Equatorial night

“The equator is an imaginary line which separates the earth into two hemispheres…” we learn soberly at the school of landlubbers. For the sailor the word equator has a very special significance. For us it designates instead “a rather uncertain, complicated zone with its own share of surprises"...
At this latitude the atmosphere, swollen with dampness and heat, is a melting pot of weather phenomena. They are born here, develop, move, grow or die at spectacular speeds. Often overtaken by their speed of evolution, meteorologists have long been tearing their hair out trying to understand, rationalise, or predict them… at best. Of course the grand principles are known entity: pinpointing the principal air masses as they progress, the satellites observing and measuring them and the modern recording stations providing us with increasingly pertinent information. Despite all that, randomness is the key word here. On the ocean of realities the sailors suffers the whims of this infernal zone. In a state of total anarchy, it produces its calms, its clouds, its storms, its squalls, and throws any fine theories to the wind. It's the Doldrums!

In order to make the Java Sea further south, hit the tradewinds and filter down into the Indian Ocean, Gitana 13 has been tackling this perilous exercise since yesterday. Sylvain, our weather router, is flat out. With a solid arsenal at Météo France and in permanent receipt of the boat's position, he is defining some great lines. For my part, I send him observation from the ‘front' and together we refine a strategy.

In the equatorial stickiness, the boat is very gradually slipping southwards. The wind is light, the sea smooth and the storms are lighting up Borneo in silence; the latter being invisible but almost palpable 25 miles downwind of us. The Indonesian fishing boats are circulating along the horizon and require particular attention at times. With eyes on the dials, the helmsmen take it in turns. Concentrated, each of them are hoping in turn to finally catch up with the SE'ly tradewinds which are synonymous with the way out. The hours pass by and the clouds too. The night is dying and we're still wading towards the equator. Everyone is awaiting ‘Mister Doldrums', in his immense generosity, to finally let a few snatches of tradewind pass our way... Patience.

Dominic Vittet

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