Lining up for the Doldrums

Fields close on Mabire/Merron in the Global Ocean Race

Saturday October 8th 2011, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

Overnight on Friday, the double-handed Class40s in the Global Ocean Race continued to position themselves for the Doldrums with the leading boats around 600 miles north of the Equator. Leading the fleet, Campagne de France slowed marginally while BSL in second took ten miles out of the Franco-British Class40 between sunset and dawn on Saturday, trailing Campagne de France by 58 miles at sunrise.

While Colman and Ramon on Cessna Citation, in third, remained 149 miles behind the New Zealand team on BSL and continued to bank miles to the west, the gamble of sailing through the Cape Verde Islands taken by Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with Financial Crisis paid the Italian-British duo well, taking 17 miles from Cessna Citation and trailing the fleet’s youngest team by 67 miles on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, leaving the Cape Verde island of Santo Antao 45 miles to port, Phesheya-Racing in fifth place and Sec. Hayai in sixth were having a personal duel with the trailing boat’s Dutch crew of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk winning back 12 miles overnight and trailing the South African team of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire by 45 miles on Saturday morning.

At 08:00 GMT on Saturday, the impressive gains by Nannini and Peggs on Financial Crisis came to an end as the breeze began to shut down: “The wind is getting lighter and lighter,” confirmed Marco Nannini on Saturday afternoon. “There's little we can do other than press on and hope we can cover the next 500 miles to the Doldrums without going insane or getting stuck in a windless zone.” Between midnight and midday on Saturday, the duo’s speed averages on their first generation, relatively heavy, 2007 Akilaria Class40 dropped from ten knots to seven knots. “We keep chasing Cessna and although they invested yesterday in some miles going west, which clearly looks good today, the separation is not enormous and we'll gybe our way closer to their longitude playing the wind shifts.”

By 15:00 GMT, Financial Crisis had dropped back a handful of miles behind Cessna Citation and with the barrier of the Doldrums approaching, Nannini and Peggs know that the risk of big gains or losses is high: “The Doldrums can be a bit of a lottery and a little luck could reshuffle cards in our favour, as well as turn into a nightmare where the backbenchers overtake us,” adds Nannini who is already beginning to suffer in the extreme temperatures at 14 degrees North: “The heat has come to be almost unbearable,” he admits. “I drag myself around the boat like an old dog, looking for a spot where I can doze off for the next hour. I close my eyes, then wake up in a sweat, confused, weak, I stand up and almost collapse, drink another huge glass of water and repeat the cycle….”

Meanwhile, the ‘backbenchers’ were making the best speeds in the fleet at midday on Saturday: On Phesheya-Racing, Nick Leggatt outlined the game plan: “Tactically, we are continuing with our strategy of gybing regularly with every wind shift, trying to get south-west to avoid the worst of the Doldrums,” says Leggatt. “It looks as if Campagne de France and BSL have managed to find a fast, direct route through the Doldrums, but the forecasts don't look so promising for us, so we are trying to cover options by getting further west.” In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Saturday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were the fastest Class40 in the fleet at nine knots and had taken just under 20 miles from the lead of Nannini and Peggs and were trailing Financial Crisis by 172 miles. “At the moment, it doesn’t look very good on our distances to the competitors ahead of us, but Financial Crisis seems to have slowed down quite a bit and as she is the easternmost boat at the moment, so we ‘re hopeful that it is an indication that we are following the right strategy. Time will tell...”

Throughout Saturday, Ross and Campbell Field on BSL gradually won miles back from Campagne de France: “Halvard and Miranda have stretched out over the last 24 hours, and we continually work each per cent of performance out of the boat to hang on to them,” reports Campbell Field. “It appears that they might have started to run into lighter ITCZ winds ahead and we may get back into them over the next 24 to 36 hours,” he suggested on Saturday night. Constantly monitoring the weather to the south, the passage through the zone could be lively: “All of a sudden there is a hive of activity in the area, so we may get a proper Doldrums-pasting after all.”

As the father-and-son duo attempt to squeeze every knot out of their three year-old, Verdier-designed Class40, the intensity of the heat and the light breeze is becoming debilitating: “It’s just hot, hot, hot, hot,” Campbell continues. “Diving for shade whenever possible, which is not often through midday as the sun is near directly overhead. Sleep downstairs is near impossible during the day, however I did manage to cram in a good three hours this morning after a night of light airs and very confused seas sapping every ounce of concentration.”

At 15:00 GMT on Saturday, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron had squeezed and extra four miles into the gap between Campagne de France and BSL since dawn. Halvard Mabire explains the scenario: “We’re now experiencing the offshore racing phenomenon called ‘The Accordion Effect’ as the fleet expands and contracts depending on whether the leaders stretch away from the chasing pack in good breeze creating a gap behind them, or run into calm conditions or adverse current and the following boats catch-up.” Clearly, the latter option is currently in play: “At the moment, Neptune’s mighty arms are squeezing the accordion hard,” the yacht’s French co-skipper confirms. “To complicate matters, in addition to the variable wind, we’ve found rivers of cross current,” he reports. “We’re not talking about Alderney Race-strength currents, but it’s strange that right in the middle of nowhere there’s a colossal mass of water running along at two knots meandering about with direction changes that are difficult to follow.”

Similar to the majority of the GOR fleet, both Mabire and Merron have extensive experience of the Doldrums and know what they should expect: “In the distance to the south we can see flashes of lightning marking the approach to the Pot au Noire [Doldrums],” reports Mabire. “For the moment, it’s quite calm in our neighbourhood, but we’re both aware of the risks of crossing the area: heavy squalls with gusts that could blow the horns off an ox, alternating with dead calm periods and rain showers that can fill a bucket faster than you can empty it.”

GOR Offshore hygiene tips Part 3: Adding to the laundry rota revelations from Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation and the grooming secrets shared by Campbell Field on BSL, Nick Leggatt describes some very glamorous (but ultra-light) plumbing options available on Phesheya-Racing: “We are probably the only boat in the fleet with a hot, fresh water shower, which adds no extra weight to the boat!,” he explains: “Aboard Phesheya-Racing we have a rather grandly-named Super Solar Shower - essentially a black plastic bag with a hose connected to it.” Manufactured for the camping market, the equipment is basic, but effective. “We fill ours with eight to ten litres of freshwater and then leave it in the sun for a couple of hours. After two or three hours, the water in the bag can attain a scalding 40°! When it is warm enough, we hang it from the rigging and there is more than enough water for both of us to shower!” The water bladder is almost weightless and the yacht’s watermaker supplies fresh water quickly and efficiently. “The Katadyn desalinator makes about 5 litres of fresh water per hour from the sea water, so we only need to run it for about two hours to make enough water for a shower. The electricity required for the desalinator is provided for free by the Watt & Sea hydrogenerator, so all in all, it is a very efficient and civilised system!”

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