Not long after seven Volvo Ocean Race teams were forced to find safe passage through the crowded waters off Hong Kong, with a collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a fishing boat resulting in one fatality, the Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race put their fleet of 11 boats to a similar test.
From the start in Sanya, the Clipper 70 skippers were passing through the same waters enroute to Qingdao and quickly faced the chaotic conditions of the region. Though unlike the Volvo fleet which were beam reaching at 20+ knots, the Clipper crews were fortunate to be sailing at less than half that pace.
Visibility is imperative for safe passage. But add darkness or fog, exasperate it with speed and racing mentality, and navigating through regions with known fishing fleets becomes a game of Russian Roulette.
After the finish, here’s what two of the skippers had to say:
Dale Smyth, Dare To Lead:
It’s an absolute nightmare – I mean they’re just thousands upon thousands. It’s like trying to run across a busy freeway in the dark and then a bit of fog. It’s really tough. It’s been the toughest part of this race.
Probably a good 20% are not on AIS, and then you start to get a bit of fog and you’re running along with a spinnaker up because we’re racing, and it’s really very stressful. The fact that we’re all here without having hit a fishing boat or had any accidents is really a testament to all the skipper’s here because it’s very very challenging.
David Hartshortn, GREAT Britain:
Initially you’re all in awe of just the sheer volume of these boats. We’re talking hundreds of boats all within a very concentrated area. The way that they move, it’s very very coordinated. You’ll be looking at a piece of empty sea, and then three or four minutes later, there will be 50 vessels there to get around now. Until you experience it, and this was the second time I’ve experienced it; actually I’d forgotten quite what it was like. But it’s a challenge. It is a challenge.
Story and image from Scuttlebutt Sailing News