Doldrums headscratching

The latest updates from crews in the Barcelona World Race

Tuesday March 15th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

There may be a measure of physical respite, for some even enough time to really enjoy the downwind and reaching sailing, but it is primarily the cerebral functions which are on test or the Barcelona World racers in the south Atlantic.

Even Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron, whose lead at 465 miles over Mapfre, amounts to more than 10% of the remaining 3387 miles, have been applying the combined power of their grey matter to the complex matter of the Doldrums ahead.

Dick, in his night e-mail, was full of the simple pleasures of sailing fast in warm waters and good trade winds, but the Doldrums ahead are complex and difficult to really discern what is going on with them. They are wide, they are probably moving south and they are not going to be very easy, in many ways the reciprocal of their downwards passage two months ago.

Iker Martinez on second placed Mapfre admitted today that the Doldrums passage represents their best chance to drawing back to a tenable deficit behind Dick and Peyron, who have held the overall lead in the race since 23 January, even with their 48-hours pitstop in Wellington. The Spanish Olympic champion said he has been happy with the way they have sailed their boat, but one small mistake which might cause them some discomfort could be running low on food.

"We are perfect on board Mapfre. It is really the distance to the leader which is keeping us alive at the moment, we have a limit and last night they extended a little more, so I hope they don’t keep up this trend, because the distance would be almost untenable. But there is still the Equator crossing to go and we will see what happens there. We have been looking at the Doldrums and the ascent of the Atlantic you can take certain risks given that we have a distance to those who are behind us. In my previous Equator crossings I have not had the responsibility for navigation, but basically we are looking at the meteorological models and you look for the obvious convergence between the winds, and once you can see the pattern you need to decide where to cross, looking at several different possibilities and analysethe disadvantages. The most important thing is knowing where you want to get to, but mostly to get north as quick as possible.

"And some of the tactical decisions are related to the boat speed just now. Our passage of the Doldrums is almost decided, but having Virbac-Paprec 3 is a reference to what is happening. They are going very east.

"The boat is great, and we are really happy not to have stopped in any port and though we have abused it as rookies, it has only suffered little breakages. If we started again we would not mistreat it so badly.

"We have to have another ten days of eating very little. We had food for 90 days and so with the food we have left we have to do some rationing. This has been a bit of a mistake on our part, the security gates slowed us all, such things are small mistakes we put down to experience."

With a margin the best part of 1,000 miles to their nearest rivals to Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris on Renault Z.E Sailing Team, there is still every option for the Mapfre duo to push the strategic options for, even with their proven speed, they seem to be running out of runway to pull back Virbac-Paprec 3 on speed alone. Rivero and Piris are only too aware that their biggest challenges come from the boats behind them and the weather in front of them. In essence they have sailed a great race with the cards they have been dealt, but they will need another weather break if they are to open miles again on the pursuing duo. Ahead they have a transition zone to negotiate between two depressions with lighter winds. And behind they will only be too aware of the renewed joie de vie aboard Neutrogena and Estrella Damm where the respective duos have been revelling, post-storm, in the fast, easy reaching conditions.

Piris reported: “We have had a couple of days sailing upwind, but now our concerns are in front of us and behind. There is a chance of calms ahead, with the possibility of stopping completely. Now we are sailing with full main and gennaker. The wind is from 165 degrees and the conditions are easy. Our biggest concern is to get a bit more wind and escape.

"Damage is minimal. The deck is holding up well and things are otherwise looking good. There is a low which is creating an acceleration zone off Rio and so we have to go for that and take advantage while we can, but that in turn pushes us to a more complicated area and there wont be much wind, so Neutrogena and Estrella Damm might be luckier. So we need to take advantage while we can.

"We are pretty happy with the route we took since the Horn, I think we managed to use what we had well, but just now we are looking like hitting a bit of a wall and the conditions might be better for the others to cut down some miles. We want to make as much as we can to hold on to our third position, but we know we will suffer a lot and it will be very interesting.”

Alex Pella reported from Estrella Damm that he was about to make a mast climb to sort their staysail hook strop which failed just before the worst of their storm: “We are sailing downwind with about 15 knots of wind from the south. The waves are still big but also coming from the south. The conditions are juts very nice for sailing. It’s a huge change compared to the previous 48 hours. We sail with the A3 and main. When we got back into it yesterday we set the solent. Now we are considering the strategy for the long downwind ahead, whether to go further east or closer to the coast of Brazil. We will have three days of downwind conditions. It's a big change. Temperature rise and the wind will take us more or less to the coast of Brazil, Salvador de Bahia. It is lucky to have this downwind leg. Now let's see how's Neutrogena. We are on starboard tack and the wind must shift from south to southeast. Let's see how the others that are farther north go too Right now I have the harness to climb the mast to repair the hook of the staysail. I’ll tell you later.”

Dee Caffari was clearly focused on the weather issues she and Anna Corbella have on GAES Centros Auditivos, still lacking their fleet broadband satellite communiations. Their initial problem has been much more how best to deal with the encroaching high pressure area which threatens to engulf them, but long term Caffari will be wanting to not be so compromised when they come to deal with the Doldrums when the high resolution files and quikscat images are much more the essential tools for best progress. And Caffari confirmed that she has definite targets that she want to reach, looking up the rankings perhaps, rather than worrying too much about Hugo Boss who remained in or around East Falkland’s Adventure Sound moving at very slow or stopped speeds since this morning. Since passing Cape Horn GAES Centros Auditivos has built a lead on Hugo Boss of 681 miles.

“We are very good. We have between 15 and 20 knots and we have just been looking at the weather and it is a case of the high pressure which is coming in from the west we need to make the decision of when we cross it. We have decided the later the better and so we will carry on to the NE and when we make the decision to come back across the high pressure and get to the wind pressure on the other side.

"It is definitely complex and every time we download a file the routing is changing and the two models are not in agreement, the American model and the European models which of course does not make life that easy for us, so we will just have to keep the boat speed up and hope we make the right decision, and do the best job.

"We knew they had work to do and I knew they would stop at some point and do the work, I am surprised they stopped with the high pressure coming. It is to our advantage. We have to be careful though, they will come out back up to 100% and we will need to keep an eye on them.

"The pressure for us is on closing the gap to the boats ahead, we have got a couple of objectives and we need to keep pushing quite hard to meet them. The race is still very much on for us.”

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