Race 9 Preview: The Seattle Pacific Challenge

19 March 2016

Renowned by many as one of the toughest features of the circumnavigation, the fleet departs Qingdao for The Seattle Pacific Challenge from China to Seattle, USA, on Sunday.

So what exactly can the crews expect from the month-long 5,400 nautical mile challenge, the lengthiest scheduled race of the series?

The mighty Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest and at times, the closest humans to the teams will be those on the International Space Station some 300 miles above them.

Also the world’s deepest ocean, the Pacific is known for its huge rolling waves, its storms and cold temperatures, meaning the crew could face ice and snow.

Race Director Justin Taylor highlights the main tactical and meteorological points of the crossing: “Possibly fog and definitely China’s huge fishing fleets are in store from the first day along with forecasted light and variable winds as the crew leaves Qingdao.”

Due to the large number of fish traps, danbuoys, floats and other fishing gear, after the Parade of Sail, the fleet will then motor-sail in line astern formation just inside the traffic separation system where fishing gear is at a minimum. At the end of the TSS the fleet will use the preferred shipping route to a virtual mark approximately 30nM out.

If at this time the Lead Skipper (who in this instance is Daniel Smith of Derry~Londonderry~Doire) feels that there is enough daylight left and the area is significantly clear of fishing gear then the race shall be started using the Le Mans procedure. If the race is not started then the fleet will proceed until 0000 UTC (0800 local) when the Lead Skipper will start the race using the Le Mans start procedure after giving the Race Office one hour's notice.

“The first key milestone will be off the southern tip of Japan," continues the Race Director. "Then tactics come in to play again as Skippers are faced with the age-old dilemma: take the shortest or great circle route and risk headwinds or take the southern route which is longer but with following wind.

“The crew will also have to contend with finding the strongest part of the favourable Japan Current. Depending on the wind direction the sea state could be very difficult if it is northerly, with steep waves that have no backs to them, meaning the yachts will be airborne as they drop out of them.

“As the fleet reaches the latitude of Tokyo they will start to head offshore more and start to find huge Pacific rollers that pick up a yacht and allow it to surf at 30 knots down into the trough ahead. Positioning of the yacht will be crucial. Ideally looking for the gap between the top of the near stationary North Pacific High and the bottom of the low pressure systems relentlessly marching eastward,” added Justin.

Bonus points are available at the Scoring Gate with the first three teams through 42N 170E and 40N 170E recording three, two and one point respectively.

A further two points are available for the fastest team over the Ocean Sprint course between 142W and 136W.

The Race Office has set a virtual beach at 45 degrees north which the fleet should not cross over. This is to keep the teams in the safest and most favourable winds as they make their way across the International Date Line. The Race Committee reserves the right to alter this northern limit if conditions dictate or allow it.

Keeping a competitive focus, preserving kit and looking after crew morale will be a constant challenge.

Huw Fernie, Skipper of Visit Seattle, racing to its home port, talks about the mental challenge of being at sea for such an extended time.

“The various legs of the race have their own personality. This leg we will deal with a lot of cold and rough weather, and the most challenging and worst conditions of the race. It is quite exciting to go out there and play in the Pacific.

“The duration of this race is phenomenal. The length of it lets you get your teeth into the challenge. We had some very tough conditions to get through in the last race from Da Nang, Viet Nam, to Qingdao, but it took us two weeks. Now we are going to have to face tougher conditions for twice as long. That is our biggest challenge.

“Arriving into our home port will be fantastic; and we will be going all out for a home port win,” added Huw.

Approximately 3000 miles and 15 days into the race , another milestone will occur when the teams cross the International Date Line, crossing from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere, resulting in living another day in the calendar and earning the right to have a golden dragon tattoo.

In the closing stages, the variable conditions off the American coast can prove to be frustrating in the final push before crews step onto dry land for the first time in a month.

Ralph Morton, Executive Director,SeattleSports Commission, a partner of the Visit Seattle yacht, added: “The City of Seattle is defined by a seafaring history that goes back to the native Americans and continues today with mariners and the surrounding waters playing an important part of our culture.

“The sea is what connects Seattle to the world, as an important member of the Pacific Rim community. The Clipper Race honours the many courageous voyagers who have sailed and crossed the mighty Pacific Ocean. From Australia to Asia to the Americas, the Clipper Race unites many nations and many sailors who grew up on or near the Pacific Ocean.

“On March 20, a new set of adventurers will set out to cross the world’s largest ocean in a test of nature, skill and fortitude. They’ll take on this challenge as a part of a team, as well as a larger community of twelve yachts. As they set sail, Seattle salutes Qingdao, China and is poised for a great welcome of the Clipper Race crews as they enter the Puget Sound on their way to the Emerald City,” Ralph concluded.

The Departure Ceremony, being broadcast live on Qingdao TV, starts at 0930 local time (0130 UTC) and the first team to slip lines is Qingdao at 1030 local time.

The expected fleet arrival window into Seattle is 15-20 April.

To see the Elliot Brown preview video for the race with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, click here.

To find out more about some of the crew taking on The Seattle Pacific Challenge, click here.

To find out more about the city of Seattle, click here.

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