Samsung has pulled out a 120-mile lead over Vaio as they head through the Doldrums

Nearly three weeks in to their nine-month voyage, the 12 Global Challenge crews are facing possibly some of the trickiest conditions so far.

They’ve made it round the Azores High and entered the Intertropical Convergence Zone (Doldrums) at roughly the same latitude and Longitude, through the narrowest gap between the two pressure systems. Finding the fastest route from one Trade Wind System to the other is a bit of a lottery but keeping a direct route south seems to be the favoured option particularly for Matt Riddell and team aboard Samsung who continue to increase their lead over the now second-placed Vaio. There are now 40 miles between the two.

In the last 24-hours the Italian skipper Amedeo Sorrentino and team aboard Vaio have pulled through to second place ahead of Barclays Adventurer who’s now following a similar route over to the west.

Finnish skipper Eero Lehtinen and team aboard Team SAIC La Jolla have had bit of a tough time over the last few days getting stuck in a typical hole and dropping from third to sixth. Chatting exclusively to from the boat today Lehtinen said: “We entered Doldrums in good shape and France Meteo gave us high hopes for an easy passage through by indicating the location of the ITCZ zone far north (8-10N). It all went smoothly and we were sailing the rhumb line course and pulling away until we stopped for a whole night – and the others didn’t. The struggle continued for another two days and we have been paying for our gamble to remain furthest west for the entire leg. The Brazilian weather services put ITCZ much further south and that unfortunately proved right. No massive chancing but still enough to leave us alone with the troubles and now we are falling further behind the leaders.

“I have no idea why we have been struggling so much. All the boats around us counted on safer crossing further west, but this time the statistics were not favouring us, neither could we trust the grib files (as expected) as so far in the leg. Only hoping to break away from the Doldrums finally, then it’s time to reset targets and start chasing again. Samsung, who was even with us when we entered the Doldrums are now 120 miles ahead and looking very good. We have however, by no means given up on anything!”

Further back in the fleet in eighth place is Dee Caffari and team aboard Imagine It. Done who are settling down to the testing conditions. And by positioning themselves furthest east they hope to pick up a better wind angle as they approach Brazil. Chatting from the boat this morning Caffari said: “The breeze looked quite consistent as we approached the Doldrums. We entered with a massive introduction to squalls and thunderstorms that out-did any we had experienced previously. This has then been consistent for a couple of days. Once you have admitted that you are in the ITCZ you then look for the quickest way out which invariably is to head due south. Progress is hampered by light patches with little to no breeze to areas that are producing 30 knots from the leading edge of a cloud. These massive changes in wind speed produce countless sail changes in order to keep the yacht moving and reduce any potential sail damage.”

According to Caffari it seems that the whole fleet has been very conscious not to head too far west across the doldrums and get caught up with the tricky currents at top of Brazil which head up towards the Carribbean.

Paul Kelly’s team aboard Team Save The Children may be 356 miles behind the leader but are aware that the Doldrums could be the place where they could really pull back the miles. Communicating from the yacht this morning Kelly said: “With not much wind and a boat that weighs 40 tonnes searching for fresh isolated breeze would be futile. Our tactics are to steer the rhumb line and eek every last bit of boat speed from our yacht. Although the conditions are frustrating in the extreme heat and squally conditions the winds are but a couple of days away to carry us to Buenos Aires. Temperature down below 34.6 degrees C and even hotter on deck!”

Clive Cosby and Team Stelmar are also looking at the Doldrums as an opportunity to make up some ground after their bad call at the Canaries where they slipped out of the top three to ninth following the fleet on a procession south through the unusually weak Trade Winds.

Chatting from the boat this morning about their tactics through the Doldrums Cosby said: “Basically you always have to be looking ahead, so that means the Southern Atlantic and the influence of the high, where the trades will be. We were the most eastern boat coming towards the Doldrums and gained and lost miles; the leaders have pulled out, but so did we on the boats behind, that does not matter we are looking forward and there are a few boats now down to 60 miles ahead. All I tell the crew is sail our boat as fast as possible to BA, and now we are firmly set in taking places. With the equator crossing planned for tomorrow and the temperatures onboard becoming more bearable we are back on track and flying along at 9.5kts.”

Once through the Doldrums across the equator the wind should settle initially from the east allowing the fleet to ‘hug’ the shore of Brazil and head for the first stop Buenos Aires.

Positions at 0744 (Friday)

1 Samsung

2 VAIO 40 miles from the leader

3 Barclays Adventurer 58 miles from the leader

4 BP Explorer 93 miles from the leader

5 BG SPIRIT 107 miles from the leader

6 SAIC La Jolla 113 miles from the leader

7 Spirit of Sark 118 miles from the leader

8 Imagine It. Done. 134 miles from the leader

9 Team Stelmar 178 miles from the leader

10 Pindar 212 miles from the leader

11 Me To You 226 miles from the leader

12 Team Save the Children 356 miles from the leader