Dead Calm: The Doldrums

Photo:L Philip Rosenberg


Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Although we had plenty of lively, even rough seas aboard Impunity, we also had periods of dead calm.

The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known by sailors as the doldrums, was pretty much what we expected, slatting sails and oily looking seas. With virtually no wind for these few days,, most of the distance we made was when we turned on the engine so that we could make some progress.

Another advantage of running the engine was that we also ran the watermaker, a desalinator used to obtain potable water by reverse osmosis of seawater. We were doing well with keeping our fresh water level up. We also charged the batteries, important for a boat alone at sea.

No matter where we looked—ahead, astern, starboard or port—we saw nothing but water. We were alone in the world. For days on end, nothing, not another boat, came into view. Occasionally we saw a jet trail in the sky. That far away from land, we didn’t even see birds.

In warmer waters, we began seeing flying fish and quite often they’d land on Impunity’s deck. They ranged from a couple of inches long to about six inches. They were usually dead when we’d find them and we’d throw them back into the sea. To escape a predator, a flying fish can glide several feet through the air by using its large pectoral fins.

I was thrilled to see a turtle swim close to our boat. What a mystery. Where was he going? Did he have a mate? We were hundreds of miles from shore. How did he rest? We’d never know.

We were in a different world, with different rules. Just the two of us. Our voyage to the South Pacific was a special, magical time. It was the voyage of a lifetime.

4 thoughts on “Dead Calm: The Doldrums

  1. I’m surprised you do not mention feeling isolated from the outside world. That can be pleasing, at first. I, however, don’t do well feeling “out of touch” with humanity. My frustration level must have a shorter tolerance limit than yours.

    • Actually, I never felt isolated from the outside world. Of course, I was with my husband, so I wasn’t alone. We relished having a world with just us. When, after 33 days without seeing another boat, one appeared on the horizon, we felt it was sort of an intrusion.

    • The calm was actually harder for Bruce to accept than the storms. With the calm, you don’t have much control and you aren’t makng much headway, and that was hard for Bruce. I appreciated the ease in cooking.

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