60 seconds to make you feel the ocean is a desert

You’re going to want to open a window before watching this video.
By Corinna Halloran

We all tend to believe the ocean is a place full of unrelenting storms, waves the size of buildings, and howling wind, however the ocean also is a place of utter stillness, especially in the area around the Equator. This is the Intertropical Convergence Zone, also known as the doldrums. It is the desert of the ocean.

Without doubt, the doldrums are probably one of the hottest places on Earth – especially for sailors in the Volvo Ocean Race, who are racing (non-stop) under sail, from international port to port over nine months.

In the doldrums, the sun becomes a laser beam and the sailors are exposed to raw, piercing heat from sunrise to sunset. Actually, the sunset feels like it will never arrive, as the heat seems to turn time into molasses. The horizon hardly changes and it feels just like you are trekking through the Sahara. In the 2014-2015 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, the sailors encountered this infamous area FIVE times as they sailed over 60,000km around the world.

Most of us might see the crystal blue pool like water and think ‘Heaven.’ But Volvo Ocean Race sailors think just the opposite. Since the sailors are in full race mode they can forget about a pleasant afternoon swim, regardless of how inviting it looks.

Without a ripple on the water, it means there is no wind. Without wind, the near-20m [65ft] carbon boat is going nowhere – and the last thing you want to be doing is going nowhere fast on the Equator without an icemaker or an air conditioner. Going nowhere on an ocean without wind makes you feel like you’re a small ant under a magnifying glass.

Roberto Bermudez de Castro uses a t-shirt and a hat to protect himself from the hot sun
Chuny shields himself from the sun in Doldrums © Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
Luke "Parko" Parkinson sits on sails on the bow as the ocean's water turns to glass.
Parko sits on the bow as the water turns to glass © Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

Adding to the misery of the doldrums, massive, dramatic squalls form incredibly fast and suck up any remaining wind for miles and miles. Sometimes though, you are lucky and can hit the passing squall at the right time. As the heat builds up and up, expanding and expanding until finally the cloud can’t take it anymore and bursts open – releasing all of its stolen wind and raw power on the sailors below.

A small cloud develops into a big cloud
A cloud develops from a small cloud to a squall © Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race
Sailor watches squal on the horizon from a sailboat in the Doldrums.
Nicolai Sehested watches a squal form © Brian Carlin/Team Vestas Wind/Volvo Ocean Race

Feeling overheated? Check out this video to make you feel frozen to the core.

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