Please select your home edition
Edition
Clipper Ventures
JOIN THE RACE JOIN THE 2019-20 RACE MAGAZINE DOWNLOAD THE OFFICIAL SOUVENIR RACE MAGAZINE Check out the latest photo galleries from The Clipper Race
UNICEF ABOUT UNICEF

The dreaded Doldrums - Clipper Race experiences

by Clipper Round the World Race 3 Oct 10:02 BST
Flat, glassy sea in the the Doldrums © Clipper Race

For many when they think of ocean racing it is all about the big waves, big winds and difficult sea states, but light wind sailing can be just as tough. Whilst not necessarily as physical, light and variable wind conditions can be very mentally challenging, with every sail choice, manoeuvre, and movement of the helm affecting your yachts momentum. The scorching sun and high temperatures which accompany these conditions are exhausting when spending days and weeks at sea without any respite.

On any ocean passage there can be periods of light weather however, during Legs 1, The Atlantic Trade Winds Leg and Leg 5, The Asia Pacific Challenge, when the route crosses the equator, the crew experience the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), or as it is better known, the Doldrums.

Paul Widdowson, a circumnavigator on board WTC Logistics during the race from Portimão to Punta del Este in the 2019-20 edition shared his feelings and experience in a poem titled, The Doldrums. A snippet of the poem reads: "What's that on the water/ A ripple in view/ Hope its some breeze to move us a knot or two." For the full poem click here.

The Doldrums is a broad belt of low pressure and weak pressure gradients, towards which the trade wind air streams of the Northern and Southern hemispheres flow. The expected weather is usually variable, light or calm winds, alternating with squalls and thunderous showers. This band of pressure moves North and South almost on a daily basis but also according to the seasons. It can be very difficult to predict exactly where the Doldrums will occur with any meaningful accuracy until a few days before.

This is a difficult and tactical phase of each Clipper Race circumnavigation. It is possible for a yacht to be becalmed for days on end within the grasp of this windless area. Therefore, in the past three editions the Clipper Race Committee has used a mechanism to remove the uncertainty of the Intertropical Convergence Zone or Doldrums, the Doldrums Corridor.

Deputy Race Director, Dale Smyth explains: "Historically, with the uncertainty of the fleet getting stuck in the Doldrums, it becomes very difficult for us to work out accurate arrival times, which has a huge knock on effect for supporters and the logistics of crew both leaving and joining for later legs of the race. So, we use the Doldrums Corridor rule, which allows yachts to motor over six degrees of latitude (360 Miles), should they need to. The entire Doldrums Corridor is 10 degrees, within two chosen degrees of latitude, outlined in the course instructions, and within this, teams can elect to use their engine and motor-sail for six of those degrees to escape the no wind area."

Whilst this eliminates some the risk of being becalmed for days on end it does not take away the tactical element of the Doldrums for the skippers and crew, or the difficulties of being at sea in these conditions. It is up to each team where they enter and exit the corridor and when to turn on their motor.

Dale adds: "As much as people might think, 'why are we motoring on a sailing race?', it stops the boats getting trapped for long periods of time and also adds an interesting tactical element. There are always a lot of decisions to make and factors to consider when ocean racing, the Doldrums Corridor just adds further questions for the teams to consider. I know from experience that once the fleet has experienced the incredible humidity, heat and frustrations of no wind, it is a huge bonus to have the opportunity to tactically get out of that area and carry on racing."

What often helps the crew through tough periods such as this is the wildlife, from comical flying fish and squid landing on deck, to stunning phosphorescent dolphin shows and elusive whale sightings that break up the days. Sophie Cross, Zhuhai crew member, during the race to Punta del Este, wrote: "Sailing this massive yacht during the night is one of the most amazing things I have done in my entire life. At the start of every night, without fail so far, we have seen the most spectacular sunset. The best was yesterday evening when a pod of dolphins decided to join us for dinner. They are somewhat even more spectacular when they follow us at night when you can just hear them gliding past, occasionally catching a glimpse of them from the moonlight."

The Doldrums definitely make Legs 1 and 5 two of the most diverse stages of the Clipper Race circumnavigation. For insights into life on board and to relive the early stages of the Clipper 2019-20 Race through the eyes of the crew read their Crew Diaries. To watch the action from on board, from the heat and light airs of the Doldrums to the storms and huge sea states of the Southern Ocean, check out the Clipper Race YouTube channel.

For more information visit www.clipperroundtheworld.com

Related Articles

My heart now belongs to Punta
Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, Skipper of Punta del Este, pens an open letter Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, Skipper of Punta del Este, pens an open letter sharing his personal highlights from Punta del Este stopover. Posted on 25 Oct
Qingdao skipper reflects on team's first win
This first win for Qingdao was twice as impressive as the team had chosen to play its Joker After 26 days of racing around the clock and covering over 5,000 nautical miles, Qingdao clinched victory and won Race 2: The Commodore's Cup from Marina de Portimão, Portugal to Yacht Club Punta del Este, Uruguay. Posted on 14 Oct
Meteorological Phenomenon
A year ago the Clipper Race fleet faced one more hurdle in the last 48 hours of Race 2 A year ago this week, after a hard fought and challenging 5,200 nautical miles across the Atlantic, the Clipper Race fleet faced one more hurdle in the last 48 hours of Race 2 and as they started to get closer to Punta del Este, Uruguay. Posted on 12 Oct
Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Ian Wang
Ian and his 20 teammates raced the ten other identical yachts for 24 hours per day “This is probably the most extreme thing I will ever do in my entire life!” Says Ian Wang a 43-year-old, Software architect, from Cardiff, who traded computers for sailing spending four months racing 15,000 miles from London, UK, to Fremantle, Australia. Posted on 27 Sep
Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Dario Schwendener
For the 27-year-old, circumnavigating was the ultimate sabbatical For 27-year-old Dario Schwendener, circumnavigating was the ultimate sabbatical. With the Clipper Race providing a chance to travel the world, compete in a sport he loves as well as hands on experience of teamwork and leadership in an extreme environment. Posted on 15 Sep
Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Ben Deifel
Rekindling a memory from 10yrs ago, an article sparked the idea to sail around the world By chance Ben Deifel, a 32-year-old COO from Munich, Germany, happened across a feature about Clipper Race in a travel magazine he picked up from an airport in Oman. Rekindling a memory from 10 years ago, article sparked an idea to sail around the world. Posted on 6 Sep
Meet the Clipper Race Crew: Kiki Kettunen
A Seattle team circumnavigator in the Clipper 2019-20 Race Finnish born Kiki Kettunen first heard about the Clipper Race 12 years ago but it took life and work to align and the sight of a billboard ad on the London Underground to help her take the first step in becoming an ocean adventurer Posted on 30 Aug
Why I signed up to the Clipper Race
Find out why crew members signed up for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Adventure has led us humans into the unexplored parts of our magnificent planet and universe. Circumnavigating the world as part of the Clipper Race will allow me to feel ever closer to what the great explorers felt when they ventured into the unknown. Posted on 23 Aug
Clipper Round the World Race finish reflections
The day that can seem an age away or seem to be zooming up far too quickly Race Finish, the day that can seem an age away, after an exhausting watch in the Southern Ocean, or seem to be zooming up far too quickly when there's just a few races to go. Posted on 12 Aug
A return to sailing: China gets back on the water
With strict guidelines, limitations and health and safety procedures Sporting events around the world have been affected by the global outbreak of Covid-19. Sailing has not been immune to the impact from the pandemic with both major international events and local sailing postponed, including the Clipper 2019-20 Race. Posted on 8 Aug