Gold Coast Australia raced down the Mexican coastline leading the fleet of Dubious 68’s in Race 10 of the Clipper 2011/12
Round the World Yacht Race under a blazing hot sun, plagued with light airs and surrounded by some of the most interesting and abundant wildlife we have seen since leaving Southampton UK in July 2011.
Hundreds of turtles of a variety of species are seen daily as we race down the coast, including the rare leather back turtle
and other turtles with birds riding on their shells. Large pods of dolphins and small whales consistently play in our bow
wave and escort the boat down the coast. One pod consisted of approximately 200 Pygmy Killer Whales. The first pod swam to
the boat and surrounded us, jumping, breaching and playing. They were quite inquisitive of Gold Coast Australia and swam
with us for over an hour. As we cheered for an encore, another pod approached that was even bigger than the first and
really put on a show for us. I got some fantastic GoPro video and still footage of these beautiful creatures and felt honoured to have witnessed such a performance.
The wind along this coastline follows a familiar daily pattern. Early in the morning the wind blows lightly from Nor North
West, often dieing off completely after sunrise to leave us coasting along in mirror seas without enough wind to fill the
spinnaker. Around midday the breeze begins to slowly fill in and backs to the west, then continues to freshen and back to
the west sou west throughout the afternoon and into the evening. After sunset the wind begins to veer towards the north
again, and the next day the process is repeated. Depending on your position in relation to the shore the wind angle may
change slightly but overall the daily pattern is the same. With out position so close to the ITCZ most of the winds are
locally generated and the importance of monitoring clouds and the differential between sea and land temperatures can make a
huge difference in performance. Understanding how sea breezes and land breezes form are an imperative part of this race.
The ocean currents also play an large part of this race. Yachts that got it right found themselves with up to three knots
of current with them, yachts that got it wrong found up to two knots against them. I did extensive research about the
currents along this coastline prior to the race and found an interesting intricated system of eddies made up by the combined
effects of the Californian current running north to south and the equatorial current running south to north. Eddies are
also effected by wind and move around a bit making them hard to pinpoint without external data which we did not have,
therefore by utilising data collected before the start and deterring how it would be effected by the winds we were able to ride the currents down the coastline.
As the day progresses as the wind picked up from the NW, our light weight spinnaker fills and we pick up in speed, making
some good ground to the south. Another breed of whales breaches in the distance but we were unable to identify it apart
from it being white in colour, and quite small and stout. This time of year most of the whales are migrating north and they
provide constant entertainment as we try to identify the different species. The air surrounding Gold Coast Australia was
also filled with our friends of the feathered variety, including a couple of different species of boobies and one small land
bird who landed on our deck and then made himself quite at home helping with sail hoists and then heading below for a full tour before resting in the ghetto on a bunk.
The wind carried us ESE at reasonable speed until the early evening until the wind died out completely. Gold Coast
Australia was left to drift in a mill pond until the land breeze starts up. The Light land breeze is from the cooling land
in the east, bringing with it some sea mist. With so little wind on the race course we determine that it dosn’t really
matter where the wind comes from or how it is generated, all is appreciated as Gold Coast Australia defends its current position leading the fleet.
On the 24th April Gold Coast Australia passed the 17 degree south latitude and entered the “Ocean Sprint”. The fastest
yacht to cover the 90nm north to south will receive a bonus point added to their overall result. At 18:07:10 we commenced
the ocean “sprint” as we drifted across the 17 degree latitude in somewhat glassy conditions. The “sprint” that could
probably be better described as a slither as we barely made way through the water. Our tactics would be taking us further
east towards the coastline to make the most of the terrestrial winds and the southerly flowing currents, so it was agreed
that we would not place efforts into winning the “Ocean Sprint” but rather would concentrate on our overall result. At the
time there were a few yachts further inshore than us and making far better speeds, including our nearest rival De Lage Landen who had already overtaken us.
Team Gold Coast Australia worked very hard to make up ground on the leading yachts throughout the night. As the wind
increased we were able to hoist the medium weight spinnaker, which is a the largest sail in our inventory. At first light Gold Coast Australia had the leading yacht De Lage Landen in our sights.
Light winds tending north the next morning allowed Gold Coast to sail tighter angles and make ground to the North East and
overtake De Lage Landen. At 14:06z we crossed the Acapulco gate in position 16 00 59N 100 38.95W approximately 2.5nm ahead
of DLL giving us first place through the first gate which is a fantastic achievement for all onboard and a tribute to
everybody’s fantastic efforts. To make the racing more interesting for the supporters at home and to enable the race
committee to easily shorten the course if winds died off completely before Panama this race was divided into segments
separated by gates. The gates were generally about 300nm long, 300nm apart, and provided a large some interesting obstacles
when considering the race from a tactical perspective. I was constantly reviewing the forecast, the speed of the fleet and
our distance to Panama and trying to estimate where the race would finish as with a 300nm line, one end could be heavily bias.
Shortly after crossing the Acapulco gate Gold Coast Australia crossed the southerly line of latitude of 15.5N for the Ocean
Sprint at 14:57:10z. Whilst the distance between the start and end of the sprint was officially only 90nm, Gold Coast
Australia travelled just short of 300nm as most of the time we were trying to make ground to the northern side of the course
by sailing east. Our time for the sprint was unlikely to turn any heads, and would later be easily beaten by team New York.
The next morning the sunrise bought a beautiful sight as the large equatorial sun beamed through the volcanic ash produced
by a nearby erupting volcano was suspended in the air displaying indescribable brilliance of colours. As many as six turtles swam around the boat as we coasted along in light unpredictable winds.
As the winds died off completely after sunrise I feared that we had sailed too far into the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and in
doing so had sailed into the lee of the mountains while searching for wind that was predicted for that location. By mid
morning the wind began to pick up again, and to our relief by the morning sked it was revealed that we were not the only
yacht to have parked up through the morning. Whilst Visit Finland and some other yachts behind had made some good
mileage on us, De Lage Landen were still in the same relative position as they were 12 hours before.
Light unpredictable wind now plagued the fleet, and after a review by the Race Committee of the forecasted weather for the
next week, they announced that the Sailing Instructions had been amended to move the finish line forward to Remedious Gate
300nm to our south east. By now we were already sitting comfortably 30-60nm from the coast to ensure that we were in the
southerly flowing current, close enough go gain the benefits from the terrestrial winds, but far enough away to not get
stuck in the lee of the large mountains that dominate the Mexican coastline. The added advantage of our position is that we
were now closer to the northern end of the finish line than any other yacht in the fleet placing us in a fantastic position to take line honours if we could maintain our boatspeed and cover the fleet.
Gold Coast Australia continued sailing well in light and fickle winds over the past 24 hours as we try to place a loose
cover over our nearest rivals De Lage Landen who are 50nm to the south. Whilst the GRIB files and weather data show that
there is more wind in shore, the high mountains that need to be considered in the tactics and so we were trying
to stay as close into the shore as we dare without running the risk of being becalmed in the lee of the mountains. DLL is
well to the south and clear of the lee and so we had to ensure that we try to stay in the same, if not better conditions
as them until the finish. Though we may make greater gains by sailing in shore and picking up the terrestrial winds it is not worth the risk.
As we raced towards the finish, day and night we were surrounded by more and more wildlife. At night the dolphins swam with
us, their bodies lit up by the phosphorescence in the water providing us with a fantastic light display. Throughout the day
more whales, dolphins, turtles, manta rays and even sharks coasting along behind the boat for a short period.
As we got closer to the finish the wind became lighter and lighter. It was imperative that we utilised every gust, and
maximised our Velocity Made Good by gybing as the variable winds shifted continuously up to 60 degrees. We were now less
than 24 hours from the finish, I found it impossible to sleep and stayed on deck helming, calling tactics and providing
encouragement to the trimmers and other helmsmen. Gold Coast Australia began to once again pick up speed and make a more
direct course for the finish line. The afternoon sked revealed that the light winds of the morning had allowed De Lage
Landen to take some miles from our lead but after plotting the positions it was calculated that we had 15nm less to run
for the shortest distance to the finish than DLL, a distance that could easily be lost if we did not sail to our full
potential or if the wind did not fill in. Meanwhile Team Welcom to Yorkshire was sneaking towards the most southern end of the line utilisng the stronger gradient winds to the south.
Sharks close to the boat stalked what looked like a school of Marlin entertained the team for part of the afternoon watch,
putting on a fantastic display as the school of Marlin attempted their escape. One Marlin was not so lucky, and the sharks played with it, tossing it into the air before going for the kill.
In the evening before the finish Gold Coast Australia managed to avoid disaster after a observant crew noticed a fishing
long line ahead. The line was too close and too long to alter course and sail around, but we were able to drop the
spinnaker and stop the boat in time before it got too tangled around the keel and rudder. I was then able hook it with the
boat hook, cut the buoyed and floating line before it became too taught. With no time to spare we re-hoisted the spinnaker
and continued our pursuit of the finish line. Not more than an hour later a second long line became hooked on the keel and
a similar procedure was carried out in good fashion ensuring that we did not loose too much time. The long lines in this
area are hundreds of metres long, poorly marked at regular intervals with 4l plastic containers and float on the surface
making them hard to avoid and a danger to shipping. Unlike the lines and nets in Asia which are marked by strobes and set 3m
below the surface clear of shipping. This non-selective catch method is also extremely destructive to our environment as it
kills and maims thousands of innocent victims. We have sailed thousands of miles around the world, and through some of the
most densely populated fishing areas of Asia and always managed to avoid fishing lines and nets, yet here, of the Mexican
coast, only miles from the finish and with other leading yachts also vying for first place, we were plagued with these dreadful lines regually.
Near midnight as the crew sailed the boat with vengeance the wind began to swing north of west and Gold Coast Australia
gybed to the east to make the best VMG towards the line. At about the same time DLL came up on AIS and it was good to note that we had made some miles on them as we made our final dash towards the line.
In the early morning at 0844 UTC 01 MAY 12, escorted by dolphins and with a trail of phosphorescence in our wake Gold Coast
Australia crossed the Remedious gate in position 12 41.9N 090 37.6W. In accordance with the alteration to the sailing
instructions we had now finished race 10 in first place. Another yellow pennant (or as we call it Australian Gold) for Gold Coast Australia.
PICTURE CAPTION – RICHARD HEWSON HELMS GOLD COAST AUSTRALIA DOWN CALIFORNIAN COAST WITH GOLDEN GATE BRIDE IN BACKGROUND.