At last we have good broad reaching conditions for the kite. We go up for our night watch and there are lights all around us .
Punta’s stern light off the port bow. Unicef’s steaming light and white light to starboard, and the Dragon (Qingdao) steaming light and port light off the stern to starboard. This is the race for second place ,though with Punta more than 2 miles ahead we are likely racing for 3rd. The conditions are great with clear skies , a breeze initially 12 to 16 knots building later to 16 to 20.A small following wind swell just enough to get the boat surfing. We have the code 2 up and a full main and boat is nicely balanced. We’re persistently pushing along at 11 to 12 knots with the boat surging ,12,13,14, and occasionally 15 and 16. We initially gain on Punta but they then pull away and regain a bit at the end of the watch. We continually gain on Unicef gradually seeing more of their port light,till finally they are almost right next to us and we pull away.The Dragon is coming for both of us the whole watch and when I hand over the helm at watch change Unicef and Qingdao are nearly alongside each other 1500 metres behind. Our watch covers just over 48 miles in the 4 hours in what can only be described as perfect sailing conditions.In addition to the clear night and broad reaching conditions the breeze warms the night air.And the moon makes an appearance in the last hours of our watch and lights up the waves and illuminates our path. We go third past the sprint gate and gain a little with Unicef and Qingdao having to bear away to the mark.
I hand the wheel to Ollie at watch change continue along in 3rd place. Qingdao do something extraordinary and round up and are suddenly 3 miles behind. At the last mark we come up on the breeze still with the kite up and head for the finish. But we know the breeze will die ,we can now see Halong only a few miles away doing only 2 knots. And the wind dies to almost nothing.Unicef bear away and we move to stay between them and the mark. The next couple of hours are frustrating, yet there was at one point it looked like we might slip past the two yachts ahead.Finally the breeze fills in a little ,Halong get it first then Punta then us and we finish in third.
We then had to wait till 11 am to berth and of course now are stuck here in the marina with Luzon island under lockdown. Who knows what next in the Clipper magical mystery tour skirting the corona virus.
I wake to the sounds of the windseeker coming down and the white sails going up.I go up on watch to a tantalising scene. The wind has headed us but is varying in direction from 45 to 70 degrees true.Halong Bay is visible 2 miles off our port bow and to leeward. The AIS shows all the others to be well to leeward.The wind is 7 to 10 knots on the nose and is shifting right favoring us .Our decision to stay further to windward and to the right has been vindicated. Within 2 hours of our watch the wind is more steady at 70 to 80 degrees true.The bearing now to Halong Bay suggests we are now ahead of them. They cross the the sprint finish line before us .Shortly after our watch they tack and we cross well ahead. We are leading the yacht race. We tack to cover them and when they tack back.Punta and Bermuda are 5 miles to leeward and astern. Basically we have tacking duel with Halong at the front of the fleet.
Losing the Lead
We then make two errors that were in conflict with traditional yacht racing tactics, and going to cost us dearly. 1 we fail to cover opposition 2 we didn’t do the long tack first
When Halong Bay tacked for the mark we did not continue to tack to cover them.We sailed on and tacked later, I believe in response to a weather forecast that made the other side more favourable. This of course may or may not eventuate. Doing the long tack you may get a favourable windshift that means you never have to do the short tack. And if you get an unfavorable one you can tack. We went for the bird in the bush .We let go of the horns and it all got away. I wake for my next watch to find Halong Bay 8 miles ahead and Punta and Unicef next to us. Of course having been down this coast a few times Halong might run into a windhole and we sail past but it is unlikely. We spend the day beam reaching in a moderate breeze for second place with Qingdao flying a kite behind in a desperate attempt to catch the three of us. The wind goes around a few degrees later and we are the first of the three to set a kite and all goes well . Punta set a kite and have to drop it again and hoist it later. We make very small gains . Unicef now being 0.9 miles closer to the next mark. Qingdao seem to be just holding us but not gaining . Hopefully the kite is still up when I get on watch for the drag race to the next gate.
Well Clipper called it race 9 because it is before race 10 ,but it is after race 7 and now there is no race 8. So the coronavirus is still rife everywhere, though it now seems under control in China but less under control in Europe ,especially Italy ,and we just can’t know about the USA,and it seems Seattle and Washington state have more cases than anywhere .And here in the Philippines they declare a state of public health emergency after only 10 cases.And our other possible destinations ,South Korea has now thousands of cases ,and Japan around a thousand cases and also there would be issues with Visas for Japan. So again Clipper send us on an out and back from the Phillipines. This time they’re calling it a ‘sprint’ race ,750 miles ,just a little longer than a Sydney Hobart race or a Fastnet race. And there will be 3 ocean sprints for bonus points ,of around 200 miles and you can enter 2. So the start is a Le Mans style start and would have been in the daylight at 1700 but one yacht has a problem with their motor after leaving the pontoons and the start gets delayed to 1900 ,so it is a Le Mans start in the dark. In the meantime we have left the marina at 1030 so there is refresher sail ,for the joining crew, and man overboard drills. The moon rises blood red in time for our start . We make a good hoist of the headsails during the start but our staysail is not sheeted in quickly enough that our speed is not enough to prevent us getting blanketed by the next boat to windward. Our start is a reasonable one however and after the 10 minutes we have to hold our course we come up as close to 270 degrees as we can which is the course for the sprint. Most of the fleet seems to hold a lower course and do so for the rest of the night.I go off watch with us to windward of the fleet and seeming to be in a good position and in the front 3. On our morning watch the code 2 is up in a moderate breeze and we have Punta just to leeward and Qingdao behind and to leeward. We maintain good course for most of the watch .Unfortunately a kite collapse towards the end of the watch allows Punta to pull ahead by half a mile and Qingdao to catch up a little but is still behind us . Really we were in a good position having crossed the sprint start 3 minutes after the other 2,all we had to do was maintain the current position for 3 points. A luffing duel with Qingdao and a shift of the breeze to behind us allows some of the fleet behind us to catch up and Punta to distance themselves .After gybing for the sprint gate we have to go behind Bermuda which pushes us back to Dare to lead and Halong bay . Things went rapidly from a possibe 3 points to probably none. After the sprint finish we gain back ground on the 6 mile reach to the next mark. The next evolution appears to go well , the Yankee goes up and the kite comes down in good time.While the kite is coming down we hear a sickening sound of something breaking we realise someone is grinding the staysail sheet ,instead of the drop line ,the staysail is on the deck .After hoisting the staysail we find a 30 cm long tear in the front of the sail . The next leg at this point looks like a long starboard tack. We keep pace with the fleet initially but some helming errors later on our watch sees Bermuda and Halong bay to slip away to leeward. We keep our higher course. In the middle of all this Seumas infroms Qingdao they missed the mark. On the way back to re round the Chris Brooks thanks Seumas for his sportsmanship in informing him early and not waiting the 6 hours we could have of intention to lodge a protest . This race has been the closest yet as everytime we are up on deck the fleet is all around us and mostly within eyesight ,whereas other races you would occasionally see another yacht.
Winds dying again.
Kept moving overnight on the 2nd leg of our 3 leg race. Woke up to us being in 6th place but most of the yachts well to leeward. We would gain a little on Halong Bay and they’d pullback away again. The wind gradually drops over the course of our watch from 11 knots down to six. On the next watch it continues to die out and windseeker is hoisted in lieu of the yankee and staysail. It’s going to be a long day. And the long day continued. And when we came on watch in the evening and wind started to slowly pick up. Finally 2 hours in we swapped to the code 1 from the windseeker. And we just seemed to get quicker in the light airs . We go past Dare to Lead and leave them behind and seem to be slowly catching Halong Bay ,and keeping pace with the rest. I go to bed with hope
Sunrise watch ,we are upwind ,Punta a little behind , Halong bay neck and neck to leeward and Zhuhai a little behind..Inthe distance is a glow as we come closer it shows up is on ASIS and is a couple of fishing vessel.We have to bear away and in the process we lose considerable ground to the others .We get hit be a couple of squalls which initially overpower the boat followed by a lull.Jorge notes Halong Bay further to sea from the islands doing only 3 knots .We tack to come closer to the islands.Punta crosses our bow heading in Halong Bays direction.The wind gradually dies out. As it comes back in from the North we have a decent advantage South and whilst the others get it first we get it in time to maintain our advantage. Soon we set the code 2 spinnaker and during our watch change it for the code 3.We pull away from Zhuhai and the others.gaining 5 miles during our watch and flying the code 3 during the night and gain another 20 miles. In the morning we are surfing our way to the East scoring gate with the boat hitting speeds of up to 19 knots and maintaining an average over 12 .As we have such a lead over 4th we gybe toward the other scoring gate. We would have to gybe anyway. And briefly Unicef appears on AIS a little ahead.
March 2,3,4 Just before scoring gate 2 we are still under the code 3 with the wind increasing .A gybe toward the line was soon necessary. The yacht hits 23 knots with Seumas at the wheel followed by a broach.It is clear the boat is overpowered and the kite needs to come down.It takes seceral attempts by the crew on the coach deck to secure the tack of the spinnaker .We then hoist the staysail and reef the main. Then we gybe.Following the gybe we hoist the yankee 1. I take the helm soon after.The boat is nicely powered and we are getting long surfs at 15 to 17 knots .The seas have gradually built up to 2 to 4 metres. We are soon across the second scoring gate and are the third boat to cross.We set a course for VM Massey at the top of the Phillipines. We continue in the white sail surfing conditions into the evening and sunsets and the watches after us continue into the night .The wind reduces in the norning and we emerge close to the coast still in 3rd place with a significant lead over 4th place Korea, being further south and significantly further east. The next 2 days are a mixture of light wind kite sailing ,light upwind ,drifting , finding the thermal winds along the coast.Eventually the race committee a series of cryptic finish lines along lines of latitude rather than perpendicular to the race course.They also don’t tell us whether we are to finish at one of the mandatory finish gates or will still finish at the original finish line. In rhe end we are told to stop racing at the second mandatory gate 12 hours after crossing the first gate but still are not told whether the finish is at thefirst gate we have already crossed or the second The decision is too late for us to change our tactics and cover the boats behind us.The wind dies for us and Korea and Punta push us down to 5th.Despite this we finish 7 miles close than Korea and 14 miles in front of Punta in terms of distance to the next turning mark ,VM Miller. The irony is the for the boats that never make it past the finish line they will be placed according to their distance from VM Miller when the race is called. So ends an exciting race for us, and a race well run , even though most of the crew feel like we were robbed of third place.