What a difference a week makes. The first week of the Portimão Global Ocean Race was all about loving life. Perfect trade winds, good boat speed (in the right direction) and enough sunshine to bake the the winter blues right out of the Iceland economy. Now, a week later and it’s all turned to mud.
The doldrums, or Pot au Noir as the French like to refer to that hellish region that separates the weather systems of the Northern and Southern hemispheres, has been up to its usual tricks and life has become a lot more interesting. Just ask the South African’s on Kazimir Partners. Peter Van Der Wel described their encounter with a rogue squall.
'The wind just keep on climbing,' he wrote. 'Eventually topping out at 52 knots. By this this time we had lost control and went into the most spectacular wipe out. For a second I lost sight of my brother and shouted out for him. He had managed to get himself in a bear hug with the spare Code O which was strapped on deck. All I could hear was, I’m OK, but I am not losing the sail over the side.'
The crew on Kazimir Partners were not the only one’s to feel the wrath of an ITCZ squall and the fun and games each has packed within their tightly formed centres.
All of the boats found their fair share of terrifying moments as squall after squall shoved and pulled them through the windless zone formed when the rising air masses of the two hemispheres collide.
The UK crew aboard Team Mowgli seemed to have a fairly decent transit of the doldrums but like the others found their fair share of calm seas.
'These lulls are pretty infuriating,' skipper Jeremy Salvesen wrote. 'You spin through 360 degrees searching for a puff of wind to get you going but that wind is itself spinning round and round - and we don't want to be traveling north for any time at all, however briefly!'
Tackling the doldrums needs to be done with the right temperament. It’s not a region to fight. Aboard Desafio Cabe de Hornos Felipe Cubillos had the exact right tone in his email to supporters. 'The second lesson of the doldrums is this,' he wrote. 'As in life, there are no shortcuts. Victory is built step by step, mile by mile, with no shortcuts. True, some of the other boats are hitting the magic wand and getting an easy ride, but for us mortals, our victory requires a lot more work and maybe that's the best part of it. Hard work always pays dividends'
The race tracker is updated every three hours and I am not alone in my addiction to that part of the website. My inbox is filled with race fans wondering if Beluga Racer will hold onto their lead or if Nico Budel on Hayai will close the gap on the lead boats. All of this has been happening. Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer have extended their lead being the first boat through the doldrums and into the new wind.
Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty has shown his skill as a solo sailor by romping into second place and extending his lead over Cubillos and Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos, while at the last poll Team Mowgli was just a mile and a half astern of the Chilean boat.
The racing is tight and looks likely to remain that way for the second half of the race.
As the boats exit the doldrums life will look a lot different for the sailors. Instead of the steady wind from astern, the crews will face the new breeze right on the nose.
As they cross the equator it will be hatches battened, the sail reefed and the heeled well over.
It’s very unpleasant sailing as the tropical sun is relentless and with a constant wash of spray across the deck everything will be closed tight making below decks a damp sauna.
The way the sailors tackle this area is critical as they need to line up for the first gate 500 miles to the south. They will have to keep sailing hard on the wind in order to make the gate without tacking. It’s a point of sail especially suited to Hayai, the only boat in the race with a canting keel. It’s going to be an interesting few days. Stay tuned. Leaderboard at 01:20 UTC Monday, 27 October 2008
1 Beluga Racer - distance to finish 3618 nautical miles
2 Roaring Forty - distance to finish 3787 nautical miles
3 Team Mowgli - distance to finish 3891 nautical miles
4 Desafio Cabo de Hornos - distance to finish 3902 nautical miles
5 Hayai - distance to finish 4094 nautical miles
6 Kazimir Partners - distance to finish 4136 nautical miles
For more information please go to www.portimaorace.com