Great America II today enjoyed a two-day lead over the mark set 154 years ago but were preparing for a slow and difficult crossing of the doldrums with its squalls, fickle winds and glassy calms.
Approaching the equator and still 3,900 miles from New York, Rich Wilson and Rich du Moulin aboard the trimaran Great American II had built a lead of 400 miles over the pace set by the extreme clipper ship Sea Witch in the China tea trade a century-and-a-half ago.
Since leaving Hong Kong on March 16, the 53-foot trimaran, with its two crew sailing watch-and-watch, has waged a see-saw battle with the ghost of the legendary 192-foot clipper, trailing it in the China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Sea Witch recorded 74 days 14 hours for the voyage and to beat this time Great American II must arrive in New York before May 29th in the afternoon.
Yesterday Great American II continued to open out on Sea Witch, logging 270 miles for the 24-hour period, her best day's run during the passage. During the last seven days she sailed 1,543 miles for an average distance of 220 miles a day.
Ken Campbell, the boat's shore-based weather router at Commanders' Weather in Nashua, N.H., predicted that Great American II and her crew would slow as they entered the doldrums late on Friday and might take as long as two days to pick their way through the squalls and calms before hitting the steady breezes of the northeast trades sometime on Monday.
A week ago weather conditions were continually forcing the boat on a northwards course closer to the African coast and away from the direct route to New York.
"They did an excellent job during the last week of getting out of an area of light winds and getting west,"
Campbell said. "Closer to the African coast, the doldrums are gigantic, stretching 500 to 1,000 miles north to south. Once you're in them the only way out is going straight north, and at only 100 miles a day in those conditions it could take a long, long time."
Campbell said he would have preferred the boat to be even further west and closer to the South American coast but predicted Great American II could make a good crossing in a thin portion of the doldrums at 28 to 30 degrees longitude west, close to its current position. "That's the sweet spot,"
? he said.
Rainsqualls present the danger of too much wind and are usually followed by lighter breezes. For the next few days Great American II's crew must be especially vigilant to avoid the black clouds associated with squalls as they pick their way northward.
"We sailed through enormous, ominous black clouds throughout the day,"
Wilson said in a satellite email message today. "There was rain in most clouds. We outran two but were finally caught late in the afternoon by a rainsquall. We sailed on into the night, changing sail from spinnaker to reacher and back again before setting a jib and then the reacher again to deal with the changing conditions."