Volvo Ocean Race - Into the Doldrums

Groupama Sailing Team during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.
The Volvo Ocean Race sleigh ride of the past two days is coming to an end and Groupama 4 (Franck Cammas/FRA) is the clear victor.

With 2,532 nautical miles (nm) to run to the finish the teams are now setting up for their entry to the Doldrums, where luck will play a big part.


Although not well defined, the Doldrums belt lies near to the string of Solomon Islands, and it is possible for the fleet to pick their way through the islands although Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's skipper Ian Walker thinks it is unlikely, at least for his team positioned as they are, to the east. He believes the fleet will leave them to starboard, but the question is, by how much? 'Right on the button maybe, if you’re Telefónica, 50 – 100 nm if you’re Puma or Groupama 4,' he says.

Once in the Doldrums, it only takes one squall to see a promising lead evaporate. 'There is no recipe, you need some luck,' says Groupama’s French navigator Jean Luc Nélias.

Puma’s skipper Ken Read says that this time round, the windless zone does not look as ominous as those in other parts of the world. 'You can make a case that it’s going to be, hopefully, a little bit easier, but with that area, you just never know.' Weather experts are certainly predicting that the wind will not drop below 10 knots.

'We are still wary of it,' says Ian Walker, skipper of fourth placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. 'It’s relatively narrow, but it is still the Doldrums and one cloud can cost you 30 or 40 nm. A lot of it is about timing,' he adds. According to Walker, most of the cloud activity is in the early morning or later in the evening and he is hoping that his team will escape the worst by crossing in the middle of the day or at two in the morning.

At 1900 UTC tonight, the two front runners, Groupama 4 and Puma’s Mar Mostro have continued at high speed, averaging 18.5 - 19.2 knots, while the remaining four teams have seen speeds drop to as low as 15.1 knots for third-placed Telefónica (Iker Martínez/ESP), who is suffering through having to sail a tighter angle.

Volvo Ocean Race website