Chronicle of a successful crossing

On Wednesday 23 January, at 7:24 UT, Gitana 13 crossed the equator. It left New York 6 days, 14 hours and 52 minutes earlier. We can compare this performance to those of sailors attempting to break the round-the-world record. The distance from New York to the equator is 200 miles longer than from Brest to the equator. The fastest time for this latter route belongs to Olivier de Kersauson, who did it in 6 days, 11 hours and 26 minutes on his 34-meter trimaran Geronimo back in 2003. Gitana 13 logged 3 hours and 26 minutes more than de Kersauson, but also covered 200 more miles. Let's get back to our smooth crossing of the Doldrums.

Tuesday, 00:00 UT. We're all on deck, as is normal for the change of watch every three hours. The moon hangs high above. Gitana 13 is humming along flat water at 25 knots, the solent flying and one reef in the main. Upwind, a cloud formation is kicking up the northeast trades. According to the latest files received, we aren't far from a squall line, while the “door” to the Doldrums is only 80 miles distant. Lionel and the rest of his watch, Zolive and Florent, are going to bed. Ludo is on deck with Fred and David. Stand-by is starting for Thierry, Léo and me.

2:00 UT. Nothing on the horizon, all around us a clear tradewind sky. We shook the reef out of the main and, with the wind coming from 110°, our cruise in the tropical mildness is again a real pleasure. We came upon a fishing boat, our first encounter since starting. We've seen nothing, not even an “animal,” only two or three feathered creatures.

6:00 UT. We're at the door—that imaginary place defined by Sylvain Mondon which has determined our trajectory for the past three days. This door, constantly adjusted in recent days and then hours, marks the most advantageous point to cross the Doldrums between the northern-hemisphere trades and the southern-hemisphere trades. Dominic Vittet appears suddenly with the latest update from Météo France. A wide lane is opening in front of us, the squalls ahead have broken up, and there is no storm activity to report. However, the satellite photos show that there's going to be hell to pay to our left and right. We're in the right corridor. Onboard, the joy is palpable. Well done Sylvain!

12:00 UT. Still a perfect tradewind sky. No cloud activity on the horizon. The trades have nevertheless slowed to 8-12 knots and are now blowing from 80°—a good sign. Onboard, it's time to clean up and to inspect the platform and the mast. Léo, hoisted 40 meters above the water, confirms that our path ahead is all clear.

16:30 UT. The small gennaker was only up for an hour. The solent is again powering Gitana 13, which is using this godsend to swallow up precious southward miles at an average of 8-10 knots. Our task is clear: avoid at all costs falling below our route. We are sailing along the western edge of the corridor as defined by a major squall zone. We mustn't enter that zone, we just need to stay upwind of the storm zone to continue riding the trade winds, which should logically start to gather strength. We covered 475 miles over the past 24 hours—our first day below 500 miles. The equator is now only 148 miles away.

Wednesday 00:00 UT. The trade winds have never been weaker, or the sky clearer. At 8-10 knots, we're making our way toward the equator, which is only 80 miles ahead. We're getting a little impatient, especially since the wind reports tell us that there is a good reaching wind ahead that will help trim some miles off the course. Crossing the equator is good, of course, but the real exit is located at 1° South, meaning another 60 miles before we can latch onto the prevailing southeasterly trades. The latest satellite photo shows that our route will remain cloud-free. It appears as though we're past the danger zone here, we simply need to have some patience and enjoy this mild, luminous night.

3:00 UT. We're all out on the “balcony” looking upwind at the Archipelago Sao Pedro and Sao Paulo passing only 1.2 miles away. Never heard of it? Four little rocks, the biggest of which is barely 120 meters long, with a lighthouse on one of them emitting its white burst every 10 seconds. That's about all we can say of our first “land sighting” since New York. Around us flicker the lights of some fishing boats, which must be hauling in lobster. Exotic, no? Unfortunately the past two hours were difficult, as a cloud formation “ate up” the little we had left in the way of trade winds. Another 50 miles to the equator.

7:25 UT. We have just crossed the equator. Since entering the Doldrums, we did not change sails once and did not tack once, we simply adjusted the mainsail and solent as necessary to adapt to the wind shifts! This crossing, if not among the fastest, was certainly one of the easiest. The exit is still 60 miles farther on, only another three or four hours.

Good night

Nicolas Raynaud

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