After days of spinnaker sailing and a fresh breeze, the Clipper 2002 fleet now have to work even harder for every knot of boat speed. With squally, wet weather surrounding them, Neptune has warmly welcomed them to the Doldrums.
As this morning's radio schedule revealed, positions have hardly changed throughout the fleet as they continue North. Jersey Clipper remains out in front, with Hong Kong and Glasgow following on their slightly more Westerly course than the rest of the fleet.
Bristol Clipper has managed to squeeze a little closer to Liverpool and joins them in equal fourth place. They also gain the title of 'most Northern boat' which has pleased skipper Richard so much he thought that it was occasion enough to clean out his cabin!
In his daily diary back to base, Richard described the current conditions well: "This afternoon has been very wet and squally. Up until an hour or two ago, we were making good progress but really having to work for it, flying all 3 kites, the Yankee, staysail and windseeker all in the space of one four hour watch. Before dinner, we disappeared in a very large rain cloud. Coming out the other side, the wind disappeared completely and it has been windless for the last hour or so. This is definitely the doldrums. According to the Sat C weather information, we should be in the middle at the moment. We had 3 hours of going nowhere, then just before the sched at midnight, the wind started to pick up from the north east and we are now creeping along close hauled with the windseeker."
This is tantalising stuff as trimmers constantly trim to the changing wind angles, helms have to refine the art of light weather driving. No longer do they need their full body weight to control a feisty yacht charging through the waves, all that is needed in these conditions is a feather touch and total concentration.
Every point of a knot boat speed becomes paramount. The winds often shift in strength and direction with every cloud and watch leaders have to be on the ball to keep the sails changing and the boat powered up. All this going on while it is either scorching hot or absolutely bucketing with rain. Perhaps the only good thing about the ITCZ is that the crew are probably cleaner than they have ever been on board!
Further back in the fleet, Cape Town and New York have had a chance to catch up slightly and squeeze the distance between themselves and the boys out front, as predicted. Diarist Peter HORWOOD reports that "We have made up a
little ground on the frontrunners simply because we still have a little wind and they haven't. This morning we swapped the mediumweight for the lightweight spinnaker and we are making modest progress under an ever hotter sun."
London Clipper have not only had racing on their minds over the last 24 hours. Last night, having noted their position, they stopped racing for a short period of time and turned their engine on in order to motor to both Bristol and Liverpool. Taking advantage of their proximity, Skipper Rory GILLARD decided that this was his best course of action as he needed spare parts that the two yachts were carrying in order to fix a persistent problem he was having with their all important Generator. Having collected the necessary parts, London Clipper returned to their previous position and returned to the race.
The fleet are now somewhat 'stuck in the middle' as they wait for their release from the Doldrums and for the more consistent winds of the North East Trades to set in. The big has to be who is going to break out of the ITCZ first and then what happens next? With around 2,500 miles still to run the race is still wide open as they leave behind the Brazilian Coast and move into U.S. waters.