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Times Clipper fleet depart Yokahama

by Sue Warden Owen on 5 Mar 2001
Dateline Yokohama

With considerable trepidation the 8 yachts in The Times Clipper 2000 fleet
motored from the Bayside Marina in Yokohama in a lovely sun lit Tokyo Bay
with clear skies but a rising south-westerly gale. The original start
line was to have been outside Tokyo Bay but rough seas made this
impracticable; instead a new start line was placed just at the western
entrance where at least the water was calm. An hour's delay was allowed
for Leeds to re-attach 4 mainsail sail slides, but at 1400 hours local time
the hooter went and the tightly bunched fleet began their beat out to sea.
Most had 3 reefs in their sails and nothing larger than a No 3 jib but even
so occasional gusts were blowing them well over onto their sides. Liverpool
Clipper, skippered by Rupert Dean, crossed the line first, but closely
followed by Portsmouth, Plymouth and Jersey. 120 yards separated 1st from
7th, with Leeds crossing five minutes behind, her mainsail repaired.

The next 36 hours are going to be heavy work as the winds are from the
south-west and not expected to start easing before Wednesday. The course is
south west, straight into the wind, as far as the southern tip of Honshu
Island 500 miles away, so the boats will have to beat their way there unless
there is a change in the wind direction later in the week. To add to their
difficulties, just offshore runs the strong north flowing Kuroshio Current,
which can reach a speed of 4 knots. Counter currents run close inshore, but
these are tidal, and, like the south coast of the British Isles, can be
powerful around headlands. To avoid an adverse current a sailor would
normally nip into the bays between these headlands, but not in Japan as
every bay is full of fish farms and nets, some supported by strong chains
which will stop a yacht in its tracks and can cause considerable damage. To
avoid these problems, yachts can go further out to sea, but this adds to the
distance to be sailed and will leave them in a rougher sea if the wind veers
west or north-west which is a strong probability. So the choice is beat
along the coast knowing that it is a headbanger, or head out to sea where it
can be just as rough but the current and fish traps are not a hazard. The
first reports back will indicate which tactics the yachts are using and
which woodpecker has the hardest head.

The first boat to reach the southern end of Honshu could well be the winner
of this leg, as the final 400 miles are almost due west to the anchorage off
the mouth of the Yangtze River. The prevailing wind is a northerly, cold,
but allowing the Clipper yachts to romp along in their favourite conditions,
a beam reach, and the boat's speeds are so even that there is little a yacht
behind can do tactically to gain anything on the leader.

The fleet is now moving out of oceans and back into seas. They say goodbye
to the Pacific as they pass Honshu and enter the China Sea. For the next two
months until they clear the Sunda Strait, which lies between Java and
Sumatra, they will be largely behind the shelter of the eastern belt of
islands that stretch from Japan to the Philippines and Indonesia.

The stopover in Yokohama has been a welcome break for the crews and enabled
them to enjoy the hospitality of the Japanese people and particularly their
yachtsmen. On Saturday evening, the Bayside Marina Yacht Club hosted a prize
giving party for the Clipper sailors, attended by the British Ambassador. As
with sailors all over the world, once the speeches were and the beer began
to flow, songs were inevitable. The Japanese started with a local boating
song and retaliation was swift, 110 Clipper sailors roared out the full
version of 'Wild Rover' which nearly shattered the windows. Further songs
followed and the finale was a combined rendition of 'I am sailing.' The
crews then dispersed to continue their evening as the guests of local
yachtsmen aboard their yachts.

Sunday was final preparation day. Fresh provisions bought in a supermarket,
3 vanloads, were stowed away. The Clipper crews now know that to store
anything loose is asking for it to fly across the boat and hit someone, so
stowing food is taken seriously.

One of the features of the Bayside Marina is the heated lavatory seats.
Crews coming in from crossing the Pacific Ocean can be forgiven for lounging
a little and enjoying this unexpected luxury. The controls are down on the
right, but those who played with them quickly learned that if they got it
wrong the seat was liable to heat up! So impressive is this technology
that the organisers were not particularly surprised to receive a stores
requisition from Jersey for a much larger inverter so they could run one
aboard! Out of kindness, and in order not to weaken the character of the
crewmembers, this request has been gently refused.

- Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Chairman of race organisers Clipper Ventures Plc, the AIM listed yacht
racing and branded sailing event company,

For further editorial information or to arrange copyright-free images,
please contact:
Sue Warden-Owen / Loretta Spridgeon
The Times Clipper 2000 Press Office
M-H-L Press and Publicity
Tel: 01489 575227
Fax: 01489 577766
Mobile: 07770 596111 / 07773 818586

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