Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First signs of the Doldrums for Groupama 3

[Source: Cammas - Groupama] This Tuesday morning at around 0500 UT, Groupama 3 came face to face with the Doldrums. However, for the prelude to this series of squalls and storms, her speed was still constant at over 25 knots. The barrier of cloud is set to slow the giant trimaran's progress over the coming hours though..

It remains to be seen how this crossing of the `ocean desert' will go... The Doldrums is a difficult zone to define as the local phenomena are not visible on the satellite images: observing the density of the cloud mass is now possible with technological tooling (infrared, Doppler effect...), but it is impossible to know if the cumulonimbus on the horizon, will move or remain static, whether it will grow or become deflated, generate gusts or bring about calm conditions. As such the sailors will have to zigzag between the clouds to avoid the squalls and jump from light breeze to flurries of wind...

Groupama 3 blasting along during the 3rd day of their record attempt. Off the Canary Islands, 8 November 2009. Video copyright Groupama

The climatic wall

Before sunrise this Tuesday morning, Groupama 3 entered into the `zone of turbulence: the first squalls, thunder and lightning, rain and variable wind. At 7°30 North, the setting was taking on a whole new dimension, however Franck Cammas and his crew finally ended up with the advantage of penetrating this "world of darkness' in the early hours. The minute the sun rises, at around 0800 UT, navigator Stan Honey will be able to understand the seascape more clearly as the storm activity is often less intense in the daytime. With nearly 300 miles to cover before converging with the SE'ly tradewinds at around 3° North, and hence a steady breeze and clear skies, the crew will have to be on their guard with their hands to the sheets... Reef taking, changes of headsail and modifications to the trajectory are on today's schedule, which is likely to be highly charged in every sense!

The fifth day at sea is essential in confirming Groupama 3's lead over the reference time: 665 miles... The passage time to the equator will depend on a swift exit from this zone and if Franck Cammas and his men are able to combine quick responses and an element of luck, they may well have clocked up a two day lead as they switch hemispheres. If this is the case they will establish a new reference time over this stretch of the course and less than six days to get to the equator is now a distinct possibility! Over the past few hours the crew has been able to recuperate in preparation for spending the day on deck manoeuvring and trimming the sails... and even taking a cold shower!

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