Life in the Doldrums is unique. Certainly like no place I have ever experienced and it totally lives up to the tales of depression, desperation and frustration that a hundred years of maritime miscellany describe. All that said, you can read as much as you like about this desolate seascape, but it is hard to portray the rollercoaster of emotions and feelings of despair it creates. The daily routine of bobbing along in whichever direction the fickle wind dictates, hoisting and dropping kites and wind seekers in a vain attempt to promote a hint of propulsion is frustrating to say the least.
The heat is exhausting; at times on deck or down below, there is nowhere to hide at almost 40 degrees in the single strip of shade created by the mast. Sleep is rare and sporadic as most of us resort to fighting for shade on deck during our off watches rather than trying to sweat it out in our bunks below. When we are unbelievably hot and bothered, drinking salinated squash that may as well be pure seawater to keep us hydrated, questioning just what we are doing here, and longing for any respite from the stiffling heat; the prospect of swimming out of here seems totally rational. And its just at breaking point that we were greeted by a string of squalls.
WOW! First the sky turns a threatening black around you. Within minutes the rippling water, flattened and whitened by the velocity of the wind and rain, descends upon you. The wind jumps from 4 knots to 40 in seconds. The boat heels over, there is a mad panic todrop the sails and the heavens open. Torrential rain like a monsoon, droplets the size of marbles and the temperature of bathwater! We’ve been knocked down twice and twice the boat has righted herself without any serious damage to crew or sails.
With the immediate danger over, squeals of delight start to emanate from ecstatic and smiling faces and sensations of joy and relief are felt all round as the cool rain offers complete refreshment and sheer excitement. Shower gel comes out on deck as we all vigorously try to wash our hair in the downpour before it stops and feel fresh and clean for 5 minutes!
As quickly as the squall comes, it’s gone; the staggering heat returns and the wind that is left in its wake is directionless and confused. We head back on course, but that is quickly aborted and we head in whichever direction the wind chooses to fill our sails… depressingly at times due North! We flit into sporadic spells of being becalmed and the wind pushes us round in circles. The feeling of turning pirouettes just minutes after the almighty driving wind the squall produced is totally surreal.
Day 4 into this routine and it is starting to grate on the crew as the daily scheds show the fleet inching away from us again and there is little we can do. Matt chooses the opportunity at supper with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset to despatch the Dolphin Deliveries of sea mail sent from friends and family back home. I was totally knocked back to receive mail. It was a real pick me up and totally unexpected, but just the nicest thing. Thank you to all the thoughtful people who sent us good luck and good cheer. We are doing everything we can and although averaging 1mile an hour at times, the prize of cool clean showers, caiprinhas and fresh food in Rio keeps driving us on!