Thierry Dubois and Emma Richards are catching fast, but Bernard Stamm is plotting his escape from the Doldrums
At the head of the Around Alone fleet, Bernard Stamm has been slowing as he reaches the paralysing grip of the Doldrums. Behind him, Thierry Dubois and Emma Richards have been steadily reducing the distance separating them. Who will get the new wind first? We’ll see in the next few days.
Emma reports today that she has spent two hours up the mast fixing the staysail halyard block, the one piece of damage during the storm last week. It’s a cobbled-together job, she admits, one she hopes will last until Cape Town. “I’ll need that halyard a lot over the next couple of weeks.”
A long way behind, the majority of Class 2 boats have picked up the tradewinds and are in blissfully fast reaching conditions. It’s time to put on some miles.
Today this long report came from Bernard Stamm. In it he looks back at his race since the start of leg 2, and reflects on the game plan as his rivals hunt him down:
‘When we set out from Torbay, the forecast was for muggy, lifeless weather, becoming very calm, before the fleet came across a first low-pressure area. Before leaving, I had established the position of this depression, as well as the beginning of another one, which was going to be much tougher.
‘If I managed to go round the north of the first one, I could do so with favourable winds. And that worked out fine. The second low pressure area, however, was right in our way and because of its size, between 2,000-3,000km across, there was no way around it, so we just had to face up to it, and make the best of the conditions on offer – always with the aim of sailing as little as possible close-hauled.
‘There was the possibility of heading into the centre of the depression and coming out of it in the south-western quarter, where the wind would already have backed west north-westerly. An advantage being that close to the centre of the low-pressure area, there is less wind, but when you are entering and leaving the depression, you get the full force of the storm.
‘The other huge advantage would be that all the westing needed to clear the Cape Verde Islands would already be done, and I would pick up the trade winds with less tailwind than my rivals, so that was an option to consider.
‘However, there’s a big difference between theory and practice, and going through all that is certainly going to stick with me. I didn’t have any major disasters, if you don’t count the fact that at the height of the storm the solent, which was furled, began to unroll and balloon upwards.
‘The sail could only unroll at the top, while at the bottom, where the sheets are attached, there was the opposite effect, and it just pulled itself tighter. Without immediate action, there was the risk of everything breaking. At a certain point, there would be a greater area of sail out than is advisable in 70 knots of wind, and you risk losing the mast.
‘So I had to run off, with the wind behind me, then furl, unfurl and furl again several times in a row, so that tension was even and it could be furled up evenly. At that time, I was heading off towards Iceland with a 70-knot tailwind, and you end up speeding along. It was in my interest to get things moving quickly.
‘I had to go through the centre of the low-pressure area, head towards Cape Verde, taking advantage of the strong winds in the depression and my position further west to extend my lead over the enemy. Next, I had to get in the right place to get through the Doldrums.
‘Statistically, the Doldrums are narrowest at around 26°W. The further west you go, the greater the chance of getting through without too many problems, but you’re not in such a good position to pick up the tradewinds in the southern hemisphere. You have to find a satisfactory compromise. In a sailing race, luck and chance don’t have a big role to play. Everything can be explained, analysed and more or less accurately predicted. Except here. Here, things always go wrong.
‘The aim is always to come off less badly than your opponents. For the moment, it’s for me that things are going badly, as I can see my lead narrowing and I’ve been stuck here without any wind for at least 12 hours, and the preceding hours weren’t much better either. But the others are going to have to go through it, too.
‘The problem is that the situation is ever changing, and they may all slip through together. So everything we’ve achieved up to now would have to be done all over again.
‘A short description of the area? The sea is flat calm. There’s just a little bit of chop left, like in the Med after a short squall. The weather is fine, with a sky full of different sorts of cloud. Most of them are cumuli, those clouds marking variable weather, which look like little sheep in the sky.
‘Generally speaking, those cumuli change into cumulonimbus clouds; that’s to say they rapidly get much bigger, rise up and take on a thundery character. So the bottom of the cloud is very low and very dark, and the rain that comes out of it seems to join up with the sea. It can stretch out over half of the horizon. That’s what it looks like from the outside.
‘When you’re underneath one of them, it rains and blows so much that, apart from the temperature, it’s more like the North Sea in November. Very often, when the thunderstorm shows itself, it’s so close to you that you can smell the sulphur. With all of that, you still have to try to get a move on and use the winds, which are variable in strength and direction.
‘It’s in such places that you need to do the most work to make the least headway, but if you do nothing, you don’t make any progress at all. We’ll be seeing the results of the Northern hemisphere stretch in a few days.