Day 5: The Doldrums - Get Us Out of Here!!

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Mon 7 Dec 2009 13:20

Noon Position:  03:05.4N 025:22.1W

Noon to Noon Run:  153miles (mostly under engine)

Date: 7 December 2009


There have been certain aspects of our first Transatlantic crossing which have come as a surprise. First of all the waves: where are they? We are  now almost slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and the waves are no different to what one might expect crossing Lyme Bay in a moderate breeze. OK, so the wind has never been strong enough to throw up big waves, but where is the ever-present long Atlantic swell we had heard so much about? It’s certainly not here.


Secondly, we were expecting to sense the enormity of the ocean; to feel like an insignificant pinprick in this vast expanse of water. But actually we don’t. We look around us and we see a flat disc of water. We are at its centre and this is our world. But our world extends only to the horizon and that isn’t that far away. It’s a bit like looking up into the night sky and sensing that all the stars are positioned on the surface of a celestial globe around us and that that celestial globe is the finite boundary of the universe. It is only when one starts to think about the infinite universe rather than accepting the celestial globe as its limit that one starts to feel the insignificance of ones own being. Certainly the lack of shipping has something to do with it. When you see a ship appearing from over the horizon in front of you and disappearing over the horizon behind you, the illusion of one’s limited disc-like world is shattered. With lots of shipping the fact that there IS something beyond one’s limited horizon is constantly being brought home to you. But here there is little or no shipping to remind you.


The third surprise is less philosophical. We had all expected the Doldrums to be muggy and windless, but we had expected to be sitting beneath blue skies under the unrelenting heat of the tropical sun. We held an ambition to sail all the way to Brazil without turning the engine on, being powered by the trade winds but drifting more slowly through the Doldrums, looking out for the occasional squalls and reducing sail whilst they passed. Well, it’s not like that at all. Since we entered the Doldrums yesterday morning we have hardly seen any sun at all. Much of the time it has been drizzling with rain under a grey blanket of cloud, and the squalls are frequent and violent. You can’t have any hatches or portholes open so down below it is hot, airless and damp. It’s horrible. Sailing through the doldrums would be a thoroughly unpleasant and extremely long-lasting experience. Most of the time there is barely enough wind to get the boat going. What little wind there is drifts about from every direction which would mean constant adjustments to the sails. One would be a sitting duck for every squall that came along, during which one would have to take down or reef all of the sails. It would be murder. Now we understand why, in the days of sailing ships, the Doldrums drove strong men mad. As a result the engine was running for the best part of 24 hours and we are nearly through, thank God. So the Doldrums have been a horrible experience, but “horrible” is comparative, and our comparison has been something close to paradise, so let’s not feel too sorry for ourselves.


On first entering the Doldrums we simply accepted the inevitability of constant drenchings during the squalls, but we have since learnt that most of them can be avoided. I had heard that one could use the radar to see squalls. I was sceptical thinking that one would be looking at a cluttered radar screen trying to interpret areas which were slightly more dense than others. Not a bit of it. Well tuned, the squalls appear on the radar screen as clearly defined, sharp edged masses which can be tracked and avoided as easily as any ship. So latterly we have been slaloming round the squalls which has reduced the discomfort of our transit.


We can’t wait to get back into the trade winds again and start turning the corner for the long last leg to Brazil.


P.S. Here’s a photo of the monster 4.2kg fish we caught a couple of days ago, but we’re rather upstaged by the news that one of the other boats has just caught a Yellow Fin Tuna 1.5 m long and weighing a staggering 55kg!!