It’s week three in the 5000+ nautical mile Atlantic Trade Winds Leg from London to Rio de Janeiro in the opening round of the 14-race global series that comprises the 2015-16 edition of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
The fleet of twelve identical 70-foot ocean racing yachts is straddling the half way mark in Race 1 as the amateur crews, led by their professional skippers, tackle everything from fast trade winds to light airs in rising temperatures, occasionally interrupted by violent tropical squalls.
Consistent front-runner LMAX Exchange is executing a very successful campaign under French skipper Olivier Cardin. The team is currently in the Doldrums Corridor approaching the Equator having picked up three extra points for reaching the Atlantic Scoring Gate first, much to the delight of the whole team.
GREAT Britain was next through, followed closely by Northern Irish entry Derry~Londonderry~Doire, picking up two and one extra point respectively. They continue to duel it out for second and third places, but are being chased down by Chinese entry Qingdao which is closing in on the pair, with Garmin not far behind.
Garmin and Qingdao have been duelling for large parts of the race to Rio. On Monday, the yachts’ courses converged once again enabling them to resume the epic battle near the Cape Verde Islands after they had gone separate ways after the Canaries.
After nearly 3,000 nautical miles of ocean sailing and despite different tactics more recently, the teams crossed each other within two boat lengths.
Igor Gotlibovych, Skipper of fifth-placed Qingdao, described the last 48 hours:
“While heading south towards the island of Santiago, we spotted lightning and towering thunderstorm clouds ahead. Deciding that we will find more consistent conditions further west, we gybed and spent another day sailing in perfect Trade Winds.
“Garmin kept disappearing and re-appearing all day, at one point crossing merely a few boat lengths away. By evening, both yachts had settled for a southerly course towards the Doldrums Corridor, steering between bands of ominous clouds with an occasional lightning flash in the distance. We are in an area known for sudden squalls with strong winds and torrential downpours, so we are ready to batten down the hatches any hour!” Igor added.
Prior to this, the fresh Trade Winds kicked in south of the Canary Islands and saw some teams achieving speeds in excess of 20 knots at times.
The chasing pack is rounding the Cape Verde Islands, led by Visit Seattle, marking the start of more unsettled tropical weather which is punishing teams in rising temperatures.
Back marker IchorCoal has an 81-hour redress following its suspension of racing to go into port after a fatal accident aboard; so as its speed increases the team’s adjusted place within the fleet is improving, placing it roughly mid-fleet. But there’s a lot of racing ahead of it.
Two years ago some of the fleet got trapped in the Doldrums for over a week. Its correct name is the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ – where the gap between northern and southern weather systems leaves voids with negligible winds; but the tropical conditions can also send small extreme squalls scudding across the otherwise benign conditions with rain, high winds and thunder passing in a matter of minutes.
Race Director Justin Taylor explained more: “To overcome the frustration of being becalmed for days, the race rules have introduced a Doldrums Corridor, between four virtual markers, where teams can engage their motors, but not for more than six degrees of latitude or 60 hours, whichever expires soonest.
“None-the-less, it’s a testing part of the route requiring high levels of concentration to maximise boat speed and good weather interpretation to choose the best place to start motoring for the greatest advantage,” he added.
With more than two thousand nautical miles to go to Rio for the leaders, it’s anticipated there’s still a minimum of ten days of tough racing around-the-clock ahead before they cross the Brazilian finish line.
As at 1300 UTC (1400 UK/BST) on 16 September the fleet positions were as follows:
- LMAX Exchange – 2216 nM to finish
- GREAT Britain
- Visit Seattle
- PSP Logistics
- Mission Performance
- Da Nang – Viet Nam