After sailing into the Hudson River leading the fleet to the finish of the 11th race in the Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race the crew on board Gold Coast Australia are once again firmly focused as we line up for a La Mans start for the 12th race in the series sailing from New York to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
On both sides of us the Clipper fleet form up in a line with only their Main sails up and flying. Hanked on the foredeck is the two headsails ready to be hoisted the moment the starting horn blares. It’s 1940 in the evening when the 1 minuet countdown begins, 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Bang. I am running to the bow as fast as my legs will carry me to release the two sail ties holding down the halyards. I shout Stay Sail free as I pull the slip knot and continue forward to the Yankee sail. At the same time the two people sweating up the sail start, the person in the snake pit is tailing the lines and the two people on the grinder are grinding with all there might. Shortly after the sails are up and set , chests heaving from the effort we all look around at the rest of the boats to see who is also finished and who is still hoisting their sails. We were not the first to have the sails up but that doesn’t matter as we pull into the lead.
With a La Mans race start we are not allowed to alter our course or sail plan for the first 10 minutes of the race so as soon as the necessary 10 minutes of time had elapsed we hoisted our Medium Weight Spinnaker with the sunset to our backs and sailed into the evening holding first place. Looking behind us the other boats were all silhouetted with the sunset, the sky is red with the spinnakers flying on this lovely clear evening. This race is completely different from the previous races in the series. For a start the race track is only 600 nautical miles long so this takes away a lot of the tactics making it a drag race. Get in front and stay there…
This is exactly what we tried to do but as with sailing the weather had something to say about that. By the 2nd day of racing we were playing cat and mouse with the other lead boats so it was that at sunrise we found ourselves in 2nd place behind Qingdao but by the end of watch we were back in the lead if only by 200 meters. The entire fleet was spread out over 9 nautical miles allowing for any boat to take the lead. By the afternoon the winds had dropped to a miserable 2-4 knots making it very hard to hold our lead as we tried to play the little bit of wind that we had. By the sunset the winds started to fill in giving us some lovely boat speeds of 9 knots and the horizon was glowing with a spectacular lighting show with flashes of red and white lighting the sky and when the sky was dark it was pin pricked with millions of stars.
On day 3 we had some lovely steady 13 knots of wind allowing for some trade wind spinnaker sailing averaging 10 knots of boat speed allowing us to work our lead to a slightly more comfortable 5 nautical miles. Just as we had gone below for our beds at midnight we were once again called back on deck to drop the Medium Weight Spinnaker and hoist the Yankee 1 and Stay Sail as the winds threw in an unexpected 80 degree wind shift causing us to sail completely in the wrong direction until we could get the spinnaker down. Two hours later we re-hoisted the spinnaker.
By Day 4 we had only 99 nautical miles left to run and we are still holding first place however it is with a very small lead of 6 nautical miles it is still anyone’s race. At 7am we dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the Yankee 1 and Stay Sail for the final run tacking up the coast with Visit Finland and Welcome to Yorkshire right behind us. At 0138 am on day 5 we sailed across the finish line in 1st place after successfully increasing our lead from 6 nautical miles the previous morning to a fantastic 28 nautical miles giving us another great victory.