Tea Route: Falling off record pace
Published on February 10th, 2020
(February 10, 2020; Day 24) – The 31.5m IDEC SPORT maxi trimaran is currently dealing with that tricky stretch of sailing involving crossing the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, more commonly known as the Doldrums, during its fully-crewed attempt at the Tea Route record from Hong Kong to London.
Skippered by Francis Joyon, this area of great instability in terms of the weather follows on from a difficult few days during which the crew had to pass through a large area of calm conditions on either side of the Equator. Joyon, Christophe Houdet, Antoine Blouet, Corentin Joyon, and Bertrand Delesne struggled for 48 hours in the intense Equatorial heat to keep the boat moving due north and cut across this area of light airs on the shortest route possible.
The outcome for the men aboard IDEC SPORT has seen their lead over the record holder, Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini and his MOD70 team, shrink and now slightly trail the necessary pace. The way out of this tricky patch is not far ahead with some decent NE’ly trade winds blowing less than 50 miles ahead of the red and white trimaran.
“We haven’t yet encountered the sort of conditions associated with the Doldrums when they are powerful,” said Joyon. “For a few hours now, we have simply seen big lines of dark clouds. We’re not out of the woods yet and we can expect to have a few nasty surprises on this 24th day of sailing. It’s not yet time to get back up to high speeds.”
All of the crew on IDEC SPORT think they are lucky, in spite of seeing their 800-mile lead melt away in just a few days.
“We did look seriously at the route taken by the record holder Maserati back in 2018,” added Joyon, “which was a shorter route cutting across the Gulf of Guinea along the coast of West Africa. But it would have given rise to a number of drawbacks with a lot of areas with thunderstorms and then long periods without any wind.
“Initially, our route took us close to the coast of Brazil to get around the Doldrums via the west where they were narrowest. But three days ago, a small tropical low quickly developed ahead of us and we had to round it via the east, which explains our route over the past two days heading due north in a shallow low giving us a foretaste of the Doldrums.”
Low speed and oppressive heat will be the features of the day. After that, once the Doldrums are clearly behind the maxi trimaran, the situation is looking more traditional with some strong NE’ly trade winds and a rather tricky, yet interesting connection with the North Atlantic lows towards the Azores. Although far from being exhausted, the crew admits it has been rather tiring because of the difficulty or even impossibility of getting any useful sleep in the Equatorial heat.
The light airs mean too that at the helm, they have to be even more efficient and precise and although the seas are calm, there is the start of a swell building due to the NE’ly winds. Generating energy and charging up the batteries are also a concern for the crew.
“We are sailing in energy saving mode,” explained Joyon. “We are almost out of diesel. The wind turbines and solar powered batteries are on, but the boat requires a lot of energy and we need to ration our supply often turning off all the electrical power aboard the boat.”
With 3200 miles to go and with thirteen days to go to beat the record, the whole crew on IDEC SPORT are dreaming of stepping up the pace in the trade winds and then in the powerful westerly air stream in order to finish in style.
After starting from Hong Kong on January 18, to beat the Tea Route record of 36:02:37:00 set in 2018 by the Italian Giovanni Soldini and the crew of the MOD70 Maserati trimaran, Joyon’s team of Christophe Houdet, Antoine Blouet, Bertrand Delesne, and Corentin Joyon must finish in London before 1036hrs UTC on February 23.
IDEC SPORT Specifications
Architects: VPLP team (Van Péteghem-Lauriot Prévost)
Previous names: Groupama 3, Banque Populaire VII
Length: 31.50 m
Beam: 22.50 m
Displacement: 18,000 kg
Draught: 5.70 m
Mast height: 33.50 m
Upwind sail surface: 411 m2
Downwind sail surface: 678 m2
Initial launch date: June 2006
IDEC SPORT ASIAN TOUR
Act 1: Port Louis, Lorient – Port Louis, Mauritius (8800 nm) – 19:18:14:45
Act 2: Mauritius – Ho Chi Minh (3975 nm) – 12:20:37:56
Act 3: Ho Chi Minh – Hong Kong (870 nm) – 02:20:28:51
Act 4: Clipper Route between Hong Kong and London (13,000 nm)
Source: IDEC press