Gitana 13's recent return to the northern hemisphere corresponds to the second encounter with the Intertropical Convergence Zone for Lionel Lemonchois and his crew on this trip. The various difficulties in this meteorologically complex zone will dominate the attention of the ten men onboard. The crew may as well put any certainties aside for now, as they continue on their journey to San Francisco, taking advantage of all opportunities that arise.
Yesterday, for example, while they were theoretically sailing in the thick of the doldrums, the maxi-catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild was able to ride an unexpected southwesterly breeze all day long. The crew welcomed this local phenomenon, especially since the 15 knots of wind that was added to Gitana 13's sails allowed Lemonchois and his team to fly along at an average of over 16 knots—a rare occurrence over the past 48 hours! But the calm returned several hours later, and the boat speed plummeted: 1.1 knots at the 2:30am reading.
Gitana 13's crew hopes to work through the Intertropical Convergence Zone and find the exit in the next 24 hours. This estimate is purely hypothetical, since the conditions in the zone in which the 33-meter catamaran is now sailing have a propensity to change quickly. “We're in squall zones that are characteristic of the Convergence Zone. Despite the chop, the sea is perfectly manageable and I would even say good for sailing. We have a transition of around 350 miles to get past before we can consider ourselves in the clear! It's not going to be very easy, and we're going to have to react quickly on deck to interpret and exploit the slightest change in the wind,” said Dominic Vittet. In short, Lemonchois and his nine-man crew will have to wind their way through the big dark clouds hovering over their heads while avoiding getting trapped in the calms that lurk in these waters. After a night during which their boat speed dropped significantly, Team Gitana's ten sailors have another tricky day of sailing ahead of them.
Feared by sailors who cross them, the doldrums are where the northern-hemisphere trade winds (southeasterly) and southern-hemisphere trade winds (northeasterly) meet. These zones are unpredictable, because they harbor both violent squalls that can drive anemometer readings from 6 to 35 knots in an instant and areas of weak winds that can effectively stop boats in their tracks for hours at a time. Two very different behaviors that the doldrums display at will.
A few weeks back when it crossed the Atlantic doldrums, Gitana 13 experienced only mild weather, no squalls or other major disruptions. Will the same be true of the Pacific doldrums, or will they live up to their capricious nature? The answer in the next few hours.