Oryx Quest leader Doha 2006 is a few miles south of the equator dealing with fickle, frustrating conditions

As the sun breaks on day 60 of the Oryx Quest 2005, Brian Thompson and team on the leading boat Doha 2006 are a few miles south of the equator dealing with fickle, frustrating conditions. They are in Phase One of double doldrums and the going is erratic as the wind changes from patchy calm to sudden, violent squalls.

The nights are the worst because the cooler air increases the squall activity making for a restless few watches as the entire sail wardrobe is pulled up the rig, and then packed away in their bags. For those trying to get some rest below it’s not much better as the sound of winches grinding and running footsteps inches above your head constantly jar you out of a restful sleep.

A diligent crew can transit the area quickly if they are able to play the squalls right, but sometimes it’s not easy to figure out what they are going to do. One of the best tools is the radar. Most squalls are clearly visible on radar and can be seen as a tight cluster where the radar picks up the interference from the raindrops. It’s important to know if the squall is stationary, or moving, and if it is moving you need to know its speed and direction.

A stationary squall must be avoided at all costs. They suck the energy out of the atmosphere leaving an area of calm that can extend well beyond the area of rain. Often it’s worth sailing perpendicular to your course to slip by one of these languid, speed-eating systems. On the other hand a squall that is moving can provide a nice bit of fresh breeze that can scoot the boat forward covering 50 miles before the wind dies again. The trick is close communication between those stuffed below monitoring the instruments, and those on deck changing gears with the sail inventory. It’s no wonder the French call the region Pot au Noir.

Almost 2,000 miles to the south of Doha 2006, Tony Bullimore and his team on Daedalus are facing a completely different weather scenario. They have been enjoying fair sailing in a ridge of high pressure that extends well south of their current position. High pressure weather is beach weather and while the temperature in not exactly good for sunbathing, the days are clear with bright blue sky above and the ocean an undulating patchwork of blues.

These benign conditions may have lasted for few days had a cold front not formed slap bang in the middle of the high. As the low develops it going to start feeding them some nasty headwinds as Tony described in his daily log. “We have been told by Lee Bruce, our shore based weather router, that we will get involved with a depression and should have around 40 knot winds,” he wrote. “It will be from the north screaming across the decks, but the wind will be going round to the north-west and then west. It’s gonna be a bit bumpy for a while but we are going in the right direction, and we could end up with winds that will take us faster to the finishing line.”

Tony and his crew are making the best use of the light winds to check over the boat and repair any damage that occurred in the last week. Daedalus is still 4,680 miles from the finish while Doha 2006 has a little over 2,000 miles to go.