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Inside the Doldrums: The Ocean’s Stillest Waters

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We boaters enjoy our fair share of calm weather. When skies are clear, and winds are slow, it’s hard to not feel a bit at ease.

But what if those winds—and the entirety of, well, weather—disappeared entirely from the ocean?

That’s not far from reality in the Doldrums, the stretch of ocean five degrees to the north and south of the equator where weather all but ceases to exist.

The mystifying problem once duped 18th-century sailors, who would find themselves stalled on the water at the mercy of the relenting stillness.

What’s the cause of this bizarre phenomenon? We’re exploring that answer (and more!) in today’s blog.

A logical explanation?

The case of the Doldrums may seem to defy nature—isn’t the area around the equator known for wild weather? As it turns out, however, there’s a pretty logical explanation for the lack of wind here.

The Doldrums are home to the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a spot where northeasterly and southeasterly trade winds meet and, in a way, cancel each other out. While the Doldrums aren’t always devoid of windy weather (sometimes they see their share of squalls due to air rising at the equator), they are typically characterized by a sense of unusual quiet.

That, of course, would be great news for an oceanfront property owner or beach goer. For the 18th-century sailors who used this patch of ocean as an integral part of their trade routes, it was much less desirable, since it effectively prevented them from moving, keeping them at a standstill for days at a time (if not longer).

Sailing the Doldrums

Today, commercial and leisure ships alike are powered, for the most part, by motors—so the lack of wind doesn’t prevent people from getting where they need to go.

There is, of course, an exception. Some extreme seafarers, like those in the Volvo Ocean Race, would pass through the region several times on their journey—trying, against all odds, to propel themselves through the ocean when the wind just wasn’t there. Such sailors noted the extreme nature of their endeavors: even though the winds were mild, the temperatures were not, and participants could spend extended periods of time under an unyielding sun (with no promise of wind or rain to cool them down).

Today, thanks to the advent of motor-powered boats and ships, the Doldrums no longer pose much of a practical threat. That, of course, doesn’t stop us from wondering about the eerie calmness, or the sport sailors who try to conquer it anyway!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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