With the exception of California, the whole fleet is currently positioned in the exact location that the Doldrums historically sit. It is therefore no surprise that all are reporting a mixed bag of weather from 30knot squalls to flat calm, oily seas.
“Well we've officially entered the Doldrums,” says Hull & Humber's skipper, Piers Dudin. “The wind we hoped to find here has stood us up, and hopefully the rest of the fleet, too. Instead we are heading into light south easterlies interrupted by epic 20 knot squalls, with horizontal rain and zero visibility, which usually only last a few minutes. Then it's back to ghosting the boat through slight seas.”
The squally conditions can often take the crews by surprise by moving in fast, causing havoc and then disappearing as quickly as they arrived. Edinburgh Inspiring Capital felt the effects of a particularly nasty squall yesterday evening as skipper Matt Pike explains. “I woke up from a short sleep to find myself having to climb vertically out of my bunk! Stepping across the entrance to the nav station I made my way quickly to the companionway and on deck. We were pinned down in a squall but luckily not for long as a halyard gave way, allowing the boat to right herself. Having spent the previous day explaining the wind patterns under these clouds to the crew they knew the theory but were totally unprepared for the force and speed of the wind and rain. Still, all is good on board and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital has survived her first knock down.”
In an attempt to cross the Doldrums as painlessly as possible the fleet has attempted to converge on one very small weather avenue. Situated around 9 degrees north and 27 degrees west, it looks set to transport them directly from the north east trade winds of the North Atlantic into the south east trades of the South Atlantic. On either side of the weather bridge are areas that appear to be completely void of wind and if fallen into would spell disaster for a boat's race hopes.
“At the moment we are in the middle of the transition and looking to be across in the next 24 hours,” says Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major. “If our run continues as it has then we will have crossed the Doldrums without really experiencing any of the classic windless conditions to be found here. Instead we have tales of strong squalls, listless windless holes and then strong winds once more – a wind God's playground.”
Chris is not the only skipper to believe his team has escaped the worst of the ICTZ and can make it through to the other side unscathed.
“We appear to have slipped through the Doldrums with hardly any loss of boat speed at all,” says Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper, Pete Stirling. “Last night the crew saw their first squalls with lots of heavy rain, spectacular lightning and a big wind shift as it veered from the north east to the south east. With the rain and the wind shift came the realisation that our downwind spinnaker sailing days were over for a while as we are now on a hard upwind beat trying to lay the course to Rio.”
Whilst an easy crossing of the ICTZ may be true for some, the Doldrums have a nasty habit biting back. Only time will tell if the skippers have been overly confident.
With the south east trade winds ahead of the fleet the teams further east should have the advantage. The trade winds will squeeze the fleet up against the Brazilian coastline and those in the west will be forced to tack away.
Joff Bailey, Race Director, says, “Although Spirit of Australia has managed to hold on to second place, they are further west and could pay for this over the next 12 hours. The weather files are showing that the winds are much more southerly in their current location whilst Team Finland is experiencing some nice south easterlies.”
Thankful for the change in wind direction is the crew of Cape Breton Island and skipper, Jan Ridd. “What a refreshing change after all this time downwind sailing, to feel the boat heel over and the cooling effect of apparent breeze,” says the skipper of the Canadian entry. “We are crossing everything in the hope that we can ride this wind all the way through the ICTZ
Both Uniquely Singapore and California will be looking forward to a change in wind direction following spinnaker issues over the past couple of days. Not only is the American entry struggling at the back of the fleet, more than 700 nautical miles behind the current leaders, Team Finland, but they had a kick in the teeth yesterday when their medium weight spinnaker went for an unplanned swim following a masthead strop failure.
Not to be disheartened, California's skipper, Pete Rollason, remains upbeat. “We are making good progress after yesterday's spinnaker mishap and we're still focused on clawing back some of the miles the fleet gained while we were stuck in the wind hole around the Canaries,” he says. “At the moment the weather files are showing that we could make a favourable crossing of the Doldrums. However, the key test for all of us on board California will be what the gap is once we emerge on the other side. Then we will know exactly what we need to do in order to move up some places by Rio.”
Positions at 0600 GMT, Friday 9 October
Boat DTF* DTL*
Team Finland 2023nm 0nm
Spirit of Australia 2058nm 34nm
Jamaica Lightning Bolt 2062nm 39nm
Cape Breton Island 2072nm 49nm
Cork 2122nm 99nm
Qingdao 2147nm 123nm
Edingurgh Inspiring Capital 2153nm 130nm
Hull & Humber 2173nm 149nm
Uniquely Singapore 2248nm 225nm
California 2751nm 728nm
(*DTF = Distance To Finish, *DTL = Distance To Leader)
Full details of positions, updated every three hours can be found at www.clipperroundtheworld.com.