An ocean of uncertainty

Following a harsh passage around the Cape of Good Hope, we finally turned our nose northwards. Secretly, each of us envisaged ourselves devouring the southern hemisphere on a charge as we wound around the huge Saint Helena High in the tradewind. This was achieved in a week. Following on from that, we simply hope that ‘our' sea opens its doors towards Europe, without forcing us onto an overly difficult assault course. However, having sailed the length and breadth of it, explored and battled over it so many times before, we know that North Atlantic routes are never easy.

The Doldrums is the ocean's first hazard. Normally, the safest route to traverse it is right in the middle of the Atlantic, between 25 and 30° west. That is where it is less thick and where statistically the calms are less painful. However, this passage forces us to make a big detour towards the west and extends the course considerably. On the African side, the calm zone is extremely wide, often spanning over 1,000 kilometres, except in summer where sometimes the tropical or stormy lows come and stir up this windless hole, which is the case at the moment.
Coming from the south, we've thus decided to ‘cut the corner' on the approach to the African coast, laying bets on a giant cumulus measuring 600 kilometres in diameter, which has formed over Guinea, Senegal and Sierra Leone, and is perfectly visible on the satellite image as the colour of fire. If it evolves as expected, sucking in the wind up to 400 kilometres offshore, it will help us get to the latitude of Dakar, whilst simultaneously and painlessly joining up with the NEl'y winds which drop down the coast of Mauritania.

The second difficulty consists quite simply of tackling the last 6,000 kilometres which will take us to Tower Bridge. This temperate stretch of the ocean can have many different faces. The best scenario would be a dynamic low which sweeps you up at the Cape Verde Islands, accompanies you with its SW'ly winds and propels you into the English Channel in six days. The worst case scenario is a big, gentle zone of high pressure which transforms the course into a dreadful Way of the Cross. To date, nothing is clear. The chart shows a misshapen puzzle where any feverish hopes in the weather forecast are likely to fall apart on a sea without conviction or character. Where are we going to get through? Without Sylvain, our router, you might as well be playing Russian roulette. For several days already, we've both been observing the atmospheric ravings of our ‘garden' to try to work our way through this oceanic marshmallow. The ETAs fluctuate with every forecast. We calculate, estimate, hope… Perhaps 20th; no, 22nd… Impossible to predict.

The sea doesn't know how to count. It frequently changes its mind, improvises and distributes the wind according to what remains a poor command of equations. It puts the sailors to the test and makes their wives wait at the quayside.

Crossing the equator yesterday after four weeks at sea, the desire to bring this journey to a close tumbles out of the mouths of the crew who are unable to contain their impatience. “When will we get there?” I am absolutely incapable of giving them an answer. The only truth is that of the miles we've covered. And at the present time, we still have 3,055 to go.

Dominic Vittet

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