Hatfield in his rhythm

Derek Hatfield crossed the equator this week and headed into the southern Atlantic Ocean, making up some ground on the boats ahead of him in the Vendée Globe round-the-world race.

Crossing the Doldrums near the equator was not as difficult as he feared, as he was fortunate to have some wind in the typically becalmed waters. As he moved into the southern hemisphere, he began fighting headwinds, which make life on Algimouss Spirit of Canada harder, as the boat must constantly tack to make progress. This means long hours at the wheel and little opportunity for sleep. (Most of these sailors are just getting snatches of two hours of sleep here and there; managing fatigue is a big part of the challenge.)

At the front of the pack, the lead has changed several times. Gitana Eighty is no longer at the head of the pack, having moved to a more westerly route. BT leads, followed by VM Matériaux and Generali, but the lead is changing very frequently, as the group prepares to make a big left-hand turn as they line up their approach to the waters under South Africa.

Hatfield sent several updates this week. Here's what he wrote as he approached the equator:

59 miles to do to cross the equator! This is my 5th time crossing that magical line and it is always special having the GPS just flip over from North to South, no fanfare or special signs, it doesn't care so much.

For me this kind of marks the end of phase one in the race - start line to the equator. Phase two starts immediately and takes us down to the south.

It's a little slow today it seems, more upwind work as I get into the weather systems south of the equator. The doldrums were non existent this time across which was lucky. Normally it is a slow painful crossing with many black clouds to negotiate. Thunder and lightning storms and big wind holes that can last for hours. Most of the fleet crossed without stopping I would imagine.

I am very tired today, I had a long night on deck watching for ships and monitoring the autopilot. Three ships came directly from the south, head on and very close. It's a little intimidating to have a large ship playing chicken with a small sailboat. About midnight the autopilot decided to tack the boat while I was asleep and I was rudely awakened with the boat totally on its side going sideways on the opposite tack. It took me about an hour to get it all back on track again and luckily no damage.

I guess the pilot needs some attention so I think I will call him Joshua, after Joshua Slocum the famous Canadian who was the first person to sail around the world single handed. The autopilot on Spirit of Canada in the Around Alone was called Joshua as well.

And today, he sent this message:

Hello from Algimouss Spirit of Canada.

Slowly, ever so slowly the wind backs as we beat and thrash our way upwind. Most uncomfortable. I'm not sure if the fleet ahead of me had upwind conditions like this but it would explain why they did not pull away after the doldrums like I thought they should have. Normally we would be close reaching down the coast of Brazil. Ironically when we come this way again in 7 or 8 weeks, we will probably be upwind again past Brazil towards the finish line. The humidity is taking it's toll in skin rashes and blisters. Everytime I go on deck it's either a salt water shower or foul weather gear while sweating to death underneath. After more than two weeks at sea, I begin to wonder if "foul" weather gear refers to the outside or the inside of the gear. Time for a good rain shower I'm hoping, before it gets too cold in another week or so. Time for lunch; chicken with noodles and bread and peanut butter and jam. And a french chocolat pudding for dessert.

1. Photo is courtesy of the race organizers at http://www.vendeeglobe.org/
2. For more detailed discussion of the race and sailing strategy, see the Daily Sail's reporting on the race.
3. For those of you that are reading the Zanepost race update for the first time...The event began on November 9th and we're providing periodic updates. See previous days for more information or go to the first entry for background: Thirty sailors tackle solo race around the globe.
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