Fourteen skippers have departed between August 26 and October 28 to take part in the Global Solo Challenge, with two more setting sail this weekend (November 18). Among all those who have left, a thought goes to Juan Merediz, who had to retire, but whose fighting spirit continues to inspire us all.
Dafydd Hughes and Philippe Delamare are already sailing in the Indian Ocean having rounded the first of the three great capes, Cape of Good Hope. Louis Robein and Edouard de Keyser are in the South Atlantic facing light winds in the transitional phase between the Southeast trade winds and the low pressure systems of the great South.
At the time of writing this article, of the thirteen sailors at sea, 10 had already crossed the equator, the last of whom was Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus while Francois Gouin on Kawan 3 Unicancer and David Linger on Koloa Maoli were close to doing so. Alessandro Tosetti, delayed by a forced stop due to autopilot issues, now resolved, is sailing between the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands.
Many skippers this week had to face the delicate and often exhausting crossing of the zone of equatorial calms. Fortunately, after this “challenge within the challenge”, each skipper was able to release some of the accumulated tension by celebrating the crossing of the equator, an important psychological milestone in this lengthy voyage.
The equatorial calms form in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a place that tests the patience and determination of every sailor and where the term “instability” takes on a whole new meaning. In French, this area is called “pot au noir”, a term with uncertain etymology. The black referred to could simply be that of the dark clouds that bring rain, poor visibility, sudden gusts of wind often followed by dead calm, and would be of Portuguese origin.
The English word to describe the same area is “Doldrums”, whose etymological meaning evokes melancholy, chaos, and depression and is often used today to describe a period of uncertainty and difficulty. After the 2008 financial crisis, Fed President Ben Bernanke spoke of a long period of navigating in the doldrums before being able to emerge from that difficult time for the world economy.
But what does it mean in practice for skippers? Ronnie Simpson aboard the Open 50’ Shipyard Brewing on Sunday, November 12, recounted: “The last two days have been very difficult and frustrating. The wind was unpredictable, constantly increasing and decreasing in intensity. Often, I had to sail at an unfavorable angle to VMG but there was no other choice. Instead, after a squall, I sometimes found myself stationary, without wind. It was a period of hard work and really challenging navigation, where I had to continuously adjust the sails. Raise and lower the headsails. Close the solent and open the staysail… I hope to soon encounter the southeast trade winds.” It’s a challenge that tests not only the nautical skills but also the mental resilience of these solo adventurers.
In videos, American skippers Ronnie Simpson and Cole Brauer often talked about these phenomena as “squalls”, the French Francois Gouin calls them “grains” or “orages”, and for Italians, they are “groppi”. For solo sailors, this situation becomes particularly stressful and challenging due to the unpredictability of the weather. Thus, it is difficult to maintain regular sleep and wake cycles, and in the long run, it is exhausting.
François Gouin, with decreasing wind at the gates of the pot-au noir, wrote “for the next two or three days it will be an unknown… I hope the storms are not too violent, because I don’t like them at all! I am focused and completely immersed in my Global Solo Challenge. In my mind, I have set out for several months of sailing and it is very relaxing. The boat and the skipper are doing very well. I am taking particular care to preserve the equipment in this early phase of the race because the “longue route” is indeed long!
Our skippers know they must remain calm and patiently gain miles southward, certain of finding new stable winds beyond the ITCZ. A curiosity: for the first explorers and navigators, this certainty was not yet established, and the name of this place in the Atlantic might hide a much more tragic etymology: the “pot au noir” or “well of blacks” would refer to those dark-skinned slaves that the slave ships trafficked or embarked for heavy labor. Ships that found themselves in the “pot au noir” often remained stuck in the equatorial calms and, to reduce the consumption of potable water and food on board, did not hesitate to sacrifice the slaves by throwing them overboard, especially those sick with scurvy.
Having overcome the doldrums, which are found between 3 and 8 degrees north in this season, the GSC skippers find the southeast trade wind that rapidly propels them toward an important milestone in their navigation: the crossing of the equator. Usually, after the tribulations of the previous days, the occasion is joyful and festive.
Ari Känsäkoski on ZEROchallenge celebrated his first crossing of the equator with a toast to King Neptune, while Pavlin Nadvorniaboard Espresso Martini celebrated his birthday with an equator crossing that will remain forever etched in his memory.
William McBrien, aboard his Class40 Phoenix and part of the trio of competitors who set off on October 21, expressed in his blog his satisfaction with the past week, noting that the boat is in good condition and that he is in a good mood. He had to focus on crossing the doldrums, which he found less problematic than expected, believing he had chosen a good route to cross them before soon celebrating the equator crossing.
Cole Brauer, who quickly took the lead of the group that left on October 29, celebrated her first crossing of the equator shortly after William and enjoyed performing and documenting all the ancient rituals in honor of King Neptune, as shown in a video. She offered rum with a pinch of pepper to the ocean, cut a lock of hair, drank an Aperol Spritz and poured part of it into the sea, and rubbed his face with a flying fish.
The GSC is not just a race; it is a celebration of strength, determination, and adventure.
As we await new updates from the sea, all eyes are on Andrea Mura Mura and his Vento di Sardegna, departing from A Coruña, on Saturday November 28th. Hopefully Kevin Le Poivedin on his Roaring Forty will have resolved the final issues that have been delaying him and he will be starting too.