Hot,hotter – the Doldrums

Tuesday 24 September 2013
CATEGORY: Expedition
TAGS: Sailing

News from the Sweatbox: We are officially in the Doldrums -Scientifically
called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). This is the place where
the weather system of the northern and southern hemisphere meet and create
a belt of very little wind, or better said very little horizontal wind. Due
to the hot temperatures there is a lot of condensing water, meaning the
wind is rather vertically upwards, which collect in cloud formations that
can become squalls – more on that later.
The Doldrums move in waves and extend at the moment roughly from 13N to 5N.
The task of finding the quickest through is not just important for winning
the race, but necessary to keep the motivation of the crew at an adequate
Our progress, as well as the progress of the whole fleet has come to a
halt. We have been regularly logging progress of 60-70nm in six hours
before, yesterday we managed a rare 8.7nm in six hours. This progress was
still more than that of our immediate competitor Invest Africa, who managed
a bare 0.7nm in the same time. So most of the day is spent finding the
little small patches of wind, that can move the boat forward in one way or
another….that means lots of trimming of the sails, to ensure the best
possible tuning of the boat. At the same time it is important to avoid
heatstroke, as the sun is burning down relentlessly on our boat and there
is very little shadow!
Off watch time is even worse – during day time its not possible to sleep
below deck, as the heat levels have reached totally uncomfortable levels.
Due to the absence of wind there is also no breeze that could make it more
bearable. Temperatures arent getting much better at night – despite living
in HK and multiple trips in the tropics, I honestly have rarely experienced
such challenging conditions. At least we are now reusing the buckets of
water we get from our bilges (our watermaker is still broken and pumps
relentlessly water into the bottom of our boat) as refreshing deck
saltwater showers.
Nighttime brings another challenge – Squalls: These above mentioned cloud
formations develop during the day through the condensation of water – they
are massive cloud towers and are usually measured in the proportion of
diameter to height. When they are getting too high, they become grey or
black at the bottom, which essentially means a massive thunderstorm, strong
winds (too strong) and tons and tons of water…Due to our low boat speed,
there isnt really any chance to avoid them – its more about them finding
you. Then its just a race to drop the sails in time (otherwise the strong
gales would rip them apart) and sit it out. It feels a bit end of the
world: the clear nightsky with thousands of stars turns into pitch dark and
the silence turns into thundering winds. Temperatures drop by fifteen
degrees or more, which would fine, would it not coincide with tons of
intense rain, that have you soaked within a minute.
It might be all over within fifteen minutes, or you could get stuck in a
big one, as we did yesterday, that gets you rained and soaked for more than
six hours…. my hands were so soaked up by the salt water that they looked
The race has somehow taken a backstep. While we are still keen awaiting
every six hourly its more about getting out of here as quickly as possible.
I have to admit that my nerves as well of almost every other crew members
are also starting to lay bare as a function of the few and low quality
sleep we are getting. Slowly also our reserves in food are getting less and
less – its the small things that create issues – no more kitchenfoil,
muesli or nutella and almost every lunch being tuna-sweetcorn :(( the
absence of any more olive oil almost lead to a riot in our little Italian
community. How to cook proper pasta now? Its really a test of endurance.
It doesnt help that our predicted “Stargate didn’t materialize. This would
have been a wind channel that should have lead us out of the Doldrums
within 24 hours. It seems now that we are stuck here for a few more days.
Raceways all is still open and the last few days have seen tons of movement
in positions – we have been 7th for a little while and are currently
positioned 9th – it really depends on who is able to find the little wind
there is.
On the fun side of things I have started a small competition on our
possible arrival date in Rio, with proceeds going to the boat charity –
Mercyships: Crew estimates on our arrival in Rio are between 2 and 6
October – while it looks increasingly unlikely, lets hope its more towards
the earlier!

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