After Clipper race officials thankfully delaying the race start for two days to allow for new working water makers to be delivered and installed on Sanya and the two other affected yachts we departed for Sanya Tropical Paradise our yacht Sanya’s sponsor port. We looked forward to a fabulous reception and activities Sanya had planned for us there. Sheila finalized travel plans to join me in Sanya.
What could possibly go wrong? Well it was not any of the myriad of issues Sheila expected to face in traveling alone to an out of the way place in an unfamiliar culture and language. We did again experience issues with our yacht’s steering mechanism. This time it was the lever arm on the port side rudder post that makes up the linkage from this port rudder to the starboard rudder. Two of the four bolts securing this arm to the rudder post had sheared off and the lever arm was slipping to the extent that we could not steer from the port helm when that was the high side of the boat. We effectively dealt with this issue by lashing with the arm to the rudder post and constant monitoring and re-tightening of said lashings. But this was not the real drama which was still to come.
The sail started with positive vibes as we motored out past the barrier islands and coral reefs and then on to some more motoring north in search of winds sufficient enough to make our race start possible. After a few more days we finally had the needed winds albeit still light and challenging. We got the racing formally underway with a Lemans start and high hopes for our team. By luck of lottery we were awarded the favored east side of the linup for the start where we had previously determined that more favorable winds were to be had on that side of the rhumb line and on up north to the Solomon Sea and doldrums corridor so we were off to a good start.
We had days of light winds and very sunny hot temperatures as we made our way towards the Solomon Sea. We had good spirits as we celebrated Chinese New Year and later Australia Day. We played dress-up with traditional kit provided by our full-time media person Guan and attempted our best at delivering messages in Chinese language for the new year of the rat. Chinese New Year
We built a ramshackle sun shade to cover the helms as much as possible and help beat the searing heat as we sailed north towards our equator crossing. This was surely needed as our one helm station sun umbrella had taken a flyer off the back of the yacht on the first day out. We had tried to circle back and retrieve it but it sank before we could get back.
In the doldrums corridor Clipper Race instructions allowed all yachts to motor sail northwards for 36 hours to pass the zone of no winds. So during this time we used the bimini tarp to fashion a lean-to tent for additional sun shade and relaxing.
Lots of backgammon games were played and the guitar came out with Rick and Jorge providing entertainment.
Twice we stopped the yacht for a mid ocean swim the first of which I missed as it happened on my four hour off time and I was blissfully napping in my bunk.
Next we crossed the equator, the second time for us round-the-world crew and first time for most others so we had a good celebration with AQP Jorge making an appearance as King Neptune.
After the equator crossing we just needed to get north past Papua New Guinea and complete our easting of the Philippine Islands by sailing into the trade winds that skipper Seumas promised would rocket the fleet all the way through the Luzon Straight and on to destination Sanya. But we still had to navigate lots of light winds and some night time rain squalls before reaching the trades. One night watch, not mine, experienced some very closeup lightning including one big strike that encircled the yacht. Halong Bay yacht apparently caught and rode a favorable rain squall and its winds through one entire night putting them many as 75 nautical miles ahead of the rest of the fleet.
Around this time the news of new pandemic virus outbreak in China began trickling into our yacht. As you must already know, when we are racing, crew persons do not have any access to the internet and only have crude text only email access for those who have paid the Clipper fees. So reports of coronavirus outbreak in China causing a real situation for the racing fleet were quickly becoming a real concern. We got official word from Clipper HQ that we may not be able to sail to the Sanya destination and might have to re-route to some alternative race destination. We were told that a decision on new destination port would likely come by the time first yachts were reaching the at the top of the Philippines Islands.
For some days the trade winds were not as consistent as we expected and also not clocking around to a more favorable angle for downwind kite sailing. As Clipper HQ was not providing timely updates on the China situation we were left hanging on whatever news we could get from our collective personal emails. Obviously this was a rapidly changing epidimic which was disrupting Clipper plans and schedules and we hungered for answers to our concerns.
Ultimately the fleet was re-routed to a race end at Subic Bay in the Philippines. So after passing the Luzon Strait it would be a sail down the west side of the north island some 300 plus miles and more very challenging light winds and wind holes ti deal with before reaching Subic Bay.
Halong Bay was clearly averaging about 75 nautical miles ahead of the next yachts that included us on Sanya and Qingdao, Punte, WTC and others in contention for the next positions as we all approached the virtual turning marks at the north end of the Philippines.
By the time we rounded these marks and could turn south toward Subic Bay we were in about fourth place. We had the advantage of seeing the updates which we get every six hours that showed the lead boats ahead of us were stuck in very poor winds and sailing a mostly west north west headings and we clearly did not want to go that way. So staying east of these boats we eventually got lucky and caught some favorable not forecasted wind that rocketed us slowly into first place. We then managed to hold that lead for four consecutive six hour reporting periods before our luck ran out. We chose to ride this wind close to the new rhumb line towards Subic Bay without fully knowing how the previous leaders now to our west side were coping with their large wind hole. We were however within sight of yacht WTC who was close on our heels. WTC came within about two nautical miles of our stern before chosing to sail a bit closer to the coastline in hopes of getting shore wind advantage while we stuck close to the rhumbline course. Turns out Qingdao and Halong Bay also made a dash behind us sailing towards the coast. Mountainous terrain along the coast was yielding katabatic winds inshore that were not quite reaching out to our position some miles offshore. This ultimately allowed WTC, Qingdao and Halong Bay to regain the lead from us. After some frustrating days we finished the race in fourth just about 4 hours behind the lead boat WTC closely followed by Qingdao and Halong Bay. So after some 4000+ nautical miles of racing this was a good outcome for Sanya. Remaining seven yachts had very real challenges with the wind and wind holes and all finished some days later.
Sadly the fleet is unable to sail to Chinese ports of Sanya and Zhuhai. Qingdao in the far north coast of China also remains in question. Current plan is to conclude leg five of this journey with a race north back to the Luzon straight followed by sailing up the eastern side of Taiwan to round some Japanese islands and then retrace our way back to Subic Bay. This will be an expected nine to ten day sail. We have crew briefing meeting in a few hours to get more details and will be starting this race tomorrow.
We are now at about the halfway point in our circumnavigation and hopefully it is all towards London from here!