APPROACHING THE DOLDRUMS
Gradually pulling away from the Cape Verde Islands, Spindrift 2 is about to face the famous Doldrums dreaded by sailors. This passage between the two hemispheres sees large weather instabilities due to the convergence of trade winds blowing from the North and from the South. Spindrift 2 is likely to enter this zone tonight. The conversations at the chart table are narrowing. Yann Guichard and Erwan Israël, supported by Jean-Yves Bernot are settling on the strategy to tackle it.
18:00 GMT : 346 miles ahead the current record holder
Distance covered from the start: 2629 miles
Average speed over 24 hours: 30 knots
Three days, three nights
After leaving on Sunday, November 22 at 0402hrs (UTC) in front of the Créac'h lighthouse (Ushant), the trimaran, Spindrift 2, has already accumulated a lead of over 270 miles in just three days on the pace set by the Jules Verne Trophy record holder. And this lead continues to increase with every passing hour in consistent trade winds off the Cape Verde archipelago.
They have covered more than 30 degrees of latitude and have close to 20°C and rising; in three days Spindrift 2’s crew has gone from the autumnal chill of Brittany to pre-equatorial heat. That has been achieved because of the particularly favourable weather window that Yann Guichard, skipper of the trimaran, set out in for his first attempt of the Jules Verne Trophy. After two and a half hours of sluggish northerly breeze, the Azores High, situated on a very high latitude (towards Ireland) generated a strong north-westerly wind that allowed them to lengthen their stride to an average of over 30 knots. It was an aggressive start as the team steamed around Cape Finisterre in little more than 12 hours.
On a gull-wing
From the cold and wet, strong winds and messy waves, the sailing conditions dramatically improved off the coast of Lisbon when Spindrift 2 left the northerly Portuguese trade winds in its wake. As the high pressure of the anticyclone also descended south, Spindrift 2 was able to continue on the easterly, and slightly more volatile, Canary Island trade winds. The number of manoeuvres multiplied for the crew as they had to changes sails, but the miles flew past until the crucial moment of the gybe. It was the defining feature of this very favourable weather pattern: while the holder of the Jules Verne Trophy had to four gybes to reach the Canary Islands in 2012, Spindrift 2 was able to hold a direct route until the Azores archipelago and then make just one gybe.
With the gradual rotation of the northerly wind eastward, Yann Guichard and his crew managed to make a “gull-wing”, an open V-shaped curved route, which meant they were already positioned to approach the equator. That meant less manoeuvres, less time lost, and a direct route, which equals greater time savings. But this truism is not so obvious on a journey around the world, where a succession of weather systems govern the trajectory. The timing of the gybe was so crucial because it opened the way into the Doldrums, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the most complex area to manage when you are racing around the world.
Entering the Doldrums
North-easterly winds from the Northern hemisphere, and south-easterly winds from the Southern hemisphere converge off the coast of Sierra Leone to form a barrier towards South America. The winds are weak and there are lots of squalls due to the higher rate of evaporation just above the equator. The Doldrums, which generally extend between the 3° parallel N and the 7° parallel N, are more active at some times than others. You can get light breezes alternating with violent gusts in squalls, extensive areas of calm and a slow transition between the two trade wind systems, from the northern and southern hemispheres. Therefore, the “point of entry” is essential to find the least damaging passage possible, usually it is between the longitudes of 28° W and 30° W.
Arriving from the Azores without having had to manoeuvre to enter the ITCZ is a substantial advantage: Spindrift 2 should be approaching it on Wednesday night and the slowdown will be felt from sunset. The Doldrums is about 200 miles wide, so, it could be crossed in less than half a day, which would then allow Yann Guichard and his crew to cross the line separating the hemispheres in roughly five days.
Saving some hours on crossing the equator is essential as shown in the graph of the record times set since the creation of the Jules Verne Trophy in 1993: Commodore Explorer managed 8d 19h 26mins to cross the equator; Orange II, 7d 02h 56mins in 2005; Banque Populaire V set 5d 14h 55mins in 2012, the record to beat. The fourth night at sea for Spindrift 2 promises to be a serious one, as they enter this complex Doldrums “tunnel”, which will require many sail changes and for them to be out quickly in order to catch the south-east trade winds from the 4°N. This is especially so, as the South Atlantic is currently undergoing a meteorological shake up: the St Helena anticyclone is in the process of positioning itself under South Africa, and in order to fly quickly towards the Cape of Good Hope, they must not miss out on the storm system coming from Brazil and heading down to the Roaring Forties.
The graph of the history of the crossing the equator on Jules Verne Trophy round-the-world voyages (in hours):
1-Commodore Explorer (1993)
3-Lyonnaise des Eaux (1994)
4-Sport Elec (1997)
9-Orange II (2005)
10-Groupama 3 (2010)
11-Banque Populaire V (2012)
This graph shows that a rapid passage to the equator has become essential to improving the round-the-world record. For the early attempts, the record time between Ushant and the equator was between eight and a half days and seven days. On its first attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy in 2008, Groupama 3, went under seven days (6d 6h 24mins), then on its second attempt in 2009 it went below six days (5d 15h 23mins). But the record time now is 5d 14h 55mins set in 2012 by Banque Populaire V.
© Yann Riou I Spindrift racing
Message from Yvan Ravussin (SUI), current record holder with Banque Populaire V :
Photo Tean Banque Populaire
"I take my hat off to Dona for taking on this challenge. I admire her. It's an intensive course, and is often tough. There will definitely be some difficult periods for her, but she's well prepared. She's been sailing for a long time now and she's familiar with the boots and the oilskins."
Message from Dona Bertarelli:
Chatting over a coffee-grinder
"Isn't it strange that we still haven't seen any flying fish?" I ask Seb Audigane, who is at his post at the traveller, ready to ease off the sail immediately if the wind picks up. "It won't be long," he replies.
The water temperature indicator shows 22 degrees Celsius. Is it too hot or too cold for these small fish, whose wings allow them to leap out of the crest of the waves and fly several hundred metres on the water's surface?
We've not seen many animals since we set off.
"We've not even seen any dolphins, yet we saw some at every training session on Spindrift 2," I tell Seb.
"We're going too fast for the dolphins," he replies. "Only bluefin tuna can swim this fast."
But unfortunately there aren't many bluefin tuna, so they are a rare sight indeed. The bluefin tuna are currently listed as endangered species, so protecting them should be everyone's responsibility. We should stop eating them to help stocks recover so that our grandchildren can see them, and perhaps also eat them.
At the current rate of consumption, there'll be none left. Not even in aquariums, because these migratory fish travel hundreds of miles, crossing oceans at speeds of 50 mph.
The word tuna is derived from the Greek thuno, meaning to rush.
With torpedo-shaped streamlined bodies, Atlantic bluefin tuna are built for speed and endurance. They can even retract their fins to reduce drag, enabling them to swim through the water at incredibly high speeds. They are top ocean predators and voracious feeders, eating herring, mackerel, hake, squid and crustaceans. Unlike most fish they are warm-blooded and can regulate their temperature to keep core muscles warm during ocean crossings.
Their incredibly beautiful metallic blue topside and silver-white bottom help camouflage them from above and below, protecting them from killer whales and sharks, their main predators.
At 2-3 metres long, the Atlantic Bluefin is the largest species of tuna. One was reported to be 6 metres long! It’s incredible to think that they can dive deeper than 1 km.
When Bluefin is prepared as sushi it is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. The species is listed as ‘near threatened’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list. So let’s all think twice before buying some at our local markets. They might not be as cute as dolphins, but they are worth protecting!
Message from Spindrift 2: To the west of Cape Verde.
Spindrift 2 is heading south at over 30 knots, leaving the islands of the Cape Verde archipelago around a hundred miles to the east.
The pace is still fast but we’re expecting to slow down during in the day, before tackling the next weather hurdle: the inter-tropical convergence zone, aka the Doldrums. It’s likely it will be tonight or tomorrow night. The exchanges at the chart table are intense.Yann and Erwan, supported by Jean-Yves, are laying down the strategy to navigate through.
The temperature on deck is nice. However, it’s beginning to heat up inside the boat, where there is a certain mugginess. It’s difficult to ventilate by opening portholes without the risk of a wave rushing into the cabin. That’s what happened yesterday in the kitchen; the stove was partially flooded, which required a small cleaning operation. It was a small annoyance, quickly forgotten. The stove is back in action and the porthole closed. Spindrift 2 hurries on to the Doldrums.
Jules Verne Trophy record attempt Day 4
Position: 18 24.32’ N – 26 46.62’ W
274 miles ahead of the record holder, Banque Populaire V
Distance covered from the start: 2,254 miles
Distance traveled over 24 hours: 736.5 miles
Average speed over 24 hours: 30.7 knots
Sails: Two reefs in the mainsail, and the Solent
Area: Tradewinds of the Northern Hemisphere, Western Cape Verde, latitude of Dakar (Senegal)
Yeterday before sunset: