By Brian Hancock
Let me talk about the South Atlantic High for just a moment. Just like the Northern Hemisphere, there is one in the Southern Hemisphere as well and it’s equally tricky to navigate although it seems to me that Mr. North is a little less crankier than Mrs. South. (Don’t read too much into the genders here. Although Mr. North does seem to be getting a bit more cranky these days.) Those Portuguese trades didn’t dish up the fair breezes that they have always promised, but I know that there were some fun sailing days with the wind ‘up the chuff’ (very nautical term for the wind from behind) for most of the sailors racing in the McIntyre Ocean Globe Race. It seems to me, as a complete layman, that the climate may be changing, just a little, however…
Now let’s look at Mrs. South since most of the boats are going to have to deal with (her) in the next coming weeks. It’s a tricky bit of water. The South Atlantic High, often called the St. Helena High has the same issue as the one up north. It can’t help itself. I did some research on this whole High Pressure situation and consulted the National Weather Service in the US, but truthfully, they need better writers. They tried to explain something quite simple by overdoing it. Basically, what they were trying to say was (Ok this is their version of it – cold air, being more dense, sinks, and hot air, being less dense, rises. Consequently, the rising warm air at the equator becomes even less dense as it rises and its pressure decreases. An area of low pressure, therefore, exists over the equator). OK you have to be pretty dense to not understand that if you and wade your way through the mealy-mouth explanation. What they are trying to say is that there is a continual tug-of-war going on in the climate and hot air rises, cold air sinks, and you end up with a mishmash for the sailors to deal with.
Now there are two ways that you can tackle the South Atlantic High. You can scoot down the western side always keeping an eye out for a gap through the windless zone, or you can take it on the chin and take the shorter route on the eastern side. The eastern side means headwinds, and much of it strong at times (I know this because I have taken this route more than a few times) but you do get to save around a thousand miles. Once committed, like my friends on Outlaw are, you just have to get on with the job and deal with it.
It looks to me like Marie Tabarly and her crew on Pen Duick VI have chosen the western route, but maybe Marie knows what she is doing. She may have read the book by the fabled French sailor Isabelle Autissier who once did the same. She was racing solo around the world and saw a gap; and took it. She won the leg by a very decent margin – I can’t remember by how much – you can Google it if you like, but as I have said before, it’s just a big chess board, or maybe, more specifically, like a game of craps. Time will tell, but like craps we will only know the outcome once the dice has been rolled.