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One eye on the trade winds the other on the Doldrums

One eye on the trade winds the other on the Doldrums

With about 1,000 miles to the Doldrums, the leaders are gradually correcting their courses to the west where the inter-tropical convergence zone (aka the Doldrums) are forecast to be slimmer this season. But in quite stable north-easterly trade winds they are full downwind after the Canary Islands and like a guest teasing their host they will know they need to choose their gybes carefully. The multi50 Groupe GCA Milleand the leading IMOCA, Charal, are expertly managing their descent of this staircase. Meanwhile those at the back of the MOCA fleet and those leading the Class40, must first earn their entry into the trade winds. Those blocked to the west will have a decisive advantage once they make it through to the downwind.

On a strategic level, this Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre is fascinating. A magnificent glide through the Channel, then a division of the fleet never seen so soon before in Atlantic in fourteen previous editions, and now voilà! the fleet is coming back together at all levels. The leaders in the Class40 are back, temporarily you would think, in a peleton with the six IMOCA “Westerners”, whilst those at the head of the fleet are accelerating and could extend their lead. It would be brave or clever forecaster who could list the true order of the fleet at the entrance to the doldrums (in red on the map below), and even braver to bet on those order coming out. 

The Doldrums are often the decisive section of the Route du Café. Once they have crossed this area where the trade winds of each hemisphere form a large zone of uncertainty, the last stretch to Salvador de Bahia is certainly not a formality, but its harder to overtake those in front. “Looking today, the Doldrums are a real mess, but it should be clearer for leaders on Monday!” promised Richard Silvani from Météo France said. Stretching, in theory, as high as 7° North, the best entry point - 27° 30 West - is still a long way for the skippers, about 1,000 miles for the leaders ,who should reach it overnight from Monday to Tuesday. That means several more manoeuvres west.

What happens next?

In Multi 50, the course of Solidaires in Peloton ARSEPis astonishing. Did Thibault Vauchel-Camus have a technical problem that prevented them from gybing before the Canaries so they could reposition west? Should we assume their passage through the middle of the archipelago follows a difficult passage of the ridge of high pressure? They will have to make lots of little shifts to get west new and not relieve the pressure on a smiling Groupe GCA.

In the IMOCA, the leaders' are in a pure speed race now. In this area, Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt (Charal) are putting enormous pressure on the fleet. They have demonstrated their mastery of the flight in their new foiler, acquired during long training sessions this year, and are easily making 1.5 knots than Apivia. The gap has grown from 10 miles last night, to 34 miles by the 08:00 UTC ranking. 

The fleet is already stretching, with 100 miles between the first and the eighth IMOCA. But the older boats behind may still have a say. 11th Hour Racing, being pushed hard by the American skipper, Charlie Enright, and French co-skipper, Pascal Bidegorry, has flown into third, rising three places today and is only 30 miles behind Apivia. At the 11:00 UTC ranking, 11thHour Racing had recorded the best 24 hours in the fleet – 325.5 miles (beating Charalby the less than a mile). Britain’s Sam Davies on Initiatives-Cœur,had dropped to eighth, partly as a result of their frightening-sounding wipeout earlier, but also because they have positioned west earlier. 

The faster performances by the older boats are also the result of higher risk taking. While the foilers are flying with a gennaker, the older IMOCA are probably flying spinnakers with 400 square meters of Nylon billowing out in front of the bow, watch out for the wipeouts! At these speeds, they are expensive, as Davies testified in her message of the night.

In Class40, Crédit Mutuelthe most westerly, has taken and gradually the lead during the day. Britain’s Sam Goodchild on Leyton, had moved into second past  Aïna Enfance and Avenirat the 11:00 UTC and we can expect an exciting match in the trade winds between the top eight who are separated by 65 miles. The old-generation Class40s, such as Made in Midi, are likely to struggle to keep pace in the big downwinds, but the leader at Doldrums will also be the one who has kept his sailing wardrobe intact.

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