Monday, 14 November 2011

Western way thrusts pursuers headlong into the Doldrums

Have you ever tried to cross a muddy field covered with long grass with a group of walkers?

You will note that everyone spreads out and thinks their route is best. An element of competitive exploration creeps in, especially when your mate gets stuck in the mud.

That’s exactly what the fleet of four boats have been doing as they creep ever closer to the elusive ITCZ, or Doldrums if you’re a sailor.

Convergence zone
The north-east and south-east trade winds converge in a low-pressure zone known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ.

Solar heating in the region forces air to rise through convection, which results in sporadic tropical storms. They’re short-lived, but can push a team a few precious miles forward over a rival boat that’s not so lucky.

The general consensus is that west is best. The French sailing Groupama tried sniggling down the West African coast. At first they made good gains and looked like pulling it off, with a lead of over 240nm.

Chasing teams
But after four days of frustrating sailing westwards, the shift that others had been hoping for finally came. The chasing teams have now overhauled the French and are heading headlong for the Doldrums at 20knots.

Looking at the tracker now, it looks like a freshly painted blue wall with four coloured drips running down it. Some drips are running faster than others.

The analogy of the muddy field works well, because just like the stagnant pools of sinking sludge you don’t know where they are. The Doldrums morph and move around like a watery windless ghost.

In the next day or so, this windless spirit will develop around the fleet, stopping them in their tracks. Who will be blessed with the hand of fortune? Or who will get a boot full of mud?

Mark Covell

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