At 0126 EST on 27 May 2012 Gold Coast Australia crossed the finish line line in New York in first place in race 11 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race after a frustrating and tactically “challenging” race from Panama in a total time of 12 days 6 hours and 21 seconds.
The last few days of the race had been quite fluky and only 12 hours before the finish Gold Coast Australia was sitting becalmed surrounded by beautiful Northern Atlantic Right Whale and Pygmy Killer Whales. Thirty nautical miles to our east sailed Visit Finland with the other yachts in the fleet catching up fast. The day was warming up quickly and I had a sinking feeling that there would be a sea breeze and we would be too far off shore. As the breeze filled in late morning and swung to the west, our plan could not have worked out more perfectly as we followed the breeze around in a perfect arc towards the finish ahead of our nearest rivals Visit Finland.
I was elated with winning this race as at different stages in the race it could have been won by any of the yachts in the fleet. The fleet was so close this race the pressure was on the entire duration of the race. Team Gold Coast Australia worked incredibly hard in hot, fluky and squally conditions. Some days we were conducting over 30 sail changes, with most of the sail chances required all hands on deck requiring the crew to get on deck during their off watch time and play the game – which we won!
Gold Coast Australia had under gone a transformation of crew ethos and watch selection in Panama after one of the crew decided to leave and join the other Australian yacht in the fleet as they were short of crew. The crew member who left had been a fundamental member or the crew and occasional watch leader since the start, however after nine months he had grown unhappy with our crew mentality. It became very apparent over the previous legs that his unhappiness and negativity towards sailing to win the race was also affecting other crew members as the discontent spread amongst other members of the team making them also unhappy. In Panama I sat down with my core members of crew and we discussed why this had occurred and ways to resolve the issue. It was decided that our mentality to win should not be changed but we needed to focus more on the fun side of sailing and I as skipper needed to approach crew more empathetically in my instruction. We also realised the importance of considering the interaction between personalities while writing the watches to the point that we would ensure that every watch had a “forever happy” member that would perk the others up. Finally we discussed how the I core members of crew should focus on the positives and stamp out any negatives, for example, rather than pointing out where we went wrong in a sail change, we would talk about what we did well and how we could do it even better.
As a result of our problem solving crew social ability and team work increased and the crew began to bond and work together better than ever before. There was a positive vibe onboard, and absolutely no negatives. I became very impressed with the performance of the boat and crew and the slickness of each sail change evolution throughout the race. Given the light and variable conditions we did countless sail changes daily. On our busiest day we conducted a total of 36 sail changes, many of which were a full crew evolution, and all of which were conducted to near perfection.
Gold Coast Australia arrived in New York a very elated and happy crew. Sailing into New York and past the Statue of Liberty is an unbelievable experience and one could only imagine what millions of immigrants to the US who arrived by sea would have felt. We then proceeded to Liberty Landing Marina for a few days maintenance before making our official entry to New York on the 3rd of July and into North Cove at the base of ground zero where we would conduct many corporate events and sails.
Gold Coast Australia had a fantastic stopover in New York, most of the crew having plentiful time to see the sights and experience the atmosphere of the city. One honour that I had during my stay was to be invited to the New York Yacht Club for dinner in the famous model room and to listen to a truly inspirational presentation by Sir Robin Knox Johnston about his life of ocean racing.
On the morning of the 7th of June we completed our final race preparations and after a few hours of flag waving and fleet photo shoots, Gold Coast Australia transferred herself from being a New York Model and board room back to a race yacht and en-route to the start line, team Gold Coast spend the afternoon training for the race to come, practising safety procedures such as man overboard, reefing, head sail changes and the famous Le Manz Start.
Gold Coast Australia started Race 12 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race off Ambrose Lighthouse in fantastic form and are now leading the entire fleet to Halifax.
The fleet lined up to the start and the gun fired and we left our blocks like a race horse, quickly setting our sails and powering on towards the first mark. Ten minutes after the start Gold Coast Australia hoisted their medium weight spinnaker along with most of the fleet, and after a short tussle with Singapore we began to lead the pack towards the first virtual mark on the south east corner of the Traffic Separation Scheme.
A beautiful sun set over the rest of the fleet as we watched them astern of us as we broke into watches and half the crew went below to try to get some sleep after the excitement of the start and after eating our first dinner onboard.
Good wind remained with us until shortly after midnight when breeze suddenly dropped from 14kts to 8kts. The watch prepared for a peel to the light weight spinnaker, and after a quick brief to the new crew as to the process we pulled off the peel with the efficiency and speed that helped to take us to victory in the last race. All the sail changes today have been performed very well and if we can keep this momentum up for the next few days we will sail a very good race.
It is estimated that it will take us a little over 4 days to race to Halifax, our time expected to be some what determined by the light airs that we are now experiencing and when the wind will pick up tomorrow. For now Gold Coast Australia will work hard to stay ahead of the fleet.