29 January 2023, Leg 2, Day 5 onboard Team Malizia. © Antoine Auriol / Team Malizia
The Ocean Race: Imoca fleet crossing an unusually large doldrums
It's been a difficult 24 hours for the entire fleet as the five Imoca teams become fully engulfed in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, better known as the doldrums.
The light, fickle winds, random storm cells and clouds that bring sudden puffs of wind along with rain and thunder and lightning, mean days and nights of uncertainty.
The prize for escape is immense - the promise of steady southeasterly tradewinds south of the equator and acceleration towards the final goal, the finish in Cape Town.
Historically, the band of light winds that characterise the doldrums is smaller the further west one is. This has dictated the strategy of all of the teams as they left Cabo Verde. But with Cape Town to the east, there was debate over how many extra miles to sail away from the finish in order to have a potentially easier passage through the doldrums.
At the exremes, GUYOT envirionnement - Team Europe has been trying to cut the corner in the east, while Team Malizia hit the traditionally safer option nearly 200 miles to the west. In between, from east to west, lie Biotherm, Team Holcim-PRB and 11th Hour Racing Team.
"We're at the gateway to the doldrums and we're still going fast," said Team Malizia skipper Will Harris on Sunday evening. "We're going twice as fast as the other boats right now and we just need to keep going like this, keep the boat moving. If we get a bit of luck and keep our fingers crossed, maybe we'll catch up some miles. But let's see - the doldrums can do anything."
According to the tracker, 'anything' is exactly what is playing out.
Malizia has slowed down, after making good gains and closing to within 90 miles on the leaderboard and about 50 miles on the north-south axis.
Interestingly, GUYOT environnement - Team Europe has so far escaped punishment for its easterly track and at 1300 UTC is ahead of the fleet both on the leaderboard and as the most southerly boat.
"The doldrums is really wide this time," said Sebastien Simon on GUYOT. "It won't be finished until at least the equator."
"No clouds but no wind," said a subdued Paul Meilhat on Biotherm. "We maybe did only 7 or 8 miles all night. Not a lot. There is also a little bit of current in front, so when there is no wind sometimes we are probably going backwards. But this morning is better."
The equator and the crossing into the Southern hemisphere is still about 100 miles away and depending on your luck, anywhere between 12 and 24 hours in the future.
Leg Two Rankings at 1300 UTC - 30 January 2023
1. Guyot environnement - Team Europe, distance to finish, 3909.4 miles
2. Biotherm, distance to leader, 21.3 miles
3. Team Holcim-PRB, distance to leader, 33.3 miles
4. 11th Hour Racing Team, distance to leader, 44.9 miles
5. Team Malizia, distance to leader, 87.7 miles