The light winds are suiting Michel Kleinjans, the leading single-handed sailor in the Portimão Global Ocean Race.
At the 18:20UTC poll today Kleinjans aboard his Open 40, Roaring Forty, was eight mile ahead of the Chilean entry Desafio Cabo de Hornos and just over 100 miles astern of the leading boat, Beluga Racer. All three yachts are dealing with the fickle conditions of the doldrum belt but the trying conditions are not slowing the Belgium sailor one bit as he continues his march south.
The same pattern is playing out a little further north as the other solo sailor in the race, Nico Budel, is trouncing his closest rivals Peter and Lenjohn Van Der Wel on Kazimir Partners. At the same 18:20UTC poll Budel aboard his Open 40 Hayai was the fastest boat in the fleet and had opened up the gap between himself and Kazimir Partners to a solid 40 miles. No one seems to have told Nico that there are doldrums about and he is keeping his foot flat on the gas.
The reason for the solo sailors gaining ground has a lot to do with weight. They are the lightest in the fleet partly because there is only one person on board and by extension, one person’s food, water, clothing, etc. Their boats are also lighter being built out of carbon fiber. But that’s not the whole story. Nico Budel and Michel Kleinjans are the most experienced sailors in the fleet and they know their boats. Budel won his class in the tough single-handed transatlantic race in 2006. He may be closing in on 70 years old, but he is tough and skilled and knows how to drive hard when the wind is fickle and coming at you from all directions.
Between the two groups the African Queen, as the Van Der Wel brother have nicknamed Team Mowgli, is sailing at a sure and steady pace. Despite losing their big spinnaker a few days back, Salvesen and Thomson are gaining ground on the leaders. 'We are well into the Doldrums now and experiencing pretty much everything they can throw at us,' Salvesen wrote to his supporters. 'From patches of almost no wind at all, to sudden squalls. You can see the dark, heavy squall clouds up ahead and you know that you are going to meet. They are both good and bad - on the one hand you know you are going to get some wind; on the other you really don't know from which direction! So, we need to be ready to change sails, put a reef into the main or gybe at very short notice so we are kept on our toes. It isn't so bad during the day as you can see the squalls coming so it will be interesting tonight when we can't!'
It’s going to be a trying weekend for all the sailors. The heat and humidity of the equatorial region grinds you down, as does the fickle wind and drenching rain in the squalls. The glorious trade wind sailing is already a distant memory and the breeze the other side of the doldrums will be right on the nose, not the best point of sail. But all sailors know that a leg of 7,000 odd miles needs to be broken down into manageable chunks and Portimão to the equator is a sizable first chunk to relegate to the history books.
Beluga Racer is 210 miles north of the magical line that separates the northern hemisphere from the southern. That should be less than a day’s sail for Boris and Felix, but if the doldrums do not relinquish their grip it could be a few days before the first boat trips lightly into the southern hemisphere. http://www.portimaoglobaloceanrace.com/