Round-the-world leaders reach the Doldrums; Hatfield near Madeira

The leaders in the single-handed Vendée Globe yacht race have arrived in the Doldrums, the area of ocean near the Equator where the air is notoriously still and sailing becames difficult.

Loick Peyron in Gitana Eighty leads a group of about six boats fighting for position and searching for the best path to enter the Doldrums. The skipper who reads the faint breezes best could be the first in and the first out of the "black pot, " as the French call this region.

The Doldrums is also known as the "Inter-tropical Convergence Zone." It's an area that usually lies about 5 degrees on either side of the Equator. The sun heats the water in this area and moisture rises in convection currents straight up, but does not move horizontally due to the lack of wind. The Doldrums is an area of high humidity and fierce convectional squalls can bring sudden downpours.

In previous centuries, mariners sometimes would get trapped for weeks at a time in the stifling air here and many sailors died of disease or malnourishment. The Vendée Globe web site points out the Doldrums is "synonymous with extreme tiredness, because such effort was required to get out of this area with the crews having to row longboats in order to tow the vessels, the notorious zone of persistent calms gave rise to the expression 'to be down in the doldrums.' "

Michel Desjoyeux in Foncia, the winner of the last edition of the race four years ago, is behind the leading pack, but is the racer who has covered the most distance in the last 24 hours, almost 257 nautical miles.

Like Derek Hatfield in Algimouss Spirit of Canada, Desjoyeux was one of the racers who had to return to port to make repairs after the first stormy day.

Hatfield, meanwhile, is sailing smoothly in the vicinity of Madeira and will be charting a course for the Cape Verde Islands next. Like the competitors before him, he will need to plot his course carefully. In this area, some chose to steer well to the West of the Islands, while others decided to take the shorter, but riskier, route of navigating on the East side. Sailing too close to the islands can be a gamble because of the strong possibility of wind shadow created by the land mass. This can reduce the wind available to the sailor and really impede progress.

Whatever route Hatfield chooses, he has a reasonable chance of catching up to other competitors as they slow down near the Doldrums.

Reading the dispatches from the competitors, one gets the distinct impression that those who have found a way to get some quality sleep are now doing better than those who are severely sleep-deprived. Finding ways to sleep and choosing the best time to get some quality rest must surely be one of the most difficult tasks in an event like this.

Hatfield seems to have settled into a comfortable routine. Here's what he said in a recent dispatch from Algimouss Spirit of Canada:

Life on board is starting to take on the singlehanded sailors
routine. I’ve been eating fresh food from the start but it won’t
last much longer. I haven’t started into the freeze dried yet.
It’s getting warmer as I head south, it’s 26 C inside the cabin
today so almost time to take off a mid layer but it’s much cooler
on deck, especially in the shade. It won’t be long before I’ll be
into shorts; I’m sure they are at the front already for a while

I had a visit from a large pod of dolphins just before sunset
yesterday. There must have been 50 or more, all playing around
the boat. They always cheer me up as they look like the are
having so much fun.


1. Photo of Michel Desjoyeux in Foncia is by François Van Malleghem / DPPI / Vendée Globes, courtesy of
2. For more information on the Doldrums, see Trade Winds, Horse Latitudes, and the Doldrums
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