Over the last couple of weeks however London Clipper has been experiencing problems with her SSB set and has been unable to talk to the fleet on a regular basis. Skipper Chris Hazeldene has been finding out the positions of the rest of the fleet by telephoning the race office, who in turn forward his position to the Duty Skipper.
Occasionally the boats have been close enough for Chris to contact them via VHF radio which has a range roughly equivalent to the distance you could see if standing next to the aerial mounted on the top of the mast. This has not been possible over the last couple of days as the boats have not been close enough, however a funny thing happened early yesterday which demonstrated the general courtesies that seafarers extend to one another, as well as clearly marking their arrival in the Caribbean.
As Bristol Clipper raced past the Turks and Caicos Islands, a large American cruise ship sailed into view. As often happens the two vessels struck up a conversation over the VHF radio, the American skipper enquiring where the yacht was sailing and vice versa.
As a cruise ship is a pretty big affair and much higher out of the water than the relatively small Clipper boats, their VHF range is much greater. London skipper Chris, busy studying charts at the nav table, heard his VHF crackle into life and was mildly surprised to hear Carnival Cruise Lines calling Bristol Clipper. He was unable to hear the response, but when there was an obvious break in the conversation he too called the cruise ship and, using it as a go between, was able to have a very successful relayed
conversation with Richard Butler skippering Bristol Clipper.
Whilst crossing the Atlantic, ships were rarely if ever seen but now the fleet's proximity to land has been marked by several encounters with fishing boats, coastal trading craft, a few other yachts and now a cruise ship! There has also been a marked increase in objects in the water, coconuts and palm fronds included.
Positions within the fleet remain unchanged, but for an observer it is easy to lose sight of the intense pressure that the crews are under as they race towards the finish line. Pressure for Cape Town Clipper as they battle to gain those vital few miles that will prevent them from a second defeat and pressure too for Glasgow as they fight to keep them behind.
Bristol Clipper have gained over 25 miles on New York in the last 24 hours, but will it be enough to overtake them in the time left? For New York Clipper, the end can't come soon enough as only then will their first place be secure; the feelings on board summed up by skipper Sam Fuller who writes, "Tension rising on board, one minute everyone very optimistic, next minute everyone in complete panic!! They are all still wonderful though."
But what of New York's spinnaker damage? Surely that must give the rest of the fleet a chance to really catch up. Well it seems they are not alone. Slowly reports are coming in of similar damage on the other boats and last night Richard Butler candidly admitted that they too would need the services of a sailmaker on arrival in Cuba.
As he writes this morning; "Bristol have continued to nibble away at New York's lead, but not fast enough so far. If all the boats keep this sort of breeze, there will be little opportunity for position changing in the final run." But that does not stop them from trying as all the crews endeavour to get that extra ounce of speed from their boats.
CLIPPER 2002 LATEST POSITIONS
0400, 5 December 2002
Pos Yacht Distance to Finish
1 New York 317 (nautical miles)
2 Bristol 393
3 London 427
4 Hong Kong 462
5 Jersey 479
6 Liverpool 518
7 Glasgow 533
8 Cape Town 537