The Doldrums, or more technically speaking the Intertropical Convergence Zone, is a cone-shaped area formed at the point where the northern hemisphere NE trade winds run into the southern hemisphere SE trade winds. When these winds meet, hey cancel each other out in a rather warm, equatorial region, giving rise to strong evaporations creating enormous cumulonimbus, vertically-developing clouds which can rise to heights of more than 10 000 metres) and which are highly charged with electricity and water. Highly marked thermal contrasts are created and strong gusts arise in the squalls with lightning, thunder burst, calms and then diluvian rain. Temperatures can vary by as much as 10 degrees in a matter of minutes. A highly changeable scene in terms of weather making the Doldrums highly demanding for the crews.
At the moment, the Doldrums are not that spread out, but are lying further north than usual. They are not that active either as the layer of cloud observed via satellite images appears to be rather homogenous. The wind has been pretty unlively this weekend, starting out at around 25-30 knots and falling to less than 10 knots in just a few hours on Saturday evening, changing direction from NE to E. Frédéric Le Peutrec and Yann Guichard used the situation to gain ground (30 miles) on the leader Banque Populaire and are just a short distance from the second Géant, (in relation to the distance to the finish). Further downfield, the Italian crew on TIM-Progetto Italia have made up their loss. A new beginning ? Maybe, but if that is the case, Gitana 11 is not quite along the same lines, 100 miles further east, she is heading SE whilst the other three boats are steering a course due south. A different strategy for the blue trimaran looking to steer the shortest course in spite of the fact that the lighter weather looks set to last for longer, as the trio further west is opting to control the fleet tactically, and aiming to latch onto the SE southern hemisphere trades earlier. By Monday evening, the overall picture should start to become a little clearer.
Meanwhile, Gitana X is also making her way down the coast of Africa, as Thierry Duprey du Vorsent explained at 10h00 on Sunday morning :
« What a wonderfully starry night, a beautiful sea and a moonlit backdrop. We have the gennaker up and the mainsail too and have been on the same tack for the last 160 miles. We'll stay that way I reckon as far as Cape Blanc (the Mauritanian border). We'll no doubt have to gybe but have a 20-25 knot NE for the time being and prefer to stay close to land where the winds are steadier. On Monday evening we should reach the Doldrums and reckon that we might make a shortcut 17°W. It looks at though we could sneak through there... Otherwise, life on board has become more fluid without the pressure of the previous trades which were very strong indeed. The boat is sliding along nicely without any effort or excessive mental effort. It's getting difficult to spring into action when watches change. A lot can happen yet ! The leaders have covered half the course so far. Which is why we are keeping a close eye on Gitana 11's course. »
Frédéric Le Peutrec (Gitana 11) :
« We were able to replace the gennaker halyard in a calm, and everything is fine on board. Our easterly position since Portugal made us take this option close to the coast. As the Doldrums are not very active that leaves us with the possibility of trying to sneak through on the east. It's difficult to really know if that'll pay off in the long run as we're a long way off (120 miles) in longitude from the other trimarans and we only get position polls every two hours. We're trying to see which is the best way through the Doldrums but it is impossible to anticipate what is going to happen in the hours ahead. For the time being, everything is fine. We're taking advantage of the wind where it is. »