We are encountering our first dark nights as the waning moon is rising later and later. In the celestial sphere, the Southern Cross is where it should be, to port, as we are on a heading of 240° in order to ride the western edge of a high-pressure system here in the southern hemisphere. It took quite an effort to reach this system! We were hoping to catch it easily, only 48 hours after crossing the equator. But the stormy depression that built up as we entered the Doldrums changed the equation. Now that we are again cruising full-bore toward Cape Horn, we can estimate the amount of time lost: a full day of sailing, around 500 nautical miles. First, the stormy low-pressure system weakened the southeasterly trade winds to about 10 knots. We then had to cross the related low-pressure trough, the dangerous zone where the winds rotate freely and there is also a windless zone whose size depends on where you hit it. This stretch cost us five hours—five hours at a near standstill overnight from Saturday to Sunday, our first “pit stop” so far. This was the lesser of two evils given the extent of the low-pressure trough...our thanks go again to Sylvain Mondon in Toulouse who guided us with a sure hand, keeping us informed with satellite photos and other GRIB files. And then there's the question of interpreting the photos and files...Lionel and Dominic spent many hours at the map table.
Once past the low-pressure trough, we picked up speed rapidly. I'm always surprised at how the weather conditions can differ so widely over such a small distance—only around 10 miles. We went from zero to 20 knots of wind! For us, that translates into an average speed of 25 knots. A sigh of relief. Yesterday we managed to cover 350 miles despite our pit stop in the middle of nowhere. Today we should be able to knock off more than 600 miles. We are zipping right along under the solent and two reefs, with 30 knots of wind and a real wind direction of 120-130°. As soon as the breeze moves aft, the small gennaker will come out of its bag. That's the next sail change planned on Gitana 13.