A week with squalls and motoring across the Doldrums

This week the fleet of Clipper yachts have crossed the half-way mark of their journey to Rio de Janeiro with Unicef approx. 700 miles behind the leader. It is also the week the teams can score extra points and skipper tactics and strategy are therefore becoming even more important.

First of all there is the scoring gate north of the Cape Verde islands. It is a line set by two GPS waypoints. The first yacht to cross that line gets 3 points, the second two points and the third one point. When you are at the front it can become a difficult decision. “Am I going for the scoring gate where there are light winds and get three or two points or am I staying in strong winds elsewhere to get to Rio quicker and win the race”. As you may have seen some have gone for the scoring gate while others, realising they could not get points stayed more east to get better winds.

The team have also been dealing with “squalls”. A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed usually associated with rain showers, thunderstorms, or heavy snow. These squals can approach at great speed, many times in a day and quick action is required to reduce the sail area by reefing and changing sails.

Another major milestone is the passing of the “Doldrum Corridor Start” line which you may have seen on the Race tracker. During the 13-14 race many yachts were stuck in the Doldrums for a considerable amount of time. Many arrived very late in Rio de Janeiro, sponsor opportunities were missed, family visits were disrupted and some teams did not get enough time to prepare the boat for the next leg. New racing rules have therefore been introduced, a method for avoiding the fleet being trapped for many days in the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone).

Under the new rules, when the teams reach the ‘Doldrums Corridor’ each yacht will be allowed the use of its engine for a maximum of 6 degrees of latitude or an elapsed time of 60 hours, whichever occurs first. All yachts must cease motor-sailing at 2 degrees north regardless of whether they have completed 6 degrees of latitude under engine or not. At the time of writing LMAX Exchange has cleared the corridor and are sailing again. While Unicef are approaching the northern starting line of the “Doldrums Corridor”.

My preparations are progressing steadily. The Vietnam VISA is applied for and my passport with the VISA page expected back next week. My new passport has travelled more miles than I have on this journey so far. The boxes with sailing gear are being shipped to Australia and the preparations with my company to stay four weeks in the US are also shaping up.

Just eleven weeks before my departure to join the team.