By Brian Hancock
Well we have finally come to that place in the race that we have all been waiting for. That place where sane men (and women) have at some point decided to step off the back of their boats and not look back. It’s a place that can make grown men cry. That’s why the French call it the Pot au Noir. The Black Pot. Some of us paleface white people still keep referring to it as the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, and then, if only to make things worse we call it the ITCZ. I personally prefer Pot au Noir.
Now I may or may not have spent some time in this dreaded area and can understand the willingness to step off the back of a boat. It’s a dreaded region if you are a sailor, and by that I mean a sailor who relies on wind, not diesel. The ITCZ is actually a good way to formally describe the area. It’s a battle of sorts. The high pressure system in the Northern Hemisphere gets into a tug-of-war with the high pressure system in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a battle as old as time and there, so far, has never been a winner. They both suck the air out of each other; hence the doldrums.
The sailors of the McIntyre Ocean Globe will (are) finding themselves floating on a listless ocean, the kind that looks like someone spread grease on the water. Add to that, it’s baking hot and I mean baking hot and it’s only going to get hotter, especially down below.
Now, some readers might not know this but each Monday each competitor can run their engine; in gear, for 15 minutes. It’s a safety thing. If someone goes over the side, and that has happened in previous races, the last thing that you need is to try and start the engine only to hear that low grinding noise of a flat battery or an engine not quite up to the task. There may, after all, be someone that needs rescuing. Yesterday might have been a good day for the leaders to start their engines and power through that greasy sea.
The doldrums start (roughly) at around 10 degrees north. It can vary – that tug-of-war still exists with one or the other side winning and so navigating between hemispheres can be a tricky thing. I see from the Yellow Brick (Road? That would have been a better name) Tracker that the front runners are flopping around a little. Marie Tabarly on Pen Duick VI has found some light headwinds but she is barely managing to get out of her own wake. Worse yet Jussi Paavoseppä, the skipper of Spirit of Helsinki, seems to be flopping around making a grand speed of just 1.9 knots in a mixed breeze of almost nothing. I can almost imagine Jussi looking at the stern of his boat thinking…
Meanwhile further to the north Campbell Mackie on Outlaw must be chewing on his piece of rope saved especially for this occasion. They cut the corner on the African coast (there is an expression you don’t hear too often) and they find themselves in doldrums of their own, one that is well north of the ‘real’ doldrums. Yellow Brick has them doing just over 2 knots. Still there is always hope.
Sailors are an optimistic lot; we have to be, it’s a jungle out there (figuratively speaking) and if you give up hope there is no point in signing up for an around-the-world yacht race. Hang in there everyone, before long you will be bashing into 30 knot headwinds and wishing for a time when the boat was not at a 45 degree heel.
Ps – to the heart of my report yesterday. Galiana WithSecure reported a bad smell in their cockpit and (no it was not my Swedish friend’s Jannie’s feet) they found a flying fish in the cockpit locker slowly cooking in the heat. And be ready for tomorrow’s report when we talk about pirates in the area.
CODE ORANGE: OUTLAW (08) RESCUES DRIFTING MARINER 90 MILES WEST OF DAKAR
At 12.09 UTC Outlaw reported to OGR that a 20ft canoe approached the yacht with a lone male of approximately mid 20 years old onboard, fit and looking in good healthy condition with no apparent medical conditions. The captain believes he is from Senegal but there is a language barrier. The male had no water, limited fuel in 2 small fuel cans, no fishing gear and no sign of a radio. OGR is in contact with Senegal MRCC and has requested an opportune medivac to another ship. The captain of Outlaw provided food and water and took the male under tow and making best speed under motor to Dakar at 5kts in light winds. ETA morning of 27 September. For security reasons and possible threat of more boats in the area, the male has not been taken onboard the yacht. He will remain under tow onboard with reassessment of this decision to be made before nightfall. Photographs of the individual and boat has been requested via satellite for identification purposes. Outlaw advised to keep communications open and call OGR at any time and to transmit VHF PAN PAN for immediate medivac transfer to any nearby ship.