The equator is the next objective for Groupama 3, which was just 350 miles away midway through this afternoon. The weather forecasts suggest that Franck Cammas and his crew won't be too slowed by a rather inactive Doldrums. At this pace, the crew may well make it into the Southern hemisphere just after daybreak on Wednesday, which would give the giant trimaran its first intermediary time.
With the exception of the first day at sea and a few squalls off the Canaries, Groupama 3 has essentially sailed in light to moderate breezes of normally less than twenty knots. And yet, the giant trimaran is perfectly within the timing of a round the world record since it is already set to be awarded an initial intermediary time for the passage to the equator! Six days, eleven hours, twenty six minutes: this was the score achieved by Geronimo in 2003.
In contrast, Orange II wasn't very fast during the initial stage of its victorious trip around the world in 2005, since they didn't cross into the other hemisphere until seven days, two hours, fifty-six minutes. At an average pace of twenty knots this Tuesday, Franck Cammas and his crew should pass into the South between 0700 and 1400 hours GMT on Wednesday, that is a descent from Ushant in six days, give or take a few hours.
In fact, everything will depend on the situation in the Doldrums which, according to the forecaster, Sylvain Mondon of Météo France, is spread out quite far but isn't very active, even though some storms are likely tonight. It's impossible to predict this zone with any degree of certainty however due to it being marked by the confrontation of the North and South tradewinds and the clash of the associating seas, as the very high evaporation of the sea creates large cloud masses laden with moisture.
In addition to this, there is the presence of unpredictable calms due to the slight barometric gradient. In short, despite all the technical means, the digitally forecast models and even the satellite images, this meteorological microwave cannot to be precisely discerned from land. Within the space of a few kilometres, one vessel can benefit from over twenty knots of steady breeze, whilst another spins round in an evanescent, fickle breeze for hours on end.
However, good news comes from other yachts who have traversed this Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone over the past few days: Lionel Lemonchois and his crew went through this zone just six days ago, bound for Cape Horn after setting out from New York. They barely saw anything at all, other than virtually cloudless blue skies!
The Dick-Foxall duo on the return leg of the Barcelona World Race, also crossed the equator four days ago and Steve Ravussin was able to exchange a few words at the radio session this Wednesday lunchtime: they suffered squalls but didn't take long to escape the Doldrums. To date, the Swiss sailor indicated only that it had been necessary to change the sails this Tuesday morning as the breeze, though stable in direction, was more variable in force.
'I've just woken up. I slept well but not for long: just an hour... as we had to manoeuvre quite a lot last night. We hoisted the light gennaker this morning as the wind had eased slightly: 13 knots instead of 23 last night! We have beautiful skies, a stable wind in terms of direction and fine seas: we are on port tack this lunchtime making 23 knots...' detailed Steve Ravussin. Tonight may well be a bit livelier on the deck of Groupama 3 but we're wagering that the crew will be a day ahead of the record when they cross the equator.
Interview with Steve Ravussin
'We aren't very tired as we were able to complete our sleep phases without being woken. We ate really well over the first three days thanks to the dishes prepared by our cook `Rochas' and now we've gone on to freeze-dried food with some excellent sauces... It's a great atmosphere aboard Groupama 3 and everything's going really well: Franck has adapted to the situation well with a larger crew than on a 60 footer.'
Time to beat: 50 days 16 hours 20 minutes and 4 seconds - Average speed: 17.89 knots
Record held by Bruno Peyron, aboard the maxi catamaran Orange II, since March 2005.
Time to beat from Ushant to the equator: 6 days 11 hours 26 minutes (Geronimo in 2003)
Start on 24th January at 0750'17' UT
Arrival before Saturday 15th March 2008 at 00h09'21' UT
Day 5 at 07 45 UT
* Distance covered on the water in 24 hours: 551.1 miles
*Distance covered since the start: 2,571 miles
*Distance to the finish: 21,959 miles
*Average on day 5: 22.96 knots
*Average since the start: 21.42 knots
*Lead in relation to Orange II: 420.4 miles
NB: The WSSRC round the world is defined as corresponding with the circumference of the Earth to the equator, or 21,600 miles. However, this is the shortest route and not achievable (Equatorial Doldrums, Antarctica...): in order to be closer to reality, the positions carried out by the latest round the world attempts (Orange II, IDEC, Groupama 3...) are based on an optimised theoretical course of 24,530 miles.
Find a detailed cartography at: http://cammas-groupama.geovoile.com/julesverne/index.asp?lg=en