Clipper Race Update: Crossing the Equator, Racing from Australia to China

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This is the seventh entry in a series of blogs by Dell Ambassadors competing in the Clipper Race, a 40,000 nautical mile race around the world in 70-foot racing yachts. You can find the first post from Samantha Harper, and the posts from Marek Omilian on Direct2Dell. For more background on Dell’s involvement, read our initial blog about this exciting race here.

sunset viewed from the deck of the Visit Seattle clipper ship at sea

Another leg is done and dusted – this time, Leg 5 which has taken us from Airlie Beach in Australia northwards to Sanya in Southern China and then finally to Qingdao, in Northern China. We have seen great extremes of temperature, from the sweltering heat of Australia and the Equator to the icy cold of a Northern Hemisphere winter here in Qingdao. We’ve had some amazing crew this leg. Our new ‘Leggers’ have come with a positive attitude, lots of energy and most importantly karaoke skills – very helpful on long, cold nights on deck!

Our first race out of Airlie Beach began with a day-long motorsail out past the Great Barrier Reef for what we call a ‘LeMans Start’ – essentially, all the boats line up abreast and start at exactly the same time, with one boat acting as race marshall to prevent false starts. Dare To Lead had a great start, leading the pack for the first 24 hours and remaining in the top three until Sanya.

Unfortunately, as we neared the Doldrums a few days later, team Liverpool 2018 had problems with their watermaker (desalinator) and needed a replacement. Spare parts are hidden amongst the fleet and it so happened the spare watermaker parts were on Dare To Lead. Disappointed to leave the lead pack, we motored back to a rendezvous point and successfully completed the transfer. Later we were awarded redress (a time deduction) which was much appreciated, as was the bag of candy that the Liverpool 2018 crew sent back to us a thank-you. Onwards towards the Equator we went!

crew on deck of the Dare to Lead clipper ship at sea

An Equator crossing is a big deal in the sailing world and comes with its own type of initiation, a ceremony presided by none other than King Neptune himself. This involves a type of kangaroo court, some performance art on the part of the wee pollywog awaiting judgment and punishment of unforgiven crimes with food scraps. All in good fun and on a sunny day, we later hosed off the deck and toasted the crossing with ice-cold Coca-Colas kept especially for the occasion. Ocean racing doesn’t have to be torture all the time!

As we began closing in towards Sanya after three weeks at sea, we found ourselves mid-pack again, and everyone was pushing hard. Then, like magic, in the final 48 hours, Dare To Lead began to surge ahead and make steady gains on other boats. We were heading downwind and it’s become obvious we are a boat that does better downwind than up. Nonetheless, home port team Sanya Serenity Coast is a high-performance boat and being able to hold them off during the drag race to the finish was completely unexpected. Despite blowing apart a spinnaker an hour from the finish, we held on to be third across the line, less than a minute ahead of team Sanya Serenity Coast and ultimately were awarded second place overall after our redress was factored in. Needless to say the mood on Dare To Lead was ecstatic! An unexpected and well-fought result.

After a brief rest in Sanya (stopovers never quite seem long enough!), the party was over. The second part of Leg 5 would send us north from Sanya to the ‘Sailing City’ of Qingdao. At our pre-departure briefing, we were warned about dodging massive fishing fleets in the East China sea, the harsh upwind beating we’d get en route and finally the dense fog that would swallow us up as we neared Qingdao. Fortunately, the upwind beating we were promised wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated and overall the sailing part of things was smooth. Unfortunately, it was a navigational nightmare and running the gauntlet of 100+ fishing boats at a time gave us all plenty of grey hairs and sleepless nights. Dare To Lead didn’t end up in a great position after the start of the race and given the multitude of marine hazards, trying to make up time and position was pretty much impossible. Kudos to the boats who were able to make great progress – it wasn’t in the cards for us! To add insult to injury, while chasing down a rival towards a finish line, we inadvertently followed them into forbidden waters and as a result we both got a time penalty. Ouch! This pushed us all the way down to 10th place (out of 11 boats). Not exactly our finest race, but again good crew and good humour still made this an overall positive experience.

Samantha Harper hangs over the edge of the Dare to Lead clipper ship using a Dell Latitude Rugged laptop

Our Dell computers continued to work reliably despite the extremes of temperature, the humidity below deck and the rain above deck. As always they continue to take the knocks that come with being on a racing yacht and remain a vital link to the outside world for us. Heaven knows what would have happened had the laptop running our navigation software died! Tracking fishing boats, net markers and buoys essentially kept a member of the crew tied to the computer 24/7, focused entirely on navigating. Needless to say, we are happy to finally trade hot teas on icy cold nights onboard for hot showers and icy cold beers in our Qingdao hotels.

The upcoming Leg 6 (the Pacific) fills us all with a bit of trepidation. For me, it feels like everything old is new again, that the past 6 months have been merely preparation for this, the penultimate ocean crossing. Yet again the crew is gelling well and we have a great dynamic on board. Our goal is simply to make it across safe and sound… but as always a podium finish would be icing on the cake! See you in Seattle!


Samantha Harper profile photo About Samantha Harper, crew member, Dare To Lead

Samantha is a 37-year-old doctor from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The Dell Latitude Rugged laptop was made for people like Samantha; when she is not sailing 40,000 nautical miles around the world on board Dare To Lead, Samantha splits her time between working in remote communities as a GP, and pushing herself to the limits mountaineering and running ultra-marathons (she has done the infamous Marathon des Sables, a 250 kilometre race in the Sahara Desert, five times). However, the Clipper Race is Samantha’s first sailing experience, and after initially considering only doing three legs, she signed up for the whole circumnavigation, knowing that once she started, she wouldn’t be able to stop until she completed and experienced the entire thing.

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