Highlights of the Clipper 13-14 Race

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Following the culmination of the biggest ever edition of the Clipper Race and the first circumnavigation for the newly-commissioned Clipper 70s, here is Race Director Justin Taylor’s review of the 2013-14 Race.

Spectacular start

Following on from the London 2012 Olympics, starting the 13-14 edition in the capital added to the pomp and ceremony, and Tower Bridge’s iconic backdrop provided an added sense of occasion.

The Parade of Sail on the Thames was nerve-wracking despite undergoing many practices in Portsmouth, but it ended up looking spectacular.

Race 1, London to Brest, France, was shortened because of safety fears due to zero visibility and the extremely light airs and strong tide which meant the boats were in very close proximity to the Britanny coast.

Dreaded Doldrums

Race 2 to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, saw some of the boats in the grips of the dreaded Doldrums or the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) for ten days.

As the fleet sailed south, the ITCZ moved with them. It was quite unpredictable. In the last eight races we have not experienced a crossing of that length.

After a frustrating time, and after more than 5,000 miles it was incredible to see that just 19 seconds separated PSP Logistics and Jamaica Get All Right at the finish line, with PSP Logistics victorious in first place after redress was applied. The tightest finish of the whole race, it was a good sign of the close racing and nail biting action to come.

Speed record broken

Leg 2, Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, was a downwind surfing classic with the weather behaving itself.

Henri Lloyd recorded a top speed of 30.7 knots in the excellent offshore conditions, the fastest ever speed for a Clipper yacht.

It was hard to predict boat speeds during the first ocean crossing, but in the South Atlantic, the boats showed their pedigree when they achieved the speeds the designer had predicted.

Leg 2 went as expected weather wise. The top three boats were GREAT Britain, Henri Lloyd and OneDLL, and it was from there a pattern began emerging.

Southern Ocean storms

It was on Leg 3 that the fleet had its first battering with two hurricanes and gusts of 100 knots plus, and waves of around 30 metres reported, higher than the Clipper 70 masts.

The fleet enjoyed superb downwind sailing. We purposely timed the leg during the Southern Ocean’s summer, but we always expect to have a battering.

The boats stood up to the conditions and proved they were fit for the purpose - other boats would not have survived. It was a very fast crossing and another positive test for the fleet.

300 miles in 24 hours barrier broken

During Race 4 to Albany, PSP Logistics managed to break the 300 miles in 24 hours barrier, clocking up 310.5 miles while averaging a speed of 12.94 knots. This record still remains despite some close efforts. 

After 5,000 miles of racing, less than four minutes separated four yachts in a spectacular finish in Albany witnessed by cheering crowds.

Race 5, the start of Leg 4, Albany, West Australia to Sydney saw GREAT Britain in a collision with PSP Logistics. After the repairs, an independent protest committee assessed the incident in Sydney and decided to award PSP Logistics redress and disqualify GREAT Britain from Race 5.

Race 5 was a very fast passage which saw the fleet dropping down into the Southern Ocean again.

Iconic Australian offshore classic a highlight

Race 6 saw the fleet compete in the iconic Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race against the yachting world’s top names. Leaving Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day to massive crowds, amidst a sea of action was a highlight of the entire race  for many crew.

Beating across the Bass Strait was very rough and challenging but the fleet’s participation was very good promotion for the Clipper Race and the Sydney Hobart as it brought a diverse human interest level to the professional event.

Clipper Race chairman and founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston also took part on one of two Clipper 68 training yachts which are now part of the new Sydney base.

Race 7, Hobart to Brisbane saw an incident at the start on board Mission Performance where two crew members were injured and had to be medevaced off. When its engine failed, Qingdao came to the team’s assistance and helped tow them back to Hobart, and then offered two of its own crew members to join Mission Performance so the team was able to race. Qingdao was awarded the Henri Lloyd Seamanship Award at Race Finish for its efforts.

Race 7 was the fleet’s third crossing of the Bass Strait and was the roughest of the three.

The challenges of Leg 5

Race 8, Brisbane to Singapore, the Old Pulteney Navigator Cup, marked the start of a testing Leg 5. The crew were warned of possible piracy and cyclone threats, but it was two unseasonable depressions north of the fleet when they were rounding Papua New Guinea that interrupted the north easterly monsoon pattern and this ended up hampering progress.

Inevitably, every year, races have to be cut short because we are at the mercy of the weather, but we always have a contingency in place. 

In the previous race in 2011-12, we also motored for 1,000 miles just south of the Philippines. The other route to Singapore is not viable due to the high incidence of cyclones north of Australia.

The delay ended up playing havoc with the race schedule.

On Race 9 to Qingdao, China, the forestays of three boats failed in quick succession after leaving Singapore. The Race Office chose to  halt the race and divert the fleet into Hong Kong as a precaution, where repairs were carried out by Sir Robin.

The repairs he did are still being used on the boats now, and are better than the original set up. You don’t find out some things with new boats until you have sailed them.

When the boats left Hong Kong as soon as they were repaired on Race 9.1, an elapsed time system was used that worked out who was fastest overall.

Powerful headwinds, steep waves, an adverse current and busy shipping lanes made conditions very unpleasant in the tough beat into the Chinese Olympic sailing city.

Another record set in the North Pacific

Leg 6, Qingdao to San Francisco, USA, saw a very quick crossing of the mighty North Pacific with winners GREAT Britain knocking 16 hours off the record set by Clipper 68 Gold Coast Australia in the 2011-12 Race. GREAT Britain recorded a time of 603 hours (just over 25 days), averaging 9.6 knots from start to finish.

It was during this race that OneDLL also managed to record the fastest boat speed of the Clipper 2013-14 Race in the Pacific, clocking up 35 knots.

Compared to the big storms of other years, most boats reported no more than 40 knots of breeze and the final stages of the race was dominated by a high-pressure system off the Californian coast.

However, the miraculous rescue of Derry~Londonderry~Doire crew member Andrew Taylor following his man overboard highlighted the excellent pre-race training and team effort in getting him back on board. OneDLL was also praised for its reaction in diverting to assist in the search.

On Race 11, the PSP Logistics Panama 100 Cup - San Francisco to Panama, the first ten days were punctuated by very fast downwind sailing.

As the fleet progressed further south the wind got lighter and more variable.  The Doldrums again had a real effect on progress. It was for this reason the course had several mandatory gates built into it so the fleet could make its Panama Canal transit in time.

The Panama Canal - a feat of modern engineering

The teams went through the 51-mile long Panama Canal, named one of the world’s seven modern wonders, in its centenary year.

As one of the busiest waterways in the world, playing a vital role in world trade and transport linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, it was a highlight for many crew members.

Race 12, Panama to Jamaica was a 550 mile sprint where those that remained focussed and helmed well were rewarded. Just 31 seconds separated winners Henri Lloyd from second-placed GREAT Britain at the finish.

Race 13, Jamaica to New York, the Grange Hotels Trophy, was punctuated by three distinct weather patterns which meant that all the yachts would have to deal with a multitude of sailing disciplines. 

The course had to be shortened to finish at the Norfolk gate and because the final four yachts had been trapped by the high pressure ridge, it was necessary to collapse them from the back. 

The race winners, Henri Lloyd recorded the most successful win of  the 2013-14 race, managing to also secure the Scoring Gate and  Ocean Sprint bonus points, securing  for a maximum grand slam points tally of 17.

Iceberg watch

Race 14, the first of three for Leg 8, saw GREAT Britain report a growler - or small bits of submerged ice.  The ice marks had to be brought further south so as to avoid the worst of the ice.

The weather for the last part of the race was very complicated with several areas of weak pressure gradients and light winds off the Irish coast that needed to be negotiated.

Beating the home port curse

As the high pressure was seriously hindering the progress of the fleet, the Race Committee took the hard decision to impose a time limit for the race with the winner being the boat closest to the finish line. 

Derry~Londonderry~Doire recorded a rare home port win into Northern Ireland where it and all the teams were met with a very warm welcome.

Race 15 to Den Helder, The Netherlands saw more light winds, but eventually a front came through when the yachts were north of Scotland and approaching the Pentland Firth.  The front runners hit this tidal gate at the wrong time but still managed to cheat much of the strong tide by sailing behind the Island Of Stroma and through the inner channel.

Henri Lloyd unbeatable

In the North Sea a low pressure system swept across the fleet with Force 7 winds (near gale) gusting to Force 8.  Henri Lloyd won the race and that was enough for them to secure the overall Clipper Race victory.

The final Race 16 to London saw the lead change hands several times and there were many personal battles within the fleet with the yachts which were not quite in a safe position trying to hold the potential interlopers at bay.

GREAT Britain scored a bullet into their home port with Henri Lloyd keeping the pressure on all the way in and finishing off Southend in second, with OneDLL in third.

Emotional homecoming

The next day, thousands of spectators watched a victory Parade of Sail up the Thames which culminated in Tower Bridge lifting for the top three boats to pass under.

I have seen a few homecomings but this was certainly the biggest and most emotional - so far!

Henri Lloyd was consistent from the start and strung together very impressive results. The team had 12 podiums out of a total of 16, GREAT Britain had 11 and OneDLL seven.

It was a great day to watch all the teams sail home after completing such a life-changing journey. The ninth edition of the race has seen ordinary people achieve something extraordinary.  The crew aboard the new fleet of Clipper 70s have faced every challenge imaginable.

They and the yachts have weathered these challenges superbly and I only have pride and admiration for the skippers and crews involved. Congratulations for a memorable race and completing this very challenging journey.