27 January 2023, Leg 2 onboard Biotherm. Paul Meilhat and Amélie Grassi stacking sails. © Anne Beauge / Biotherm
The Ocean Race: Imoca sailors line up for the doldrums crossing
Stakes are high as The Ocean Race fleet begins to settle into position for crossing the equator and passing through the doldrums (officially the Intertropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ).
From wikipedia: "The Intertropical Convergence Zone, known by sailors as the doldrums because of its monotonous windless weather, is the area where the northeast and the southeast trade winds converge. It encircles Earth near the thermal equator though its specific position varies seasonally..."
As one can imagine, 'monotonous, windless weather' isn't a good place for a yacht race. The teams will be looking to cross through as quickly as possible and get into the southeast trade winds. But this is easier said than done.
At the moment, a crossing further to the west would appear to be advantageous as the band of light conditions is slightly narrower.
But it's a balance. Cape Town is still to the southeast, so every mile sailed directly west only adds to the miles evenutally sailed towards the finish line. Determining when to make the push south and into the doldrums is the decision being taken right now.
The line-up appears to be Guyot environnement - Team Europe attempting to cut the corner over 100 nautical miles to the east of Biotherm, who is just 20 miles east of 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Holcim-PRB. Taking a flyer out to the west, behind the fleet, is Team Malizia, who will hope that the others stall and they can gain back the miles they've invested in their choice.
“This race isn’t going to be won here, it’s going to be won or lost in the Doldrums," said 11th Hour Racing Team skipper Charlie Enright. "[Our plan is to] go in there close (to the others), and see what happens. Eventually everyone will end up on port and head south at the point they want to cross the Doldrums. Once you are in the Doldrums, it’s anyone’s game.”
This weekend, the advantage position on the tracker is potentially at its least accurate, as the tracker can't account for an undetermined gain that may (or may not) be realised by sailing further west. Keep that in mind until the fleet emerge back into the tradewinds on Sunday/Monday.
One of the other differences to emerge since the start is the speeds and angles the boats can sail according to sail selection. Teams are allowed eight sails on board and the choice appears to have been on whether to carry the A2 headsail. Amory Ross explains:
"There are two camps in the fleet out here: those with A2s and those without. A2s are the big white spinnaker-y things. It’s clear Holcim-PRB and Malizia chose not to bring theirs in favor of another sail. Their black A3s require higher, hotter angles to get up to speed and so while ourselves and Biotherm have managed to stay relatively low and in the same stretch of ocean, we’ve lost touch (at times) with Holcim, spearing off to the northwest and out of AIS range. You can see the same difference in angles between Malizia and GUYOT, who with their A2 has been much lower all the time and they’ve done well to shave the miles and sail through the back of the fleet."
Holcim PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier acknowledges they're feeling some pain.
"The boats in front of us have been a better it seems, but it's also about the sail choice," he explains. "We decided not to take a sail that would have been useful now. We are paying a bit since the start for this choice. But we are doing our best not to lose too much and hopefully in the south Atlantic we will gain with the sail we have and they don't have. It's part of the game."
It will be fascinating game to watch play out this weekend.
Leg Two Rankings at 1200 UTC - 28 January 2023
1. Biotherm, distance to finish, 4207.1 miles
2. Team Holcim-PRB, distance to leader, 6.9 miles
3. 11th Hour Racing Team, distance to leader, 8.0 miles
4. Guyot environnement - Team Europe, distance to leader, 8.2 miles
5. Team Malizia, distance to leader, 225.5 miles