea state, the strong safety culture across the fleet ensured all eleven teams remained on track and racing well towards Seattle. The importance of putting safety first was vindicated on board the seventh placed Garmin, as Skipper Gaëtan Thomas explains: “The wind was supposed to turn and it did back on a broad reach facing the waves from the previous gale. The boat jumped in the air and a nasty wave when we were shaking out a reef hit us badly.
“All the team were washed down. All the lifejackets inflated and the cockpit was full of water. Dave West was on the mast to spike the handy billy and he was safely double clipped but he was projected on the mast. Mei Fullerton in the cockpit received James Lawrie on her and her shoulder is quite in pain, but both of them are inside the boat now and nothing major medically is wrong - big scratch on the top of the nose and a couple of bruises but they are smiling and ok.
“Now the chaotic sea state due to the prevailing winds will come down soon and the waves will come more from the back which will be a massive relief for everyone.”
The front is yet to reach the leading teams, Sanya Serenity Coast and Qingdao, which due to their northerly course, could potentially experience hurricane force gusts of between 70-80 knots. But Sanya Serenity Coast Skipper Wendy Tuck is ready, saying: “We now have three reefs and our storm jib the ginger ninja up. It’s a bit unpleasant as its only slightly off close hauled, in the next couple of hours the breeze should come round to a nicer angle, but the gusts will increase later. The sea state is all over the shop and will get worse.
“We went a bit conservative because of the sea state, we didn’t want to risk kite, boat or people damage.”
The conservative sail plan has had an impact on Sanya Serenity Coast’s lead. Though the team remains in first place for a fifth consecutive day, Qingdao has sliced 45 nautical miles off the gap to move to within 5 nautical miles.
Whilst it is tight racing between first and second, the rest of the fleet has spread out over the last 24 hours. At the back in ninth, Visit Seattle has now crossed the International Date Line and is more than halfway through the mighty 5,600nm race to its home port in Bell Harbor Marina. It will be a tricky day for the team as Skipper Nikki Henderson reports: “Our mast track has suffered a few bumps and bruises and will need repairing as soon as the weather calms down. Looks like it's reef three for the next 24 hours then!
“Honestly, there is some serious breeze forecasted. I'm less bothered about racing and more about keeping everyone and the boat safe and in one piece. Being confined to reef three isn't such a bad thing.
Keep track of the fleet to see how the biggest low low-pressure system affects the fleet over the coming 24 hours via the Clipper Race Viewer and hear more from the Skippers and crew on the Team Pages.
The fleet was originally expected to finish Race 9: The Race to the Emerald City and arrive into Bell Harbor Marina between Saturday 14 and Thursday 19 of April, but conditions in the early part of the race means the boats are now expected between Thursday 19 and Saturday 21 April.Join The Race