In the Vendee Globe, British solo racer Mike Golding will cross the Equator later today – his 22nd crossing in his sailing career. While he has had better passages through the Doldrums than he has experienced over the past 48 hours, he has certainly had much worse.
Having caught up some 200 miles on the race leader, and now feeling like he is again in touch with the ‘peloton’, he took time to briefly reflect.
'That  is quite a number isn’t it? I don’t count. For me it really just shows how lucky I have been. It’s a bit scary really to think it is that many!' Golding said with some 130 miles before he passes into the Southern Hemisphere.
'For sure the Doldrums can be heinous at times. I remember coming back on the 2000 Vendée Globe and it was bad, but this time has been relatively straightforward. I think I have only slowed significantly three times. In general it has been pretty easy, but I am looking forward to coming back across the other way!'
On his fourth Vendée Globe, Golding seems reasonably sure this will be his last solo passage south across the line on a round the world race.
'I think this will be the last time solo, but, no I don’t think it is the last time I will be heading in this direction. But I won’t rule out anything at this stage.'
Leading the highly experienced group of three, comprising Gamesa, Dominique Wavre on Mirabuad and Jean Le Cam on SynerCiel, Golding affirms that the trio have sailed smartly through the Doldrums, but that they took an opportunity offered to them.
'You have to take the chances you are given and we had the chance to be more west and we made quite a good job of it together. Where we went was best. And I also think we have a similar sailing style here, how we did the crossing, watching the others [ahead]. You cannot afford to go chasing your tail and making sail changes all the time. If you do you can be in there forever. You have to find a nice sail plan which works for the averages, to survive the squalls but to keep going all the time. I think that is a different routine perhaps.'
His conclusions on the race so far offer an interesting insight.
'For me it is good, all going to plan so far. It is interesting to see the number of boats which have already pulled out with technical problems, especially considering we are not even in the South yet. You would like to think the attrition rate will not be as high in the south, but if it is you could be looking at just seven or eight finishers. But, equally, you are also thinking that now it will be boats from this group [the top eight] who might be next to drop out. That really gives you pause for thought. I don’t want to be that boat. But does it change the way I will sail? Not a bit. It is about just keeping it all together.
'Looking ahead we are now into the south easterly trades and it will be a long, slow lift as the breeze rotates to the right. The high pressure is well to the south and there is big ridge off it which will be our next major obstacle, it might even be like the Doldrums again. We made a good job of the last one, I hope we can do the same.
'At the moment my only crisis is that I have butter everywhere as it melted in the heat!'
Golding is reviewing the Vendée Globe Jury's decision to apply a 30 minute penalty against him following an alleged infringement of the Sailing Instructions relating to the Traffic Separation Scheme rules.
Ian 'Mucky' McCabe, Gamesa's Composite Technician speaks very personally about what it is like for the shore crew, who are permanently on 24 hour call, during a race like the Vendée Globe:
'When you read stories about the Vendée Globe, or any other offshore yacht race, the main focus is of course on the skippers of the yachts. As we know from other sports such as F1 and Olympics, behind every individual is always a team of technicians, engineers, coaches, logisticians etc. The Vendée Globe is no different. When a skipper has technical issues which force their hand to retire from this Everest of yacht racing, they are not the only one who feels the disappointment.
'Whether your responsibility lies in the office or on the boat, it is a huge team effort to get these amazing racing yachts and skippers to the start line of any race … let alone this one. So when you hear of boats retiring with mechanical issues, dismastings or freak accidents, you really feel for the other guys on shore. I have been in their position and know how it feels to get that call to say it’s over. It’s the call we all hope never comes, but as seen in the race thus far, even the best prepared boats and teams have not been spared the cruelness of this epic adventure.
'It’s fair to say that most of the shore crews on these boats have been around this particular block for a while …. I may not spend much time with many of these guys, but after three Vendée Globe starts, and many other IMOCA races, we get to know each other pretty well (mainly over a sun downer after work). We know the amount of effort everyone has put in to be there.
'So, when I heard of Sam Davies dismasting, I immediately thought of my good friend Erwan (Sam’s Boat Captain), who I have worked with before. I know he would be totally gutted that their rig had come down and would be throwing all he had into making sure both Sam and the boat returned to shore safely. This guy is one of the hardest working preparateurs on the circuit, which makes Sam’s and Saveol’s retirement even more heart-wrenching.
'As I write this, I know that in different parts of Europe there will be other shore teams pouring over position scheds from the Vendée Globe website, checking on news articles, listening in to radio vacs … as we are every day... talking to our bosses who are out there trying to keep all these spinning plates in the air. It’s a real juggling act to push as hard as they dare while trying to manage the boat and more importantly manage themselves …..
'Let’s hope all of our emergency work phones stay quiet and the rest of the teams left make a safe return to Les Sables d’Olonne next year.'
Every two days or so, Mike is on the Vendée Globe's live radio vacs [listen live to the English vacs from 1200 GMT here]. This is what he had to say earlier today, Wednesday 21 November:
'I'm fine, we are all out into the South East trades and making our way south, a steady progress, very slowly, the breeze is lifting us and increasing, clear blue skies, really nice sailing, obviously very very hot, blisteringly hot onboard, but quite pleasant, not much we can do, we just need to keep trucking along.
'I think we have made some definitive gains, a very successful Doldrums crossing, sometimes that's the way it pans out; you have to grab the opportunities when they come. Sometimes you have to sit and wait to get back into the game. It's good to be closer to the back of the lead group, rather than the second group!
'It was a pretty straight forward Doldrums crossing, I did stop a couple of times, maybe three times, but each time it was only very short and I was able to get moving again within an hour, so generally I think I have had better flow over to the west. The difficulty for the guys in front is not they went to the wrong place, they went to the right place for them, but being further behind when we arrived we had a different right place, there was no point piling in on top of them when they were clearly struggling.
'The Doldrums is the interface zone between the north and south weather, so very dynamic, it's basically a big trough of low pressure that runs in a line around the north of the Equator. When people refer to it as an area of calm, it can be calm, but in reality it is very dynamic, there are lots of clouds, lots of cyclogenic systems being formed. All the big hurricanes you see in the Caribbean and going up to the east coast of the USA are formed in the Doldrums, it is a very dynamic area. When you sail through there, you can go from no wind to 35 knots in seconds. Big thunderclouds you can track on radar, lots of wind in front of them which is good and you can go really fast and then lightening and rain and a complete vacuum behind. You want to stay in front of the clouds and not get caught under them.
'I think the next phase is quite important. The Doldrums is quite divisive but the South Atlantic Ridge is quite crucial and how you track the course down into the Southern Ocean and into the Southern Ocean weather. If you are too far behind at that point then it is quite hard to make the catch-up. Where we are now is fine, and in terms of the overall race this probably matches my expectation on where we should be at this time.
'It is true some of the new guys went off like greyhounds out of the trap, they were really, really fast, but the space is being established now and everyone is finding the pace, and yes it is fast, but pretty constant and I think once we get down to the south we will see that level of pace being moderated a little to keep the boats together. If you try to maintain that pace endlessly, something has to give.'
How do you handle the heat when you are at the Equator? 'We have special drinks to handle the heat and drinking water is as good as anything, but we also have drinks with the right minerals to replace the salt that you lose. It is difficult to eat all you need to eat in this environment, when you are hot your appetite diminishes. But the main thing is staying out of the direct sun as much as you can. When you get into a round of sail changes that is pretty hard. It really is a question of drinking plenty and making sure you are taking care of yourself. The hardest thing for yourself is the salt water. I've just had a big flannel bath to get rid of the salt water. It is extremely salty here and that, in combination with the heat, you get heat rashes and salt rashes and any little cuts, nicks or grazes you picked up in the earlier part of the race are by now starting to get very, very sore. You are almost longing for the Southern Ocean when the temperature goes down in the cooler weather.'
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