Will Oxley - navigator aboard Doha 2006 - sent yachtingworld.com this special report from the Oryx Quest 2005

All four yachts racing in the Oryx Quest 2005 have now crossed the equator, and are now racing south in the Southern Hemisphere. It must have been a sweet moment aboard Doha 2006 when their GPS position changed from north to south and they knew that they were first across the line.

Will Oxley – navigator aboard Doha 2006 – sent yachtingworld.com this special report written on Saturday: “I am sitting here in the moisture making machine dripping with sweat as I type. I have a chamois to keep wiping my arms and I am using an external keyboard so that the sweat running down my arms does not wreck the computer. I keep reminding myself that the payback comes when we are in the Southern Ocean and I am spared the long hours on deck.

“The last week has been quite a geography tour as we have made our way down the Arabian Sea and into the Indian Ocean proper. On Thursday we found ourselves avoiding the Lakshadweeps, a beautiful group of coral reef islands owned by India. We then passed down the east side of the chain of the Maldives. I wondered, as we sailed past these places, how the people were dealing with the aftermath of the devastation of the tsunami. These island chains depend so much on their coral reef resources for their economies. My ‘other job’ as a marine scientist at the Australian institute of marine science (AIMS) has taken me to some pretty interesting places and I believe a team from AIMS is presently assessing the after effects of the tsunami at the request of the Maldivian government.

“A few days earlier I had been looking at our options course wise to ensure the best crossing point for the doldrums. A couple of these ‘options’ took us through the Maldive island chain, which is strewn with coral atolls. I poured over the admiralty chart and noticed with some alarm that many of the soundings had been done in 1851 by leadline! Luckily the wind kept us high of the island group and we passed down the eastern side. We did have to dodge quite a bit of flotsam in this area most likely still drifting around after being ripped from the shores of Sri Lanka on Boxing Day.

“Crossing the equator is never an exact science, especially in an ocean which has not had many (any?) trans-latitudinal yacht races before. I came into the project late with no time for the normal research on the weather. That said we do have the advantage in this races of outside routing and we are using a very capable mob in the States. We use a variety of meteorological models to predict the areas of calm and wind but none do a particularly good job of handling the complex weather situation in this part of the world and so the focus is on visible and infra red satellite imagery and Quikscat; a satellite that is able to determine windspeed and direction analysing the sea surface texture. This is a sun syncronous satellite so we only get two passes a day; one in the morning and one just before dark. There is a delay as the data are posted and made available on the web and our weather router onshore and I always wait anxiously for the next image, as this will play a major role in the next 12 hours routing. The onshore router sends a txt message to our Iridium phone when the image is available and then I go online to download it. The satellite has a blind spot in each pass and two days ago this blind spot was right over us, which is Murphy’s Law in action. So far this strategy has been relatively kind to us and for now we are still making good progress south of the equator.

“The days are not without some fun. Today in particular for fun for all except one. After the routine research, conducted onboard yachts as you approach the equator, it was discovered that for one poor crew member this was to be his first crossing of the line. Andy Meiklejohn, one of our two bowmen, was the unlucky soul. Andy did not submit easily and was found hiding in the wing mast some 80ft in the air. After some ‘coaxing’ Andy was recovered to the deck for the ceremony and received the requisite dolopings of slops. Neptune on this occasion had a remarkable resemblance to Paul Larson and he were accompanied by a particularly evil side kick Fraser Brown. Two antipodeans doling out the punishment to another. Andy took it all in good humour but his clothes will require some serious washing in the next rain squall.

“Back to the navigation and weather routing. There is plenty of tricky stuff ahead and Geronimo is making some good gains as we slow down in the ITCZ. Cheers, Will Oxley”