The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is about to bump up against another transition zone, a patch of very light and unstable winds that will be slow and painful to cross. This is the first sign of what appears to be a fairly untraditional doldrums crossing. As ever, the transition to the southern hemisphere offers opportunity for some and jeopardy for others.
On the jeopardy side, it is the crew on SHK/Scallywag, still furthest to the west, who are currently suffering. They’ve been dropping miles for the past 24 hours and have slid from second to fifth place, nearly 50 miles behind the leader, team AkzoNobel.
Alarmingly for Scallywag, while they’ve once again given back miles to the leader on the 1300 UTC position report , every other boat in the fleet is making gains as AkzoNobel is first to hit the transition zone.
“It’s all about where we’re positioned on the fleet heading into the doldrums,” said Scallywag skipper David Witt. “It will be interesting to see if anybody puts their bow right up or down to try and change their position.”
“You’re going to win some and lose some,” said AkzoNobel skipper Simeon Tienpont. “It’s a big challenge for us (in the lead). We make choices and the guys following can see if they work out or not. The weather models don’t account for local effects, so that’s a vulnerable spot for us.”
The goal, as ever, is to be first into the doldrums and then first out and back into the southern hemisphere trade winds that will take the fleet to New Zealand.
There are some differing opinions on the merits of the sailing conditions over the past 24 hours. For Turn the Tide on Plastic skipper Dee Caffari, it’s all about going fast:
“We currently have awesome conditions, full on sending it, with so much water everywhere. It is like having a bath thrown at you every other minute except it is salt water not bubble bath!”
But on Team Brunel, Kyle Langford says the speed comes at a cost - the living conditions are brutal.
“It’s pretty horrible down below. It’s very bouncy and very difficult to sleep. The water temperature is nearly 30-degrees, so it’s quite warm inside,” he says. “It’s hard to stay cool. And on top of that the boat is getting thrown around in 30 knots of wind. It’s very uncomfortable.
“Outside is better, but not by a lot. The worst thing is the salt water, which burns your eyes. We’re all wearing ski goggles. But the good thing is we’re making miles quickly. It’s tough conditions, but fast.
“I can’t wait for the doldrums. All my gear is soaking wet, so I’m looking forward to drying out, getting some good sleep when the boat is nice and calm, and recharging the batteries.”
With the equator and the doldrums fast approaching, he’ll get his wish soon enough.
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