The Race - 1030 - 23/2/01

Mark Chisnell reports as Dalton clears the Doldrums and Team Adventure goes up into third

Friday February 23rd 2001, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
Club Med slipped through the Doldrums and into the North Atlantic yesterday, on the way she picked up two new records. The first was the Cape Horn to the Equator, more than a day and seven hours quicker than Sport Elec during her successful Jules Verne Trophy attempt. But more significant, because it is the best comparison between that Jules Verne record and Club Med's trip, is the new Equator to Equator record, of 42 days and 11 hours - that's five days quicker than Sport Elec.
When Grant Dalton described their Doldrums crossing yesterday he was still a little nervous, "It cost us 200 miles but I think we are through. The sky isn't clear yet so I am still suspicious but the wind is steady from the north-east which is what we would expect. We picked our spot well. I think the Doldrums buckled when we got there. It is like the thing dipped in the middle and the apex of the dip was about where we crossed the Equator.

"It was incredible, as we saw zero zero zero on the GPS the Doldrums started and the wind shut off. We are one and a half degrees of latitude further north now, that is to say 90 miles, and I'm pretty sure we are out the other side.
"Everybody worked through the night to keep the boat going. We had the Code Zero up for a while, we manoeuvred a lot. I would say it was one of the easiest crossings for me. Because we worked so hard there was no chance for any of the crew to enjoy the rain squall and take what would have been the first shower since the Cook Straits."

Leaders at 0700, 23/2/01
The trade winds and Doldrums are particularly apparent on this morning's weather (above), with Club Med (light blue) sailing upwind in the north-east trade winds, and Innovation Explorer (green) reaching in the south-east trades. The point where the two trade wind zones meet is the Doldrums, and that's exactly where Club Med's track wobbles as they manoeuvred to get through.

But the escape out the other side has not meant pedal hard down for Dalton, their speed was still just 12 knots this morning, and Innovation Explorer was closing fast at 26 knots - the gap was down to 860 miles. As we've seen before, going upwind in these boats is not fun and it's not (relatively) fast.

Commenting on this next section of the course Dalton reckoned, "So now we have a three day upwind slog. We have to climb up through the trades and then hopefully hook into this depression that is hanging around to the west of Portugal. That should give us plenty of pace towards Gibraltar."

Weather at 0000, 26/2/01Looking all the way ahead to the beginning of next week (right), the entrance to the Mediterranean is visible in the top right of the image, the depression that Dalton's after is due west.

Its movement will probably determine how fast they can complete the section from the top of the trade wind zone to the Med, and we'll know more about that when the forecast firms up in a couple of days time.

Meanwhile, Dalton's fast passage through the Doldrums is not helping the mood on Innovation Explorer, despite the speed with which the gap is currently closing. They still have to negotiate the Doldrums themselves, and then climb uphill through the trades. It's only then that the tactical options will open out - and by then it could be too late.

Skip Novak reflected on Club Med's timing, "Looking at the grib (weather forecast) file for next week, all that we can say is that Club Med, once again, seems to be lined up for what might be a dream weather scenario, this time to get into the Med. A low is forming in the Atlantic that is predicted to sweep quite far south and intrude into the trade wind belt.

"They should be in plenty of time to pick up a fresh south-westerly that could carry them quickly to Gibraltar. It is unlikely that we will be able to benefit from this as we will be too late in the area. C'est la vie. But, on the other hand, these grib files are seldom accurate so maybe a miracle will happen!

continued on page two

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