Leg 5, Race 7 – A nice change from wind holes

Start marinaSubic Bay Yacht Club, Philippines
End marinaSubic Bay Yacht Club, Philippines
Start date23rd February 2020
Days at sea11 (predicted) | 11 (actual)
Distance1600 (predicted) | 1977 nm (actual)
Max wind speed52.4 knots
Typical clothesDay – shorts and T-shirt.
Night – foulies (due to spray and waves)
WildlifeMany many dolphins.
Some flying fish, desperate to join us on deck!
Clipper writeupRACE 7: The Lakewood Hills, Zhuhai Race
Race videoRace 7 Action

For this race, and as we were a few Zhuhai crew short (we only had 9 OGs), we were joined by 4 volunteers from other teams for the short 8-10 day race. Thanks to Sandra from UNICEF, Iona from WTC Logistics, and Mary & Andrew from Punte Del Este – we were excited to have this new crew join us, albeit a little baffled as to why they would want to, given our recent performances.

Interestingly just the weekend before, Sandra and I did a shirt-swap #Destiny

Prior to the race, Wendo was keen to lay out her thinking given this was ‘ours’: THE LAKEWOOD HILLS, ZHUHAI RACE. “We have done one leg together as a team and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to gel. It’s a shorter race and I think everyone is going to stay focussed, I’m really looking forward to it. We will be racing in Zhuhai’s honour. We will have some heavy upwind stuff and heavy downwinds so it will be a race of many types.”

Zhuhai (AKA Kevin)’s departure from her Subic Bag Yacht Club berth was probably the least glamorous yet! After some great support, a good fender team, and some magic (once again) from the Clipper maintenance team (after a small hiccup with the engine), we were fixed and ready to make our way to the rest of fleet. Ironic that Kevin decides to play up on HER race!

All hands to help out, after engine cut-out caused us to be blown across 3 pontoons. Many fenders were needed while the issue was sorted.

Not only had we just had a not-so glamorous departure from our berth, but as we were rounding the perimeter of the yacht club to join the rest of the fleet, a crew member’s croc flew off their foot and overboard. For those who don’t know, a croc is an essential piece of sailing footwear, given the tendency for some well known (and pricey) branded alternatives, generating the most disgusting smell after just a few wears. Anyway, given that the rest of the fleet were already waiting for us, we made the decision to do a quick circle back and with 1 attempt only, see if we could put our MOB skills to the test, and retrieve the croc with a boat hook and some clever manoeuvring. Needless to say, mission accomplished!

We had intended to ease our way into this race, where soon after the downwind race start, it became clear that we couldn’t let those who had chose to hoist their Code 2 spinnaker, gain too much of an early gap on us (we had chosen to go for the Yankee 1 & Staysail), and so we made our way down to the first Race Mark with our original sail plan and soon with a new plan… After passing the mark (and probably positioned in the top half of the fleet at this point), we gybed and decided to get competitive – up went our Code 2!

We then made our way to the next Race Mark (virtual mark Tuck) trying to gain on the 3 or 4 ahead of us, and while keeping the rest of the fleet insight and at this point who were scattered all over the bay, visibly hot on our heels.

Over the next couple of hours the fleet remained pretty competitive, with the wind challenging all 11 yachts to keep a sail full and to still stay on course. For me however, this was all part of the fun (and the learning). I particularly enjoy it when we have the fleet in eyesight. It’s both a constant reminder not to switch off, and a chance to get up and close (certainly within shouting distance) with the other teams.

After the first day began to settle it was time to jump back into boat routine. We flipped our watch system (6 & 4s) to 6 hours on in the day (starting 06:00), and 4 hours on at night (starting 18:00), compared to the last race where it was just too hot to spend 6 hours on deck in the day.

My watch drew the straw which meant we’d start on deck (while the other watch went for some sleep) and so we carried on as we had started, focused on keeping us moving and sat in a good position!

Scoring gates – there were two scoring gates. These are not compulsory gates for the race but the first three yachts through each are awarded three points, two points and one point respectively. Any other yachts that pass through either of the scoring gates aren’t awarded any points.

Ocean Sprint – there were also two Ocean Sprints. The Ocean Sprints were between the lines of latitude 22°N and 24°N Ocean Sprint North and lines of latitude 24°N and 22°N Ocean Sprint South. Teams were only permitted to enter one Ocean Sprint Section (NOT both), and each team MUST declare which Ocean Sprint section (either North OR South) within 48 hours of Race Start to be eligible for entry.

The first few days of sailing were a mixed bag of wind hole dodging as we passed along the west coast of the Philippines, and some pretty crazy conditions as we got out into the Lombok Strait. This meant we ended up doing a number of sail changes and reefs, in order to deal with the growing conditions. I much prefer the wet and windy rollercoaster onboard Zhuhai, so it was great fun to hone our various skills – helming, sail changes, and endless reefs.

Interesting times on day 5, as we got a VHF call from a Japanese coast guard plane asking where our last and next port of call was. They must have wondered what was going on with 11 Clipper yachts racing towards (and around) their islands.

Also on the same, we were headed in the direction of virtual Mark Ward OBE, and finally into our first sprint. After chasing Sanya for the best part of 12 hours, only 10 nm away, we had already declared, and entered the North Sprint. By the end of the short sprint (120 nm) and some great helming conditions, we changed our sail plan and spent the whole time on deck trimming. Soon after, we had closed the gap to just 3 nm and finished the sprint in pretty good time. We came 5th overall in the sprint

Following the sprint our virtual mark was in touching distance. This is always added fun checking coordinates and hoping to round the mark as close as possible before having a new race heading. Normally we cut it fine enough, but don’t take too many risks. This time, we’d left it just a little too close, and ended up missing it. Thankfully we noticed nice and quickly, so did a quick tack back so we could correctly round the mark, and getting back underway.

After we hit the mark, we ended up in a close group with Sanya, Punta del Este, and Ha Long Bay but without a great deal of wind. We waited patiently for the wind to come up behind us and get the race really going again.

In fact what actually happened was the wind ended up all over the place. Constant shifts made it difficult to keep us moving in the right direction, as by this time, we’d managed to get the kite back up again. The varying winds mean we kept losing the fleet ahead, and then gaining on them, as did the boats behind us. Seattle and Ha Long Bay were now the closest to us.

By day 7 a front had hit us from the north east, and the wind was pretty strong. Only one thing for it – kite down and Yankee up, to ensure we would be safe. While this meant we lost a bit more ground on the boats ahead of us – safety first was a popular choice! I probably had the most fun on a watch yet, with the weather causing us all sorts of fun (!!) on deck.

This had been one of my favourite watches as during the height of winds, and in the midst of a squall – we ended up doing a 360 degree turn. Not to mention the heel of the boat, and seeing so much of the foot rail underwater. This, all topped with catching the leeward runner in the reefing lines after a gybe – seriously – how does that even happen?! It took some balance from Chris and Mary to use the boat hook (and some muscle) to unhook it. All in all, a nice change from wind holes, and not your average watch on Zhuhai.

As the morning came, and we headed back down the Philippines coast, we knew to expect light and changing winds. We did the best we could with the kite, and changed down to white sails for the final push back into the bay.

We finished in a respectable sixth place, with Wendy sharing a few words on our arrival back into Subic Bay “We certainly sailed with the spirit of Zhuhai in our hearts. It’s still so very sad that we don’t get to go there, all of the crew were looking forward to it but we have been thinking about them all the time.”On the close competition throughout almost the entire race, Wendy added: “It’s great when you can see the boats on AIS. You can see the speed and where they are heading and it’s even better when you can see them physically as well. It just keeps you on your toes all the time. Sometimes on a longer race you think you’re going fast, but if there’s someone next to you and you see they’re going fast too, it just lifts the whole team up and makes the competition go faster as well. It’s a win-win for both, it’s fantastic and I love it, I love having a boat right on your tail.”

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