Twenty-three days after setting sail from Hong-Kong on her attempt at the Tea Route record, the IDEC SPORT maxi trimaran is currently dealing with that tricky stretch of sailing involving crossing the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, more commonly known as the Doldrums.
This area of great instability in terms of the weather follows on from a difficult, slow weekend, during which the crew had to pass through a large area of calm conditions on either side of the Equator. Francis Joyon, Christophe Houdet, Antoine Blouet, Corentin Joyon and Bertrand Delesne struggled for 48 hours in the intense Equatorial heat to keep the boat moving due north and cut across this area of light airs on the shortest route possible.
The outcome remains positive for the men aboard IDEC SPORT, as their lead over the record holder, Italian skipper, Giovanni Soldini, which at one point fell to a mere 23 miles, has now increased once again in spite of all the difficulties. The way out of this tricky patch is not far ahead with some decent NE’ly trade winds blowing less than 50 miles ahead of the red and white trimaran.
Today’s menu: the Doldrums
“We haven’t yet encountered the sort of conditions associated with the Doldrums when they are powerful,” Francis Joyon told us. “For a few hours now, we have simply seen big lines of dark clouds. We’re not out of the woods yet and we can expect to have a few nasty surprises on this 24th day of sailing. It’s not yet time to get back up to high speeds.”
All of the crew on IDEC SPORT think they are lucky, in spite of seeing their 800-mile lead melt away in just a few days.
“We did look seriously at the route taken by the record holder Maserati back in 2018,” added Francis, “which was a shorter route cutting across the Gulf of Guinea along the coast of West Africa. But it would have given rise to a number of drawbacks with a lot of areas with thunderstorms and then long periods without any wind. Initially, our route took us close to the coast of Brazil to get around the Doldrums via the west where they were narrowest. But last Friday, a small tropical low quickly developed ahead of us and we had to round it via the east, which explains our route this weekend heading due north in a shallow low giving us a foretaste of the Doldrums.”
Heading for the trade winds
Low speed and oppressive heat will be the features of the day. After that, once the Doldrums are clearly behind the maxi trimaran, the situation is looking more traditional withh some strong NE’ly trade winds and a rather tricky, yet interesting connection with the North Atlantic lows towards the Azores.
Although far from being exhausted, the crew admits it has been rather tiring because of the difficulty or even impossibility of getting any useful sleep in the Equatorial heat. The light airs mean too that at the helm, they have to be even more efficient and precise and although the seas are calm, there is the start of a swell building due to the NE’ly winds. Generating energy and charging up the batteries are also a concern for the crew.
“We are sailing in energy saving mode,” explained Francis. “We are almost out of diesel. The wind turbines and solar powered batteries are on, but the boat requires a lot of energy and we need to ration our supply often turning off all the electrical power aboard the boat.”
With 3200 miles to go and with thirteen days to go to beat the record, the whole crew on IDEC SPORT is obviously dreaming of stepping up the pace in the trade winds and then in the powerful westerly air stream in order to finish in style.
Quote: Corentin Joyon
“Low speeds and a lack of sleep for two whole days... It is much too hot to sleep inside the boat. We have the record on our mind at all times. Fortunately we got a decent lead in the Indian Ocean, as the South Atlantic was complicated and never corresponded to our plans.
"We know that the exit from the Doldrums is not far away, which is encouraging us. We can’t wait to get the speed back up. Christian Dumard suggested we took the eastern route followed by Soldini in 2018. But he warned us that there would be a lot of thundery weather, so we went for the west and for the moment, we are still ahead of the record, even if it is close.
"With 23 days of non stop sailing, this has been my longest trip. I am in good shape. Since we crossed the Equator yesterday, it has felt like we are on our way home. If the sea state allows, we hope to go out with a bang.”