Day in the Doldrums

The VO65s line up for their Doldrums crossings

Tuesday October 21st 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Image above courtesy of Expedition and Predictwind

The Volvo Ocean Race boats have crossed a couple of significant tactical hurdles over the last few days. After breaking her rudder on Saturday, Dongfeng Race Team dropped back in the pack but by taking the most southerly route towards the Cape Verdes, Charles Caudrelier's team managed to regain the lead in some style - putting on 44 mile margin between itself and second place, the largest lead we have seen in the race so far.

At the Cape Verdes in the early hours of Sunday morning the fleet split in two with Dongfeng, MAPFRE and Team Vestas Wind passing through the middle of this African island group, as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel led Alvimedica and Team SCA attempted to leave the islands to port only for a wind shift requiring them to gybe their way dead downwind for the final miles around the north of the islands. The classic tactic is to sail one side or the other of these island groups as there is typically a substantial wind shadow to leeward of them.

Exiting the Cape Verdes the boats that had gone through them gybed south, while those to the north kept going west and at one point there was a lateral split across the race track of more than 170 miles between Dongfeng southeast and Team Brunel in the northwest, the biggest we have seen to date.

The outcome of the Cape Verdes reshuffle was only finally discovered early yesterday morning when the two group converged once again. The northerly group had prevailed, enjoying slightly better pressure on their side of the course.

The end game for the Cape Verdes reshuffle which occurred at around 14°N has been equally vital because it has dictated how far west-east they would pass through the Doldrums. Essentially the boats that passed north of the Cape Verdes have done better by setting up in to the west of those which passed through the islands. Again the traditional theory for Doldrums crossings is that 'west is best' (typically the Doldrums is triangular in shape - narrower in the west) however the advent of satellite technology typically means that navigators can now pin point the optimum longtitude at which to make the crossing. Boats in the east also typically emerge into the SSE winds on to a better point of sail to head southwest or SSW to the turning mark at Fernando de Noronja.

So today we have the Doldrums crossing and surprisingly there is a 132 mile west to east split (or between 27 and 29.5°W) between Team Brunel, the wily old Capey having taken his boat furthest west, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing immediately east of her having made some last minute westerly course adjustment over the last few hours. Furthest east are Team Vestas Wind and MAPFRE and let's not forget that Michel Desjoyeaux is on the latter.

Satellite wind radar imagery indicates that the Doldrums are currently at their most active between 6 and 8°N. At the latest sched (0640) the frontrunners at around 9°N and the boats in the west are recording 7-8 knots of wind while those in the east have 5-6 knots, while at the back of the pack Team SCA still has 12 (the girls have done well over the last two days to halve their deficit, which on Sunday afternoon had got up to 113 miles).

However the GRIB files are showing a much more chaotic, less optimistic picture and have the Doldrums extending as far south as 2°N and more like a classic area of high pressure rather than the more local squalls typical of the Doldrums. However the GRIBs also show a corridor through to the southwest of where the boats are which is probably where Brunel and Abu Dhabi are heading.

So if this is to be believed, then 'Doldrums day' could end up being 'Doldrums days'.

From Matt Knighton on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing yesterday:

A bright and sunny day of near perfect running conditions greeted us on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing along with a new sked that helped relieve tensions from the night before.  Team Brunel followed us around the top of the Cape Verde Islands as well as Alvimedica and SCA.  However, with 3 teams still gaining over 100 miles towards Fernando by going through the islands, our work was cut out for us.

The bright green and steep hillsides of the Cape Verde Islands brought everyone on deck to take in the awesome scenery and lightened the mood onboard.

“Quite an amazing thing to see really”, said Parko.  “It was cool to sail so close to such a high mountain; we were probably only a mile away when we gybed.  Without doing this race I definitely would’ve never seen that.”

Still nervous but resigned to the fact that this was our only option, Ian made it clear we would “Invest in the West” all day.  Finally, with a right shift to the breeze, we finally made the turn South at 1900 hrs.

There is a sense of relief that it appears our northern bet is paying dividends and we’ll draw even with Dongfeng if not make a few gains.  Still, the crew is in prep mode for the Doldrums.  Floorboards are getting cleaned; batteries charged, and old musty food that made its way to the bottom of the food bags is being tossed.

The veterans onboard know the race could restart once we’re all parked up in the light winds ahead of us.  They also know old musty food and hot stagnant air don’t go together very well.




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