Oh so close to the equator!
Blogs of Conrad and Nandor
In my last post I wrote that I was psyched up and ready to take on the worst of the unpredictably fickle winds that the doldrums could throw at us. In my mind’s eye I was Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday” giving his legendary locker room speech about how we would “climb outta hell… one inch at a time.” However we have had pretty smooth sailing, and I had a great time the night before last slaloming downpours with the big gennaker up while sometimes making 16 knots of boat speed over a piece of sea where 1.3 knots of wind were forecast. By the end of that one run we were a whole day and a half ahead of our routing! So much for fighting inch by inch.
Our surprisingly good progress has been interrupted by large islands of Sargasso seaweed, normally found in the Sargasso Sea (strangely enough) north of Guyana. This weed is made up of small spiky pieces that individually are nothing to worry about but they clump together to form patches, and the patches become islands, and they stick together like motivated velcro. All it takes is for one tendril to innocently wrap itself around the keel, daggerboard or rudder and seconds later it has gathered its mates to make a huge ball whose drag can halve the boat speed in these light airs and create enough turbulence on the rudders that we can barely control the boat. Every time a clump takes up residence on the rudder we have to put the boat into “reverse” to clear it. This means we push the bow of the boat directly up into the wind and hold it while, sails flapping, the speed reduces to zero, then goes negative while the weed floats free. This maneuver often lets the wind on the wrong side of the sails, pushing us into a quick tack and a gybe to recover our good course… our trace on the plotter is covered with random little circles but it’s still faster than continuing with the weed stuck to the boat.
So close to the equator this makes for hot work so I was thrilled when tonight the Spirit of Hungary was enveloped by a massive rain cloud and I got the chance to have a proper shower. Doldrums showers are always a little panicked, as you never want to soap up only to have the cloud move on before you’ve rinsed off! This time I needn’t have worried, as I had to time to leisurely wash myself from head to toe, while still charging through the black of the night. I must have make a comical sight, naked except for my headlight and my shoes, suds flying everywhere as I eased and trimmed the sails to respond to the gusts and lulls. My only hope was that Nandor wouldn’t wake up and think he’d left his boat in the hands of a dancing madman!
While the forecasts have only served for comic relief lately, I’m pretty optimistic that we have escaped the worst of the fluky winds and should now be able to make tracks northwards on one tack until the Canary Islands. Despite still having the equivalent of a transatlantic passage to complete, once across the equator it will feel like we’re almost back. Ah, but the wind just died! Maybe we’re still fighting for inches after all!
And from Nandor
1st April, 15 50 UT,“The way we ran across the doldrums was phenomenal. I’ve already had the fortune here in ’92 on the way down, when I ran across the notorious “Horse latitude” the same way as now. (It was called the Horse latitude in the great clippers’ era, because the ships were stranded there for so long the soldiers’ horses had died.)In the night cumulonimbus had showed on the sky, as a proof of the rising masses of air. This phenomenon is the collision of the south-easterly and the north-easterly air masses as they are forcing each other to rise, that is supported by a significant thermal lift as a result of the warming temperature. An amoebae-like stripe of changeable width is formed, where the huge air masses of significant humidity falls back in the form of showers. This endless war of wind affaires arises from the Earth’s rotation and the Sun’s heat, and while enormous powers are moving, showers and the rising air kills the wind. So, the showers had appeared and we’ve run between them in such a fortunate way, we could sail in the “current” between the two masses, where we could progress with 10-16 knots towards North. I was really enjoying it as the “train” took us. On the radar I saw two enormous-size storms above and below us, between which we were taken by the middle blast. By the dawn, the doldrums was behind us.A huge amount of seaweed makes our life difficult, which I have never seen here before. I feel like as if I was sailing on the Sargasso sea. They form islands, they are everywhere, and get stuck on the keel, the daggerboard, the rudder, the hydro-generator, everything. In every half an hour we go backwards, because the boat almost stops in the ratatouille of seaweeds. We’d been sailing like this for hours, when the ratatouille seemed to grow thinner.”