Stuck in a high pressure one minute and riding a low the next

The Vendée Globe fleet has been at sea for 31 days and the sailors have been kept on their toes throughout, experiencing a little bit of everything in terms of weather. So far they have had storms, squalls, glassy conditions and temperatures that have varied from tropical to polar!

For a month they have been without human contact, completely alone – unless you count a brief encounter between Jean Le Cam and Dominique who spotted one another on the crest of a wave last Friday and in the few moments before they disappeared from each other’s sight, they both snatched a photograph to send home!

One of the paradoxes of offshore racing is that the sailors have time to talk on the radio while their yachts are charging along at 25 knots surfing five metre waves, but the moment conditions ease and become tricky they can’t tear themselves away from the business of sailing for more than two minutes to talk! This explains why we only had a very brief conversation with Dominique yesterday morning, although it was enough time to discover that he was extremely irritated at being stuck in the middle of a high-pressure area! He was desperate to get off the phone and back to the helm and his trimming duties.

“I have been stuck at zero knots for a while now, it’s a nightmare,” said a very frustrated Dominique when we managed to reach him. “I even managed to tear my Code Zero because it was rubbing against the rigging and not flying. I have fixed it with a ‘Cuban fibre’ patch and it is back up.

It is so frustrating being in this situation, especially as Jean Le Cam and Mike Golding who were 100nm away from me, have managed to make a break for it and stay in the breeze. Dratted high pressures!”

Shortly after our phone call, Dominique plunged into a low pressure and the roaring forties were in full cry.

“In the middle of the night, in the pitch dark, the wind spiked to 45 knots and I was hit by torrential ice-cold rain squalls. And to top it off, the doomsday spectacle was lit by lightning, striking all around the boat!

Mesmerised by the sheer force of Nature, I caught my breath in the cockpit. The boat was careering along at full pelt; I was steering with the autopilot remote ready for the next manoeuvre.

As the front moved on the gusts hit 40 knots. Despite the freezing southerly, I was far from cold. I unfurled the staysail and stowed the jib to slow the boat down a bit, it barely made a difference so I luffed to maintain course.

At last the front moved away and the wind settled down again, it was time for a well-earned cup of coffee before shaking out some more sail and emptying the ballast! The weather can go from one extreme to the other in an instant down here and I can confirm that I have just experienced an Indian Ocean low pressure from the inside, the eye of the storm wasn’t far off – I really must be careful what I wish for!”

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