Photography by Volvo Ocean Race
For the first time since early in Leg 2, less than 50 miles separate first from last with the Doldrums having the expected effect on the fleet.
Dongfeng Race Team retains the lead in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race, but only just, as the leaders slow in Doldrums conditions. Just 10 miles separate first from fourth, and the difference between first and worst is scarcely 45 miles, good news for the backmarkers, who are back in the game.
These are agonising conditions for the sailors, who normally live and die by each of the six-hourly position reports. But with the positions closing up, the other boats are either in sight from on deck, or visible on AIS (Automatic Identification System), a maritime tracking system that shows the position and speed/direction of boats within about 10-12 nautical miles of each other for safety purposes. Today, the leading group of five are almost certainly visible on AIS to each other.
While the Doldrums are often considered an area of no wind, in reality, it is more often an area of variable conditions, where storm cells bring sudden strong winds from a different direction to the prevailing lighter conditions. This means constant vigilance, and makes it difficult to choose the right sail selection.
“We were sailing south with the fractional code zero (a big headsail good for sailing with the wind on the side of the boat) on and doing about 20 knots boatspeed and we could see a big cloud line ahead, which means something is going to happen,” explained MAPFRE watch captain Rob Greenhalgh, giving an example of life in the Doldrums.
“It was a big header (windshift), 50-degree header, and an increase in breeze, which meant a frenzy of sail changes, so we’re now on a jib, going upwind, close reaching, so our boatspeed is significantly less.
Everyone is going to come through this line of Doldrums… Everyone is going to get it… We won’t know how it comes out for about five days.”
It might even come sooner than that. The leading teams should reach the equator in the next 24 hours or so, and pick up the trade winds again within two or three days.
Leg 2 – Position Report – Sunday 12 November (Day 8) – 13:00 UTC