On Christopher Columbus' third voyage, after leaving the Cape Verde Islands, his 4 ships drifted WSW in the equatorial current. A ship’s account from July 22, 1498 states that "The wind stopped so suddenly the heat was so excessive and immoderate that there was no one who dared to go below after the casks of wine and water which burst, snapping the hoops of the pipes; the wheat burned like fire; the bacon and salted meat roasted and putrefied." This calm area known to sailors around the world as the doldrums, is a belt around the Earth extending approximately five degrees north and south of the equator. Here, the prevailing trade winds of the northern hemisphere blow to the southwest and collide with the southern hemisphere’s driving northeast trade winds. Due to intense solar heating near the equator, the warm, moist air is forced up into the atmosphere like a hot air balloon. The rising air mass finally subsides in what is known as the horse latitudes, where the air moves downward toward Earth’s surface. Because the air circulates in an upward direction, there is often little surface wind in this region. That is why sailors well know that the area can becalm sailing ships for weeks. Columbus was caught in the doldrums or horse latitudes. The term horse latitudes came later, after Columbus when ships sailing to the western hemisphere were sometime stranded for weeks and as they baked, sailors reportedly pushed the horses they were transporting overboard to keep from running out of scarce water. Occasionally the ships were stranded and for longer periods and became ghost ships as entire crews perished, from heat and lack of food and water.
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