From one Pacific to the next
The Route de l'Or stretches along both sides of the American continent, where unusual sailing conditions are the norm. Lionel Lemonchois and his nine-man crew will have experienced similar weather phenomena only weeks apart. As suggested by its slowing speeds, Gitana 13 is readying for its second tangle with the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and its second equator crossing.

The maxi-catamaran is located at 4°S, where the sailing is made difficult not by rough seas but by very high temperatures: “The sun is blazing hot. What a contrast...five days ago we were wrapped up in oilskins, wearing gloves and hats! To protect themselves during watch duty, the guys have rigged a system of sheets to lessen the impact of the sun and heat," said Dominic Vittet.

The men of Gitana 13 have also made the most out of the relatively stable southeasterly breeze—meaning few maneuvers—to get some R and R. Their goal is to hit the always tricky and unpredictable doldrums in top form. For once they cross the equator, the maxi-catamaran's deck will come alive: watch duty will be filled with frequent sail and direction changes and a greater level of concentration.

But as could be expected, the zone where the northern- and southern-hemisphere trade winds converge does not want to give up its secrets yet: “We're right on in terms of our chosen timing, but things could get interesting fast. Because ahead of us lies a big area of light winds that we haven't yet decided how to approach. For now we're planning on going around the east side of it, but out here things changes so fast that we can't say with any certainty," said the onboard navigator.

Gitana 13's strategy and the point at which it will enter the ITCZ will become clearer in the coming hours, and will depend on the doldrums' activity. One thing seems certain: the maxi-catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild will return to northern latitudes in the next 24 hours. Lemonchois and his crew will have spent nearly 27 days in the southern hemisphere (they crossed the equator on the Atlantic side on 23 January at 8:24am). Their equator-to-equator time could have been five days shorter had the weather been more cooperative when Gitana 13 rounded Cape Horn.

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