The sail from Yokohama to Shanghai has two very different phases and after almost five days battling down the Japanese coast the Clipper yachts are now about to begin the next chapter of this demanding race.
As the fleet approach the Osumi Kaikyo straits, the teams leave behind the adverse currents and unpredictable winds that characterise this section of the race and head west into the more open waters of the East China Sea. With open water and predominantly northern winds tactical decisions give way to boat speed and past experience shows that the first boats to pass through the straits are then very hard to catch.
After a thoroughly successful day, Glasgow Clipper skipper Rupert Parkhouse and his crew have edged into first place and will be hoping that this theory holds good! They are indeed well placed to lead the fleet but with only 10 miles separating first from seventh they will have to rely on more than just past experience to keep them in the lead over the next 418 miles.
From a spectator's point of view this couldn't be better and we are guaranteed some close competition for the remainder of the race.
Although in more open water there are still hazards aplenty in the form of massive fishing fleets. London Clipper skipper Rory Gillard has commented that sailing down the coast of Japan reminded him of sailing up Southampton Water. The next few days could well make that analogy seem somewhat tame.
Tim Hedges recounts his experience as a skipper on the Clipper 98 race, "Frequently we were confronted by a seemingly impenetrable wall of lights stretching as far as the eye could see, each light indicating a fishing boat with lines or nets cast and often working as a pair."
The International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea prescribe set lights to enable the mariner to ascertain the direction a vessel is travelling in and exactly what activity it is engaged in. Unfortunately fishing boats the world over are marked most clearly by a bright deck light which successfully masks any other lights they may or may or may not be displaying and this, coupled with their erratic courses as they chase shoals of fish over the sea bed, makes any attempt to pass through the middle of them resemble a game of chicken.
Racing you may be, but seamanship often dictates a course of action - a course change or spinnaker drop that you would otherwise want to avoid. Sailing east up the Solent just after the start of the annual Round the Island Race if held at night may soon seem a closer comparison.
Race Director Colin de Mowbray's tour of the Far East continues with the establishment of the Race Office in Shanghai and we will soon be able to bring you more details of the Shanghai stopover. For now though, those of us in the sun-drenched UK Race Office can gain some small satisfaction from the knowledge that the weather there is currently cold, grey and raining!
||Distance to Finish (Nautical Miles)