Gitana 13 racking up the miles

Gitana 13 - Tea Route

Early this morning (10th September), 0146 UT, the maxi-catamaran in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group crossed the equator and thus passed back into the northern hemisphere and the North Atlantic. This was a zone that Lionel Lemonchois and his men left in their wake on 23rd January 2008 during the Route de l’Or. After four weeks at sea, the crew of Gitana 13 is no longer very far from the goal – 3,200 miles at 1330 UT –, but the ten days or so that remain promise to be tricky to negotiate. We’ll have to wait and see if the North Atlantic will reveal itself to be cooperative with the sailors of Gitana Team. For now nothing could be less certain!

The most important thing first of all is to explain once again what exactly the air flow from the African monsoon is: in a standard situation, the Doldrums – a zone of light, shifty winds caused by the opposition of the tradewinds in the northern hemisphere (NE sector) and those of the southern hemisphere (SE sector) – stretch further eastwards. As a result, sailors rarely attempt to pass close to the African coast. However during certain years, a monsoon air flow, which generates SW’ly winds along the African coast between the Gulf of Guinea and Senegal, upsets the original scenario. You can observe this phenomenon when the African continent warms up sufficiently to create a thermal low that diverts the SE’ly tradewinds from the southern hemisphere. Gitana 13 is today benefiting from this situation to shorten the distance to the goal.

'We sneaked across the equator right in the middle of the night; the fourth time for Gitana 13 since the start of the year! We’re now attacking the complicated section of this climb with a great deal of uncertainty. From one grib file to another it’s a very different story!' explained Dominic Vittet. This was a sentiment shared by Lionel Lemonchois: 'We’re afraid that a low, which was over the African continent but has now shifted over to the Atlantic, won’t weaken the effect of the monsoon. As a result we’re crossing our fingers that the SW’ly wind will nevertheless be steady enough to enable us to climb as far as 8° North, where the meteorological equator (Doldrums) is currently located.'

'We’re attempting an option… A few days ago we opted to tackle the Doldrums via the eastern route. It’s a risky gamble but it’s worth it because if it works we’ll have gained a significant amount of time.' Indeed, if the monsoon airflow hadn’t settled on zone, the maxi-catamaran would have had to shift across over 500 miles further to the west to stand a chance of an efficient passage through the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.

Now forced to make northing no matter what, Lionel Lemonchois and his nine man crew are revealing themselves to be opportunistic. The reasons for this are that after the passage of the Doldrums, forecast this weekend, they’ll have to negotiate their transition into the NE’ly tradewind set to blow on their exit, which is already promising some upwind sailing.

For Lionel Lemonchois and his four loyal supporters – Zolive, Léo, Ludo and David -, they have been living this adventure for over ten months and their return to the northern hemisphere reminds them that it will soon be coming to a close. However, aboard Gitana 13, the time is ripe for savouring their final days at sea rather than letting themselves be carried away by the nostalgia of the moment. This is particularly true given that the North Atlantic again looks set to have some surprises in store for our ten sailors. Energy and lucidity will be paramount when they make their entrance into the River Thames.

Weather analysis by Sylvain Mondon (Météo France)

The router for Gitana Team once again shows us the current weather situation as well as the likely scenario over the coming days: 'Gitana 13 has been sailing since last night in the airflow from an African monsoon. Indeed, early last night, the wind began to drop off slowly (going from 17/19 knots to 12/14 knots), as it gradually veered (from ESE to SSE) even before they crossed the equator. This evolution will continue over the course of the day and will become more accentuated with the northward progress of the maxi-catamaran under the growing influence of the Coriolis force. In this way, the tradewinds initially orientated to the SE will be diverted to the south at the tail end of the day, enabling Lionel Lemonchois and his crew, once they’ve gybed, to make an almost parallel course to the African coast on port tack in fairly light (5 to 10 knots) but well orientated winds. On Friday, the winds will continue to clock round to the SW, accompanying Gitana 13 towards the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone at around 8°North, which she’ll cross this weekend. An entirely different form of navigation will then begin along the southern edge of the Azores High, close-hauled in some established NE’ly tradewinds. The crossing of this new obstacle will mobilize the crew for a major part of next week.

A little history

Two clippers have marked the history of the Tea Route: the Thermopylae and the Cutty Sark. On 17th June 1872, the two yachts left Shanghai bound for London via the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa). For nearly two months, the two clippers were engaged in a merciless race with the Cutty Sark gaining a slight advantage. However, on 14th August, whilst Captain George Moodie’s crew had a lead of over 400 miles on his rival, the vessel’s steering system was ripped off. Makeshift repairs were made but they weren’t sufficient unfortunately. The Thermopylae made London in 115 days whilst the Cutty Sark passed Gravesend on 18th October, after 122 days at sea. This was the only voyage where the two clippers sailed against each other along the Tea Route.

Today’s figures

Departure from Hong Kong: Thursday 14th August at 07h55’32’’ (UT)
Thursday 11th September at 1330 (UT)
Latitude: 2°53.08 N – Longitude : 14°23.04 W
Distance left to go: 3,200 miles