Clipper Race: Sailing through a firestorm

Published on January 4th, 2020

(January 4, 2020; Day 13) – Life at an angle has resumed across the Clipper 2019-20 Round the World Yacht Race fleet as the teams beat up the coast of Australia towards the Whitsundays. With all teams having less than 1500nm to go in Race 5, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam is holding onto the lead, but close rival Qingdao is back on its stern having overtaken Imagine your Korea to slip into second place.

“After the complex systems which left the inshore boats stranded we have pulled into a tussle for second place but it’s not that easy,” reports Qingdao Skipper Chris Brooks.

“There’s another high developing off the corner, Brisbane area. Before we get there the northerly breeze will turn and come from the south, blessing those boats in the south first and reducing any advantage the front boats have once more. This really is a game of snakes and ladders.”

With the relatively close proximity to the Australian east coast the fleet has been experiencing some of the effects of the devastating bush fires as smoke and debris are blown offshore.

“Australia, our thoughts are really with you today!” sentiment from Nick Leggatt, Skipper of Zhuhai, which along with GoToBermuda, is closest to shore.

“How do I even begin to describe this?! We are currently about 11 miles east of Jervis Bay sailing through a firestorm! The cloud suddenly dropped to sea level and turned an ominous darker shade, tinged with eerie orange edges and shapes. Like nothing I have seen before. A scene from hell.

“White water ripped across the surface of the sea and we quickly dropped the yankee and put two reefs in the Main just as the first blast of hot air reached us at gale force. The temperature instantly rose from the low 20s to somewhere in excess of 36 °C!

“At the helm our eyes are caked in ash, soot and dust. The deck and rigging is becoming black with ash and we don’t even want to imagine what is going on ashore. It must be truly horrendous!”

For the estimated arrival times of the fleet, click here.


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Eight of the 11 teams set off on December 22 for the Leg 4/Race 5 of the Clipper 2019-20 Round the World Yacht Race, which takes the fleet 3415nm from Fremantle, Australia to The Whitsundays, Australia. The absence of three teams was due to their delay in Leg 3/Race 4 (see below) with issues requiring them to return to port, finally finishing between December 19 and 20. The three remaining teams will begin Leg 4/Race 5 on December 24. The eleven teams are expected to arrive at the Whitsundays between January 9 and 12.

Delayed: After starting Leg 3/Race 4 from Cape Town, South Africa on November 17, Unicef diverted course on November 22 to Durban for crew member Andrew Toms to disembark and receive medical treatment for a suspected appendicitis, with the team returning to the race on November 27. They finished in Fremantle, Australia on December 20 (12:24 UTC).

Collision: Punta del Este and Visit Sanya, China were in Cape Town, South Africa for repair after an incident at the start of Race 4 on November 17 resulted in significant damage. Their race finally got underway on November 28, finishing in Fremantle, Australia on December 19 (07:50 UTC) and December 20 (03:11 UTC), respectively. A review of the facts found Sanya, China to be at fault after a clear breach of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) 10 ‘On Opposite Tacks’. Details.

About the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race:
The Clipper Race was established in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world in 1968-69. His aim was to allow anyone, regardless of previous sailing experience, the chance to embrace the thrill of ocean racing; it is the only event of its kind for amateur sailors.

Held biennially, the Clipper 2019-20 Round the World Yacht Race gets underway September 1 for the fleet of eleven identical Tony Castro designed Clipper 70s. This 12th edition has attracted 688 crew representing 43 nationalities for the 41,000+ nm course. The race finishes on August 8.

The course is divided into 8 legs and 15 individual races, with some of the crew in for the entire circumnavigation while others will do individual legs. The team having the best cumulative score over the entire course will win the Clipper Race Trophy.

The Clipper 2019-20 Race Route:
The fleet departs from London, UK to Portimão, Portugal; across the Atlantic to Punta del Este, Uruguay; the South Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa; across the Southern Ocean’s Roaring Forties to Fremantle, Western Australia; around to the Whitsundays on the east coast of Australia, back into the Northern Hemisphere to China where teams will race to Qingdao, via Sanya and Zhuhai; across the mighty North Pacific to Seattle, USA; to New York via the famous Panama Canal; to Bermuda and then it’s a final Atlantic crossing to Derry-Londonderry in Northern Ireland; before arriving back to London as fully proven ocean racers.

Source: Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

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