A vast zone of uncertainty, the Doldrums could well cause the leaders to bunch together over the coming hours.
After negotiating the Cape Verde archipelago without a hitch, be it a westerly option or a course straight through the middle of the islands, the top 5 IMOCA 60s are hurtling along offshore of the African coast in a fine tradewind which is remaining consistent. Pushed along by a north-easterly breeze, which is oscillating between 23 and 28 knots, these powerful monohulls are really showing what they’re made of by driving hard, due south, 120° from the wind.
Right now the emphasis is on managing your steed well so as to avoid breakage, however the leading group has now managed to steal a march on the rest of the fleet and is spending a great deal of time at the chart table. Grib files, satellite images… the crews are hunting down all the resources available to them to get some idea of what’s in store in the Doldrums, which appear to stretch some 300 miles in width. It’s hard to find any reassurance however.
The leaders all seem to be converging towards the same place, between 27°30 and 28°00 West by 10° North, which is a fairly classic entry point ultimately. The zone with the lightest breeze will probably lie between 4° and 6° North, as this satellite animation shows (blue zones: little cloud activity, yellow zones: considerable activity). The main worry at this stage is that the computer models are really struggling to come up with the exact limits of the windless zones and are failing to anticipate the formation of any big squalls behind these zones, where the wind could disappear for hours on end… It’s a cursed zone synonymous with great uncertainty.
The only thing that MACIF (François Gabart & Michel Desjoyeaux) and PRB (Vincent Riou & Jean Le Cam) can be sure of, is that the approach towards the Doldrums will cause a bunching up of the leaders, who are currently a little over 110 miles apart.
Of note is the fact that Maître CoQ (Jérémie Beyou & Christopher Pratt) has come off best in the chasing pack that opted to pass to the West of the archipelago. By tracing a slightly more direct course, a tad further to the east of Safran (Marc Guillemot & Pascal Bidegorry) and Cheminées Poujoulat (Bernard Stamm & Philippe Legros), she is now some thirty miles or so ahead. Some 200 miles in front of MACIF, the positions of the two Multis 50s currently testify to the injustice of this Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Indeed, whilst Actual is powering along at over 16 knots slightly to the west of the direct route, Fenêtres A. Cardinal is stuck making just 2.5 knots... A sign of things to come for the IMOCAs perhaps?