As the fleet continue to sail steadily to the south east, the split between north and south, which has been so apparent over the last couple of days, has closed with only New York Clipper and to a degree Hong Kong now favouring the southern option.
Ocean racing often presents skippers with the choice of taking a direct route to their destination and sailing fewer miles, or following a less direct route with more distance to cover but the possibility of better wind conditions. Race 11 of the Clipper 2002 series now presents its skippers with exactly this choice. The significant factor is the band of west-going trade winds currently to the south of the fleet's position. All of the skippers will have a mind to benefit from these, but it is a question of how much they are prepared to sacrifice miles in the right direction.
Bristol skipper Richard Butler has, in the past, been the one to go for the longer yet historically more reliable option by putting his trust in the Admiralty Sailing Directions, supplied by the UK Hydrographic Office. These provide likely weather patterns, wind directions and ocean currents for the whole world - built up from several hundred years of empirical observations. As one of the front runners overall, this tactic has served Richard well, however this time he and the Bristol crew have chosen to go the more direct route and have taken an early lead because of it.
Cape Town Clipper too followed this lead, making a welcome appearance at the front of the pack, whilst Hong Kong initially joined the pack before seemingly changing their minds and heading south again. In this respect they are rather bucking the trend as since yesterday all bar New York Clipper have chosen to converge on the Bristolians and are all now less than 10 miles apart. At midnight this convergence was such that all 8 Clipper yachts were in sight of each other.
It is easy as spectators to interpret the positions and talk about skippers choosing to go in a particular direction, however this "choice" is more often dictated by what is possible. Last night's convergence was caused by a wind shift first to the north and then to the north east, enabling the boats in the north (or rather those more to the west at that point) a chance to bear off a little and put some south in their course, thus covering the boats to the south and east.
Prior to that, the conditions had been characterised by frustratingly light winds from anywhere between south east and north east, with the occasional squall thrown in for good measure. If the word "lottery" had been uttered at any stage it is certain that some boats made better use of the numbers than others.
Liverpool Clipper, skippered by Adam Kyffin, is certainly today's winner, rising 4 places to equal second place. Cape Town Clipper is persistently hanging in there though and at one stage even edged ahead of Bristol. A good result would be most welcome for Roger Steven-Jennings and his Cape Town crew as they sail towards South Africa and none would begrudge them a win. The Bristol team even sent a sporting message saying "Well done guys, nice to see you at the front."
Jersey Clipper too have gained, rising to threaten London for fourth place; whilst Glasgow Clipper retain their current sixth position.
New York Clipper remain to the south and are intent on heading to the trades, whilst Hong Kong's wobble has cost them dearly and they have fallen 4 places to last position. That said, we should not lose sight of the fact that they are only 19.5 miles behind Bristol and the whole fleet are within a twenty-mile radius.
And Mauritius is still a long way off!
Clipper 2002 - Race 11 Positions
||Distance to Finish (nautical miles)