Groupama sailing team, France’s first entry in the race in 18 years, slipped 24 hours behind the leaders after being snared by the Doldrums, a band of fluky weather lying a few hundred miles north of the Equator where the world’s weather systems converge.
Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG passed into the Southern Hemisphere at 1055 UTC after a quick run through the Doldrums. Hot on their heels as ever were Iker Martínez’s Telefónica, chasing their rivals across the Equator just 50 minutes later.
Tradition dictates that when boats cross the Equator first-timers must go before King Neptune and his court to be punished for former sins. On board PUMA it was 22-year-old helmsman Rome Kirby and media crewman Amory Ross, 27, in the crosshairs.
“Let’s just say they were both terrified,” explained skipper Read, who took on the role of official videographer for the ceremony.
“Kenny was brutal with the camera,” Ross joked. “I have a new perspective of life in front of a camera after those five minutes. Ken’s got the whole thing on tape. He made me swear I would have someone from the crew present when editing the video and photos.”
At the 1300 UTC position report CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand trailed the fleet leaders by 157 nautical miles. But with more than half of the leg still to sail, and with boat speed averaging a healthy 12 knots, skipper Chris Nicholson said their race was far from over.
Asked whether his team could still win Leg 1, Nicholson replied: “Absolutely. We’ve got 4,000 miles to go. We’ve got the hammer down as hard as we can go. Number one for us is to show a little bit of patience, chip away and wear these guys down over the next 15 days or so. We’ve got to not do anything too risky, just work away at our game plan. There are a lot of miles to go and we’re desperate to get back in the fight with these guys.”
The mood was not so upbeat on Groupama, led by French offshore yachtsman Franck Cammas. The team paid dearly for a tactical error early in the leg, opting to hug the African coast instead of punching west into the Atlantic. To make matters worse, the crew were then swallowed up by the Doldrums, causing their speed to drop massively and their grip on the fleet loosen further. At the 1300 UTC report they were more than 350 nm – or 24 hours’ sailing – behind PUMA.
“The weather files indicate a vast windless area ahead of us,” their media crew member Yann Riou said this morning. “Weather models are not very reliable in the region and you cannot really rely on them, but still it’s not very encouraging.
“Squalls, tacking, jibing, wind, no wind. For the people who like manoeuvres it’s great, but for the ones who expected to use this opportunity to gain on our competitors it’s not so good.”
PUMA and Telefónica were expected to round the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, the Leg 1 waypoint, in the early hours of Thursday. From there the fleet will have to tackle the St Helena High, a huge, continually morphing area of high pressure sitting in between them and the Leg 1 finish line in Cape Town.