The crew on board Gold Coast Australia are working hard to keep their lead as they enter into day 5 at sea. Racing in the 13th race of the Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race, the teams are sailing from Halifax in Nova Scotia to Londonderry in Northern Ireland. After experiencing a few days of heavy weather the crews finally have the opportunity to recover from there seasickness and the rigours of life on board. Sailing in moderate seas with winds of 19 20 knots on the bow the crew spent most of there time hiking on the high side to try and make the boat go just a fraction faster. Remember when you are sailing in the thousands of miles range, 0.2 knots faster adds up.
By the afternoon we were visited by a pod of dolphins merrily playing on the bow. As they raced to meet with the boat they would be leaping meters in the air time after time with such grace and agility.
At the midday happy hour we were informed that the low pressure system that was just to the south west of us had just been upgraded to a Tropical depression (1 down from a cyclone) and was named Chris. My general thoughts on this is if it has been given a name than it is likely to be very nasty to be sailing in. Due to this weather we all needed to be ultra focused on trim so that we could place ourselves on the right side of it and get the benefit of down wind sailing instead of 30-40 knots on the nose which would make life very uncomfortable. By that evening the winds had built to 30 knots and Chris was not even there yet but by the sounds of it we have much milder conditions than the rest of the fleet as we have stayed further south allowing for the calmer seas and winds.
Still sailing upwind on the morning of day 7 at sea with miserable foggy conditions we put in a tack. Unfortunately the person on the windward sheet failed to hold any tension on it until the Yankee had stopped flogging so the sheet (the piece of rope that we trim by) was tangled in a big knot around the working sheet. So ‘Bow Girl’ once again dawned the harness and was hoisted out the sheet to try and untangle the lines. I can tell you that it gave my abs a great workout as I needed to hold on just with my feet as we bounced through the swell so that my hands were free to work on the sheet. Problem solved and I was once again back on deck and able to enjoy some hot porridge for breakfast and to get out of my completely wet clothing.
By the afternoon the winds abated to 7-12 knots (the calm before the storm) so our watch was very busy trying to go as fast as possible in the light conditions. At one stage we hoisted the light weight spinnaker and were sailing shy with it. As we were setting up the spinnaker on the foredeck I looked out to sea and spotted the back of a large gray sperm whale coasting through the water not even 10 meters from the boat. “Whale, Big F\+?ing whale.” I guess it didn’t take kindly to my excited shrieks because it showed us it’s tale as it dived below us into the gray depths. Only 10 minuets after the spinnaker was hoisted there was a big riiiiiippppping sound as I looked around I could see one half of the spinnaker flying towards the back of the boat and the other half bellowing out towards the bow. “ALL HANDS ON DECK” We all madly scrambled around trying to get the spinnaker down before it tore the very last bit and landed in the sea. Everyone was really quick and a few minuets later it was getting passed below and laid out to be assessed.
Our saloon was then turned into a sail loft with the spinnaker repair team of 4 working on rotations around the clock to get the spinnaker repaired as soon as possible. They certainly had quite the challenge as the spinnaker was torn from the foot all the way up the middle and was held together by a 10 cm section at the top. On the plus side we are still in the lead.
By day 8 the winds had built back up to 20-23 knots so we changed down in sails and put a reef in the main. This was the beginning of Chris’ but lucky for us we had managed to get the right side of it and were sailing on a reach while the rest of the fleet were sailing close hauled in much heaver winds. By the afternoon the winds had veered so much that we could re-hoist the Yankee one so we changed back again and shook out the reef in the main. We were now sailing down wind in 28 knots of wind with gusts in the thirties. The afternoon sked showed us in third position (not good) however this was due to the fact that most of the fleet were further to the north so there distance to the finish was shorter but they would be sailing directly into it rather than having a nice down wind run like us. Welcome to Yorkshire were in the lead at 20 nautical miles ahead and Geraldton next at 10 nautical miles ahead.
At 0500 am on the morning of day 9 at sea, just as the sun offered enough light to wok on the deck we hoisted the Heavy Weight Spinnaker in a healthy 23 knots of wind, gusting 28 knots. The swell was around 2-3 meters and very confused from all the wind through the night making the helming quite tricky but the boat loved it as she flew over the waves. We were also making a course directly for Londonderry now heading north east.
This was a great day as the Light Weight Spinnaker was finished thanks to the fantastic efforts of the sail repair team and the latest sked showed us in first place with a 35 nautical mile lead of the rest of the fleet. The whole fleet was now spread out over 600 nautical miles the longest in the race history. Still 650 nautical miles to run.
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