Gryphon Solo has finally broken through the doldrums and is on a fast track for the finish. After a frustrating weekend of blustery squalls, waterspouts and torrid temperatures the red Finot 50 is on a final push for Brazil. At the 14:00 GMT poll Gryphon Solo had just 870 miles to go and was sailing along in near perfect conditions at a little over 10 knots. The Anglo American team of Joe Harris and Josh Hall had also just crossed the equator and were happy to be in the Southern Hemisphere. "We had a relatively easy time in the doldrums," Joe reported in a satellite phone call. "It seems that we are now out of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) and on a fast course for Salvador."
While the race is a long way from over, having the doldrums behind them lends a measure of relief to the crew. It's an area of the race where breakages can occur and also a place where many miles can be lost in just a few hours. The doldrums, or Pot au Noir as the French call the region, is one of the toughest parts of the race. Pot au Noir translates literally into Black Pot, and that's what it can be like. The doldrums occur where great masses of air from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet. It is also an area of tremendous heat being so close to the equator and the ocean is subject to day after day of relentless, pounding sunshine. The result is hot, moist, electrically charged air that can give rise to enormous storms. One moment the ocean is glassy calm; the next it is whipped up by 40 knots of moisture laden wind. No one really knows why the French call the doldrums Pot au Noir. Some say that the sailors of old gave it the name because of its huge storms with clouds as black as night. Other, less poetic, sources claim that it was the slave traders running between Africa and the West Indies that called it Pot au Noir because the bodies of slaves who died of thirst aboard becalmed ships were thrown overboard. There is probably a grain of truth in both stories with the Pot au Noir being famous for its calms as well as its dark, violent storms.
It's true that stories of storms make for compelling reading, but sometimes it's the fine days out on the water that do the most to inspire. Josh Hall, no stranger to the stark beauty of the open ocean, has clearly not lost his sense of wonder. His report sent earlier today is an eloquent description of life on board the good ship Gryphon Solo and is printed here in full.
"As we enter the last few days of this Transat Jacques Vabre of ours I have been reflecting on the many, many fine moments we have had the privilege of experiencing. We have sailed in stormy headwinds, bashed our way through cold fronts, steered the boat through sunny tradewind skies with the spinnaker dragging us along at easy high speeds, and we have laid in the bunk listening to the hiss of ocean sluicing past the hull and the hum of the wind through the rigging. It has been a truly magical voyage and in great company as well, but one moment, for me, stands out above the rest.
After gybing south of Madeira (criminal not to stop by the way!), we began an exhilarating few days of adrenalin pumping downwind sailing at high speeds in the strong northeast trade winds. During this period we were blessed with a near full moon that rose before sunset and set as the sun lifted on the eastern horizon gifting us with a nocturnal searchlight that you could read a newspaper by.
We were hand-steering full time – taking 3 hour spells to wield the tiller. This was hard downwind sailing at its best with the 20 foot waves at a perfect angle for surfing on our 50 foot long board and a steady 30 knot wind filling our cloud of canvas. The helm, as long as we didn't let the boat take charge of it, was light as a feather and we steered the red rocket like a dinghy, playing the waves and wind angle for the highest speeds......18, 22, 26 knots for hour after hour, day after day, running down our latitude at an almost alarming rate.
On the second night I was at the helm with Joe counting some well-earned sheep in the bunk below. The sky was crystal clear and the milky way a treasure trove of jewelry – a countless diamond studding of stars and planets with the center piece pearl being the moon. In this light, the ocean was a heaving surface of mercury with regular streaks of sulphur where wave crests broke all around. I felt the stern lift as a larger than most wall of water picked us up for another sleigh ride. As we took off down its face I glanced over my shoulder behind me where three dolphins flew out of my wave and through the path of moonlight. I was completely mesmerized. The moment stood still. The world stopped turning. There was just me, the wave and the dolphins bathed in luxurious moonlight. In that moment all of my life concerns, and those that know me know I have many at present, disappeared. This was my nirvana and if I could I would have stayed trapped in that moment of exquisite beauty and raw nature forever, never tiring of the view. I was rudely brought back to reality by the tiller reminding me that unless I concentrated a little this 24 knot surf was going to end in a wipe out at the bottom of the wave. Helm down, back on the wind, next wave lifting the stern, but I doubt any wave will be like the previous one. And people wonder why we do this stuff??!!"
Via Satellite: New Audio Posted Today
There are three new audio recordings at gryphonsolo.com. [ CLICK HERE TO LISTEN ] Joe discusses the current conditions and the doldrums crossing. There will be a new report from Joe on Tuesday.