Leg 5 of the Clipper Round the World Race is fast approaching! Saturday, January 18th will be the start of Leg 5 from Airlie Beach, Australia to Sanya, China. Leg 5 will consist of a total of three races. The second race will start on Friday, February 21st from Sanya, China to Subic Bay, Philippines. The third and final race will start on Friday, February 28th from Subic Bay to Zhuhai, China.

At the time of writing this blog post the official race courses have not been posted, but the following is my rough estimate on what the route will be. Let’s take a closer look at Race 1.

Starting at Airlie Beach in Queensland, Australia the yachts will depart the Coral Sea Marina and travel about 100 nautical miles (nm) off the coast before starting the race. This is due to something called the Great Barrier Reef. The Clipper Race tries to mitigate potential risk where they can, and the idea of 35 ton yachts racing through an ecologically fragile area is too much. Plus the yacht wouldn’t win in a head to head fight against a coral head.

With most likely a LeMans style start, the race will traverse northeast through the Coral Sea before rounding Rossel Island (island off Papua New Guinea), keeping land to port before entering the Solomon Sea, about 600nm from the start of the race.

Next we will be traveling northerly through the Solomon Sea, aiming to pass between Buka Island (part of the autonomous region of Bougainville which is part of Papua New Guinea) and New Ireland (part of Papua New Guinea), about 1,000nm from the race start. Turning to port, we then line up for the long transit of about 2,200nm through the Western Pacific and the Philippine Sea.

This long stretch of about 2,300nm will require concentration on navigation as there are many small islands, atolls and reefs dotted throughout the region. Keeping the Caroline Islands to starboard, my projected course will have us passing between the island nation of Palau and Yap (island of the Federated States of Micronesia). We will also potentially pass extremely close to the Ngulu Atoll.

As we continue northwest towards the tip of the island of Luzon in the Philippines we will traverse the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), aka the doldrums. I covered the doldrums in my blog post on the Leg 1 race update. You can check it out here.

In sailing there is a term called velocity made good or VMG. This is the shortest course to take from Point “A” to Point “B”. However, the weather (wind) at the time will ultimately dictate how we traverse the race course. It may be quicker to sail a longer distance if the wind is coming from a particular direction compared to the VMG course.

Time will tell where we actually end up sailing. Especially since weather is so dynamic. We will be receiving weather updates every 6 hours in which the skipper will load this into his laptop and run through the weather routing software. This will give different sailing route options that optimize VMG.

A great tool for those of you that will be following the race from home and want more information than what’s on the Clipper Race Viewer, can use the website Windy.com. Below is a screenshot showing the area that we will be sailing in. Blue signifies light winds, green medium winds, and orange/red strong winds. The light winds of the ITCZ are circled in red.

Growing up I was fascinated by WWII history and the Pacific Theater, watching all the shows on the History Channel. One famous story is that of the USS Indianapolis.

This WWII Navy Cruiser took the final parts for the atomic bombs from Hunters Point in San Francisco to the Marianas. This is where the B-29 Engola Gay took off from Tinian Island to drop the atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland.

After this secret delivery, the USS Indianapolis headed towards the Philippines but 2 days after departing Guam she was torpedoed and sunk. Of the 1,190 crew aboard, 890 went into the water and only 316 survived. This tragic event has been covered by Hollywood in countless movies, including a famous scene in the movie Jaws.

The exact location of her final resting place was unknown until recently when a survey funded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen found her in about 18,000 feet of water. The exact spot is not public knowledge but estimates (12°02’00.0″N 134°48’00.0″E) place her within 200nm of where we will be sailing, just past Palau.

Traversing this area of the globe also takes on a personal significance, as my late grandfather (my Mom’s father) served in the US Navy during WWII in the Pacific. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what those men went through, the hell they must have seen in such a naturally beautiful place.

Leg 5 Race 1 will see the return of King Neptune as we cross the equator back into the Northern Hemisphere. Luckily I’m already a “shellback” after crossing the equator in 2008 aboard the Training Ship Golden Bear, when I spent two months sailing in the South Pacific.

As far as ocean currents, we will now be meeting the North Equatorial Current as we enter the Philippine Sea. This should potentially yield a favorable knot or two towards our turning point at the Luzon Strait.

The Luzon Strait is between the northern most point of the Philippines and Taiwan. This stretch of about 225nm is where we will turn to port again and head west towards the finish line in Sanya, China, now only about 750nm away. I’ve read that the currents through this area can by quite extreme, it will be interesting to see how this plays out during the race. Hopefully we can play it to our advantage.

This final push through the South China Sea should see downwind sailing with the spinnaker flying. It will also require extreme focus due to the amount of vessel traffic we will be dealing with. The South China Sea is notorious for a lot of shipping traffic and a ton of fishing vessels, both marked and unmarked on the AIS.

If you are asking what AIS is, it stands for Automated Information System and uses VHF to transmit information about a vessel. Vessels with registered tonnage more than 300GT on international voyages, all passenger vessels, or any smaller vessels that so chooses, uses AIS as an aid to navigating safely. MarineTraffic.com is a popular website that uses this public data to show vessels globally.

Here is a screenshot of MarineTraffic.com at the entrance to the Hong Kong Harbor. Each green, red, blue, and orange shape represents a vessel.

I’ve heard stories about how crazy it can be, becoming completely surrounded by fishing vessels that don’t follow navigation rules, with some not even having lights on at night. To be honest, this is one reason why I signed up for this leg of the race. I want to see first hand what is happening to the worlds oceans and the over fishing that is taking place. It should also make for a challenging navigation scenario which I am excited for.

The finish line will be located somewhere near the Sanya Serenity Marina, the host port for our stay in Sanya. This marina was the stopover port for the last Clipper Race and has also been a stopover port for two Volvo Ocean Races.

This concludes Leg 5 Race 1, which should be about 4,100nm in total. The Clipper office estimates about 26 days at sea. This will be the longest I have ever been aboard a vessel continuously without stepping on land. I’ve also heard some amazing things about the stopover that Clipper receives in China, I’m looking forward to it!!!

Check out below the Sanya recap video from the 2017-2018 Clipper race.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my blog to get the latest updates. Stay tuned for my next post where I cover Leg 5 Race 2 from Sanya, China to Subic Bay, Philippines, sailing past some of the internationally contested islands in the South China Sea!

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