Manley Hopkinson anticipates the Doldrums any minute, but thrills to the pleasure of opening up a new chart
‘Slowly, almost imperceptibly the wind and the sea are changing. The sea is dropping, implying that there is less wind to the east and south to kick up any waves. This afternoon the wind dropped to 14 knots. This seemed to be the beginning of the end, but it is back up to 18 now, so maybe we have another night left, a last minute reprieve or postponement of our fated encounter with the Doldrums? Possibly imagined, but there seems to be less power behind the wind, more lethargy.
‘The crew watch the wind speed dial with dread. If willpower alone counted, the figures would stay high. I worry that the dial will give up the ghost with all the pressure to read high on it. I’m sure they are not designed to cope with such intense staring and muted curses at the start of any downward shift.
‘We are prepared for the fact that this may well be our last night of ‘pure magic’. The foredeck handover has been getting monotonous over the last three days” “Nope, nothing’s changed.” My crew have a sweepstake to see if it is port or starboard that makes the next change. I will have to re-open the ‘school of sailhandling’ if it goes on much longer!
‘Tradewind sailing is certainly relaxed stuff. It is a danger because it softens you; you think it’s easy. It spoils you. “This is what sailing is all about,” I hear. “None of this freezing and bouncing lark.”
‘Fortunately, before we reach Buenos Aries, the sea temperature will have dropped considerably and the passage down the coast of South America has its very own specialities: quick, long-lasting squalls and fast-developing lows. I feel that the foredeck and back will be up to full speed well before BA, with a renewed healthy respect for the sea and her capricious character!
‘This evening I had the pleasure, and it is indeed a real pleasure, of changing charts. It is a milestone of any passage to clean and fold away a chart that has become a part of the nav station and replace it with a crisp, clean one showing different seas and shores. There is a palpable excitement about the yacht when the watch first look at the new chart.
‘Crowds gather round the table as I explain the new hazards and features now exposed. Our new chart, ‘the South Atlantic’ is tantalisingly folded over so as not to expose Cape Horn – not yet – though I do give a glimpse to tease. It is folded to show just our destination for Leg 2. It is not virginal, for we have already marked it with the main routeing and ‘no go’ areas. I may have been through this ritual many times, but I am still excited by it, and I hope I always will be.
‘The die has been cast now that decides our position for the Doldrums. It is too late to change? I wonder what is happening on the other boats. I look at their positions and it is difficult not to doubt my understanding of the Doldrums.
‘From all the info that I have, which includes the many, many millions of dollars that have gone into the satellite imagery, for all Jungle Bob’s and my pouring over a myriad charts, I believe that the best place to cross now is to the west. The other yachts must have the same sources of information. The scenario of the skipper and his mate fathoming the pictures to create their own understanding of events is surely the same.
‘Yet each boat seems to be crossing at a different point. Why? What a lottery this will be. The yacht that gets through first will say, of course, that they had it right, leaving the rest to scratch their heads. May that yacht be us!
‘We have had some information on events back home from race HQ. It is good to keep in touch. Apparently, Britain is now feeling the effects of our old friend Hurricane Michael. Well, please pass on our regards! We very much enjoyed our little liaison with Mike and his family, little Mickey and Nadine. We hope that Michael treats you kindly.
‘The days may be counted