Aboard the maxi-catamaran in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group, the climb up the North Atlantic is revealing all its subtleties… and its difficulty. Slowed considerably by a long passage across the Doldrums late last week, Lionel Lemonchois and his men are now faced with a meteorological brain-teaser off the Canaries. This will be a tricky section, as will the Bay of Biscay and the last few miles along the English Channel.
In plain language, positioned 1,700 miles from London this Thursday afternoon, the crew of Gitana 13 will have to hang on patiently before they can reach their goal.
Sailors have a great capacity to constantly adapt to the changes in weather. However, when they’re down to the final miles and home is not too far away – at least compared with the 13,000 miles they’ve covered since leaving Hong Kong – the desire to complete their mission is becoming increasingly pressing!: 'This morning, whilst the forecast grib files didn’t bode well and we were making slow headway at 10 knots in a capricious wind, I have to say that the troop’s morale wasn’t great… However, we’ve had some new, more optimistic grib files since then and the good humour has returned. In the last days of a long voyage like the Tea Route, the atmosphere is always split between the desire to get there and the nostalgia of returning home' confided Lionel Lemonchois.
As regards the weather, the ten sailors of Gitana Team know that they can count on the talent and the receptiveness of Sylvain Mondon to try to evade the pitfalls dotted across their course. In fact the telephone and email exchanges between the onboard navigator and the onshore router have been numerous recently: 'Gitana 13 is sailing upwind on the approach to a stormy low with N’ly winds fluctuating at the mercy of the associated cold air. This is why the crew are making headway at a moderate speed of between 10 and 15 knots. This is set to be the way of things for some time and in fact the situation may become more exaggerated tonight and tomorrow morning. Indeed, in around twenty hours time, the maxi-catamaran will begin the most tricky phase to the south of the low in fairly light winds. This transition zone located immediately to the NW of the Canaries will nevertheless be an important passage as the winds will then fill in slowly to start with, before increasing as they shift round to the west and then the south-west during Friday' explained Sylvain Mondon before concluding: 'From then on, Gitana 13 will be able to slip along downwind at speeds in excess of 20 knots, which will enable it to close rapidly on Cape Finisterre over the course of Friday night'. This change in pace is something the ten sailors have been looking forward to, but for the time being they’re paying a high price for it.
Setting out from Hong Kong on 14th August 2008, Lionel Lemonchois and his nine crew attacked their sixth week at sea this morning, and sincerely hope it will be their last. Indeed, though an exact ETA is very difficult to provide today, everyone is agreed on an arrival at the entrance to the River Thames between 23rd and 25th September. In the meantime, the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel await, and it’s certainly not going to be an enjoyable ride: 'From Sunday, the wind will have continued to swing round so that the crew are faced with an E’ly wind at the approach to the Bay of Biscay. More close-hauled sailing is in store for Gitana 13 then in a steady E to NE’ly breeze as they traverse the Bay of Biscay and make the climb along the English Channel. The ten sailors of Gitana Team will have to make a series of tack changes as far as Pas-de-Calais so the last few miles will be extremely strenuous. Doubtless the climb up the Thames in downwind conditions will be a relief for the whole crew, even if the river traffic will warrant increased vigilance all the way to London.' Today’s figures
Departure from Hong Kong: Thursday 14th August at 07h55’32’’ (UT)
Thursday 18th September at 1415 (UT)
Latitude: 29°17.47 N – Longitude : 22°33.12 W
Distance left to go: 1,760 miles Onboard comments - Blasted summer
By struggling one against the other level with the equator, the two weather hemispheres are creating havoc across a large expanse of ocean.
When the two tradewinds, namely the NE for the northern hemisphere and the SE for the southern hemisphere, have similar trajectories, they can sometimes unite in a gentle, regular E’ly wind, and the Doldrums is just an invisible formality.
On the other hand, when they are drawn in a more perpendicular fashion towards the equator, they bang together, climbing vertically to create a windless zone which commonly reaches 500 kilometres wide. The only hope then lies in the massive amount of cloud activity which develops here, the largest squalls generating their own air.
July and August have another particularity in store for us however: the tradewind in the southern hemisphere, which is harsher than its colleague, especially at this time of the year, goes considerably beyond its northern perimeter and produces two effects: initially the convergence zone between the two winds shifts northwards, which is why the Atlantic Doldrums is usually located between 8° and 13° north. Following on from that, the higher the windless zone climbs, the more the SE’ly tradewind – which is diverted as it crosses the equator – clocks round to the right, transforming into a SW’ly wind as it becomes laden with moisture. This is the monsoon phenomenon which is renowned in Asian lands. It is by making use of this opportunity that we have been able over recent days to make headway northwards, not far from the African coast, prior to clawing the last miles, squall by squall, to finally cross the dreaded dividing line.
The 300 miles covered in two days and the incessant manœuvres have finally opened a relatively typical summer window across the North Atlantic: the Azores High with its glorious sunshine and its E’ly winds, which all the holidaymakers were expecting in August, is finally climbing across Europe! And the lows, synonymous with W’ly winds and rains are blocked faraway to the west or towards the north of the Atlantic. In short, a calamity for us who would prefer, nothing against those of you on land, that the rain watered the gardens and that the leaves were filling the gutters! And to hell with the E’ly winds!
As a result our climb northwards promises to be a laborious one, even though a small stormy low which is circulating around Madeira is likely to give us a bit of a boost for two or three days.
Even though it’s out of the question to ease off the pace so close to the goal, the crew, despite being used to these games of chance, is grumbling in the companionways and insulting the heavens, before they have to swallow this 5,000 kilometre upwind climb imposed on them.
All of a sudden, any discomforts and irritations are exacerbated. The bunks are beginning to hop and the gnawing dampness is back. The freeze-dried meals are showing clear signs of reaching their limits too.
The stocks of clean clothes are exhausted. There is virtually nothing left to put on the slices of bread and the three remaining pots of jam aren’t going to last until the first breakfast awaiting us in London. In short, every detail has an impact and you really get the sensation, at times, that it would take just one trifling matter for this fabulous human machine that is a crew, to go off the rails.
Each of us is making an effort though. Léo has hunted down an unlikely batch of little slices of toasted bread from the dark corners of his storeroom. Lionel is making us laugh by rigging up a fishing line in a bid to make life a little less ordinary… The books are changing hands. We talk of friends and, it’s hard to believe, but you forget the 2,400 slow, wet miles left to go.
We’re going to keep driving forward with a kind thought to you landl