On crossing the equator for the fourth time in its record campaign, Gitana 13 will switch across to the northern hemisphere during the course of tonight. And as Lionel Lemonchois and his nine man crew attack their 27th day at sea, 3,700 miles – or virtually the equivalent of a “Route du Rhum” – still separate Gitana 13 from London. However, even though the maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is currently benefiting from fairly quick downwind conditions, this will change over the coming days, as the onboard navigator explains: “On the approach to the equator, the wind will ease as it heads but we'll make our entrance into the northern hemisphere with the help of a monsoon phenomenon which is presently well established along the African coast. This SW'ly air flow is set to accompany us as far as Senegal, though we can envisage some squalls and zones of rather light, shifty winds… we'll be traversing the Doldrums after all! On the other hand, the forecasts, which are being confirmed on a daily basis, are promising headwinds – from the NE – between Senegal and Europe. This will clearly necessitate a series of tacks! Though it's still a little early to guarantee this data and establish strategies over this final stretch, one thing for sure is that the pace will slow.”
Besides his meteorological knowledge, Dominic Vittet is also a fan of statistics. In this way, he is having a stab at the rather intriguing ETA (estimated time of arrival), but it is naturally uncertain given that they still have a way to go to reach London and there are a number of obstacles along their path: “I think we stand a chance of completing this record in 10 to 12 days time. I've relied on the statistics from our daily average speed during the Route de l'Or. Taking all that into account it may be considered that we cover 350 miles a day; a distance which may seem rather small but can very easily be explained.” Indeed, the weather phenomena move from east to west or the reverse of that when yachts participate in races or record attempts following these axes and accompanying the weather systems. However, for Gitana 13, it's quite a different scenario, at least on the Tea Route. The maxi-catamaran is following a north-south and south-north trajectory, which is forcing it to traverse the phenomena rather than accompany them. The upshot of this is numerous substantial transition zones and constant changes in the conditions which considerably slow their progress and cause the average speeds to drop.
Conditions outside have comprised stratus clouds which have blocked Gitana 13's sky since they passed offshore of Namibia and these have thickened as the days go by, gradually transforming into cumulus: “We're beginning to have a few breaks in the cloud and even got a glimpse of the moon last night, but globally it's fairly grey all around us. This gloomy universe in which we've been making headway for several days is fairly surprising near the equator! We removed the 2nd fleece layer just 36 hours ago and the latter part of the night is still cold in our bunks. It's very different form my past experiences sailing in these climes” details Pascal Blouin, one of the three watch leaders aboard and a newcomer to the Gitana Team. And Pascal knows what he's talking about… This sailor has a wealth of experience on the giants of the seas and in round the world courses after having successively sailed aboard the maxi-catamarans Innovation Explorer and Cheyenne and the maxi-trimarans Geronimo and Groupama 3. In fact he was the boat-captain of the latter, from its launch to its aborted Jules Verne Trophy attempt last winter.
According to the latest observations, the equator/ Doldrums zone should reveal itself to be fairly mild for Gitana 13, though it is still rather tricky to volunteer theories in these typically random latitudes. However, the North Atlantic is already forecast to be a rather delicate affair for Lionel Lemonchois' men: “Anything is possible over this final section… It's rather like a lucky dip, which we don't yet know the contents of.” We've been warned!
A few figures
Gitana 13 left Hong Kong on Thursday 14th August at 07h55'32'' (UT)
Wednesday 10th September at 0745 UT, Gitana 13 was sailing at 04°51.23 S /13 °03.97 E
Watch No1: Lionel Lemonchois (Skipper / watch leader / helmsman) / Olivier Wroczynski (trimmer /head of computers and power) / David Boileau (Bowman / head of deck fittings)
Watch No.2: Ludovic Aglaor (watch leader / helmsman) / Laurent Mermod (trimmer) / Ronan Le Goff (Bowman)
Watch No.3: Pascal Blouin (Watch leader / helmsman) / Ronan Guérin (trimmer) / Léopold Lucet (No.1, head of supplies and doctor)
Outside the watch system: Dominic Vittet (navigator)