Justin Slattery’s Volvo Ocean Race Log: Doldrums are a welcome relief

Domestic situation should improve but chance for chasing pack to close gap

Justin Slattery onboard Ocean Racing tails a halyard as the northerly winds build in the Pacific Ocean during Leg Four of the Volvo Ocean Race from Sanya to Auckland. Photograph: Getty Images

Back into the Doldrums once more we go and this time I’m relishing the prospect.

We’re holding second on Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and since last week’s report we’ve seen one of the biggest plays in all four stages of the Volvo Ocean Race so far.

A week ago, we pulled into the lead after we passed through the Straits of Luzon at the northern end of the Philippines. We were neck and neck with overall race leaders Dongfeng, skippered by Charles Caudrelier, and even after we pulled ahead, it was only by the smallest margin.

But a week is a long time in ocean racing terms and while we’ve been putting in 400 nautical mile days as we blast reach our way south, we’ve dropped back to second place again as a new leg leader has emerged.


After we left Sanya, the last stop-over port on Hainan Island and crossed the South China Sea, Sam Davies’ Team SCA and Bouwe Bekking’s Brunel broke away from the back of the fleet and sailed northwards past Taiwan while the other four boats continued south-eastwards.

At first, the pair appeared to haemorrhage serious mileage until they hooked into better breeze and started to sail around us and the fleet compressed again.

Seven-race veteran

Bekking is a seven-race veteran and opted to go further east and was rewarded with faster speed and the overall stage lead.

Davies and the all-girl crew were not so rewarded even though they initiated the brave move away from the pack.

Now as we all line up to cross the Doldrums, Brunel has a decent lead on the water of around 20 miles or so while we hold second place with a 20-mile gap to Charlie Enright’s Alvimedica.

Dongfeng has dropped to the back on the fleet for some reason [they have broken their mast track that secures the mainsail] as Team SCA overtook them earlier this week.

The girls are almost level with Xabi Fernandez on MAPFRE and could pull up another place [MAPFRE have lost their Satcomms and cannot receive detailed weather data for tactical routing].

But as we prepare to enter the Doldrums region just north of the Equator that is especially deep in this part of the world, we can expect the wind to drop off and seas to flatten. It’ll mean an end to the “firehose” conditions we’ve had for the last week that has saturated everything and everyone above and below decks.

Even though it’s gloriously sunny, the sea temperature is about 30 degrees Celsius and the boat is like a sauna. We still wear our oilskins on deck to protect against sunburn but also stay dry for going off-watch to rest.

The lighter conditions in the doldrums will hopefully allow the boat to dry out and perhaps my flu-like virus that I’ve had for almost two weeks will also finally clear up as well, as the dampness hasn’t helped since leaving China.


But while our domestic conditions should improve, the doldrums presents a real risk of “parking-up” as the lead boats run out of breeze and slow while the chasing group carry more speed into the pack. Those coming from behind might even be able to pick out slightly fresher patches and pull level with the leaders, possibly even edge ahead.

Such a scenario – effectively a restart – is entirely possible so the coming days will be especially tricky for our skipper Ian Walker and Simon "Sci Fi" Fisher, our navigator.

Once we’re through the doldrums, it should be a straight line southwards to Cape Rienga and down the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island into Auckland.

If the fleet holds the current standings, a second place for us would move us into the overall lead once again. But even halfway through this 39,000 nautical mile race, the six boats are still performing well.

Separation of less than 100 miles in a 5,000 mile leg is pretty impressive and I predicted previously that all the boats will at some stage deliver a podium result. So far, that’s proven to be the case in the ocean and inshore races.

But for this fourth stage of nine, we still have at least another week of racing to go.

And a week is a long time at sea.