Spindrift 2: All Good In The Hood

Published on November 25th, 2015

(November 25, 2015; Day 4) – After leaving on Sunday, November 22 at 0402hrs (UTC) in front of the Créac’h lighthouse (Ushant), the trimaran, Spindrift 2, has already accumulated a lead of over 270 miles in just three days on the pace set by the Jules Verne Trophy record holder. And this lead continues to increase with every passing hour in consistent trade winds off the Cape Verde archipelago.

They have covered more than 30 degrees of latitude and have close to 20°C and rising; in three days Spindrift 2’s crew has gone from the autumnal chill of Brittany to pre-equatorial heat. That has been achieved because of the particularly favourable weather window that Yann Guichard, skipper of the trimaran, set out in for his first attempt of the Jules Verne Trophy. After two and a half hours of sluggish northerly breeze, the Azores High, situated on a very high latitude (towards Ireland) generated a strong north-westerly wind that allowed them to lengthen their stride to an average of over 30 knots. It was an aggressive start as the team steamed around Cape Finisterre in little more than 12 hours.

From the cold and wet, strong winds and messy waves, the sailing conditions dramatically improved off the coast of Lisbon when Spindrift 2 left the northerly Portuguese trade winds in its wake. As the high pressure of the anticyclone also descended south, Spindrift 2 was able to continue on the easterly, and slightly more volatile, Canary Island trade winds. The number of manoeuvres multiplied for the crew as they had to changes sails, but the miles flew past until the crucial moment of the gybe. It was the defining feature of this very favourable weather pattern: while the holder of the Jules Verne Trophy had to four gybes to reach the Canary Islands in 2012, Spindrift 2 was able to hold a direct route until the Azores archipelago and then make just one gybe.

With the gradual rotation of the northerly wind eastward, Yann Guichard and his crew managed to make a “gull-wing”, an open V-shaped curved route, which meant they were already positioned to approach the equator. That meant less manoeuvres, less time lost, and a direct route, which equals greater time savings. But this truism is not so obvious on a journey around the world, where a succession of weather systems govern the trajectory. The timing of the gybe was so crucial because it opened the way into the Doldrums, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the most complex area to manage when you are racing around the world.

North-easterly winds from the Northern hemisphere, and south-easterly winds from the Southern hemisphere converge off the coast of Sierra Leone to form a barrier towards South America. The winds are weak and there are lots of squalls due to the higher rate of evaporation just above the equator. The Doldrums, which generally extend between the 3° parallel N and the 7° parallel N, are more active at some times than others. You can get light breezes alternating with violent gusts in squalls, extensive areas of calm and a slow transition between the two trade wind systems, from the northern and southern hemispheres. Therefore, the “point of entry” is essential to find the least damaging passage possible, usually it is between the longitudes of 28° W and 30° W.

Arriving from the Azores without having had to manoeuvre to enter the ITCZ is a substantial advantage: Spindrift 2 should be approaching it on Wednesday night and the slowdown will be felt from sunset. The Doldrums is about 200 miles wide, so, it could be crossed in less than half a day, which would then allow Yann Guichard and his crew to cross the line separating the hemispheres in roughly five days.

Saving some hours on crossing the equator was essential in the previous record times set since the creation of the Jules Verne Trophy in 1993: Commodore Explorer managed 8d 19h 26mins to cross the equator; Orange II, 7d 02h 56mins in 2005; Banque Populaire V set 5d 14h 55mins in 2012, the record to beat. The fourth night at sea for Spindrift 2 promises to be a serious one, as they enter this complex Doldrums “tunnel”, which will require many sail changes and for them to be out quickly in order to catch the south-east trade winds from the 4°N. This is especially so, as the South Atlantic is currently undergoing a meteorological shake up: the St Helena anticyclone is in the process of positioning itself under South Africa, and in order to fly quickly towards the Cape of Good Hope, they must not miss out on the storm system coming from Brazil and heading down to the Roaring Forties.

18:00 GMT: 346 miles ahead the current record holder
Distance covered from the start: 2629 miles
Average speed over 24 hours: 30 knots


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Background: On Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 at 4:01:58 GMT, the trimaran Spindrift 2, led by Yann Guichard, crossed the start line that runs from Créac’h lighthouse (Ushant island, France) to Lizard Point (England) for the start of her crewed non-stop circumnavigation. The 40m VPLP-designed Spindrift 2 was originally launched in 2008 as Banque Populaire 5, the boat that Loïck Peyron set the record on in 2012. To beat the record, Spindrift 2 must return to Ushant before 17:43:51 GMT on January 6th, 2016.

MORE: Also starting on November 22 (at 02:02:22 GMT) for an attempt at the Jules Verne Trophy was Francis Joyon (FRA), skippering the 31.5m VPLP-designed trimaran IDEC SPORT. The 6-person team must return by 15:44:15 GMT on January 6, 2016 to beat the record. Here’s a tracker showing both teams: http://volodiaja.net/Tracking/

Jules Verne Trophy:
Start and finish: a line between Créac’h lighthouse (Ushant island) and Lizard Point (England)
Course: crewed circumnavigation via the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn).
Minimum distance: 21,600 miles (40,000 km)
Ratification: World Sailing Speed Record Council
Time to beat: 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds
Average speed: 19.75 knots on the theoretical 21,600 nautical mile route, but 26.5 knots on the actual 28,965 nautical mile route.
Date of current record: January 2012
Holder: Banque Populaire V, Loïck Peyron and a 13-man crew

Yann Guichard, skipper
Dona Bertarelli, helmsman-trimmer
Sébastien Audigane, helmsman-trimmer
Antoine Carraz, helmsman-trimmer
Thierry Duprey du Vorsent, helmsman-trimmer
Christophe Espagnon, helmsman-bowman
Jacques Guichard, helmsman-trimmer
Erwan Israël, navigator
Loïc Le Mignon, helmsman-trimmer
Sébastien Marsset, bowman
François Morvan, helmsman-trimmer
Xavier Revil, helmsman-trimmer
Yann Riou, media reporter
Thomas Rouxel, helmsman-bowman
Jean-Yves Bernot, onshore router

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