The per­ils of the South­ern Ocean

SAIL - - Contents -

Here we go! The 50th an­niver­sary of the Golden Globe, the first sin­gle­handed non­stop round-the-world race, is upon us. On July 1 one tribute event, the Golden Globe Race 2018, will start out of Les Sables d’Olonne, France, with a fleet of 19 am­a­teur skip­pers set­ting out in pro­duc­tion fiber­glass boats, none longer than 36 feet, to race around the world with­out stop­ping. Mean­while, an­other event, Longue Route 2018, is send­ing out an­other 26 am­a­teur solo skip­pers, most in boats 43 feet and un­der, to also sail non­stop around the world. The lat­ter is not a race, but more a “chal­lenge in com­pany.” Par­tic­i­pants may start from and re­turn to any At­lantic port in Europe or North Amer­ica (north of 45 and 41 de­grees north lat­i­tude, re­spec­tively) at any time be­tween June 18 and Sep­tem­ber 30.

So the South­ern Ocean will be unusu­ally crowded this year. Po­ten­tially there will be 45 am­a­teur sin­gle­han­ders, all of them in rel­a­tively mod­est non-spe­cial­ized boats, bang­ing around Antarc­tica to­gether in high south­ern lat­i­tudes. It is, in the an­nals of sail­ing, en­tirely un­prece­dented.

One ques­tion I’ve been ask­ing my­self: is it harder to do this now than it was be­fore? The an­swer, not sur­pris­ingly, is yes. Av­er­age sur­face wind speeds and wave heights in the South­ern Ocean have steadily in­creased since the 1960s and par­tic­u­larly so in the last 20 years. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the big­gest spikes are seen in ex­treme peak con­di­tions, and the “hottest” spot in the course is the stretch be­tween Cape Town and Aus­tralia.

The sim­ple anec­do­tal ev­i­dence bears this out. The 196869 South­ern Ocean sum­mer sea­son dur­ing the first Golden Globe was, rel­a­tively speak­ing, mild. Bernard Moitessier, in par­tic­u­lar, had it pretty easy at first in the In­dian Ocean and this helped him achieve the tran­scen­dent state that led him to aban­don the race after round­ing Cape Horn and sail around again to Tahiti. Of the three com­peti­tors who made it into the South­ern Ocean—Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnston and Nigel Tet­ley—none were knocked out there.

This past sea­son’s crop of South­ern Ocean ama­teurs, by com­par­i­son, have had a rough ride. Guirec Soudée and his fa­mous chicken Monique on their steel cut­ter Yvinec got rolled hard be­tween Cape Horn and Cape Town. The in­domitable Michael Thurston, sail­ing with two crew on his 48ft ketch, Drina, was knocked down twice in the south­ern In­dian Ocean, with the boat’s steer­ing pedestal sheared off the sec­ond time. While set­ting a record for cir­cling Antarc­tica south of 60 de­grees, the Pol­ish crew on the Oys­ter 72 Kathar­sis II had their boom shat­tered south­west of Aus­tralia. And our own SAILfeed con­trib­u­tor, sin­gle­han­der Ran­dall Reeves, at­tempt­ing his Fig­ure 8 cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the Amer­i­cas and Antarc­tica, was knocked down and crushed by a wave in the south­ern In­dian Ocean. This blew out a dog­house win­dow on his 45ft alu­minum cut­ter Moli, wiped out most of his elec­tron­ics and bent a solid alu­minum cock­pit rail down on top of a pri­mary winch.

Ran­dall, be­fore head­ing home from Tas­ma­nia to Cal­i­for­nia to try again next year, told me in an e-mail that he had se­ri­ously un­der­es­ti­mated the power of the South­ern Ocean and hadn’t yet mus­tered the courage to take pho­tos dur­ing peak con­di­tions.

“I’m too scared, and it feels like bad luck,” he wrote, “like Ac­taeon, who spied the god­dess Diana bathing, and she sicced his own hounds on him. I don’t want to tempt fate any more than I am al­ready.”

Even the pro sailors in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race fleet have not es­caped the deep south un­scathed. Ves­tas 11th Hour Rac­ing was dis­masted south­east of the Falk­land Is­lands in March, and Team Sun Hung Kai/ Skally­wag trag­i­cally lost crewmem­ber John Fisher overboard 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn.

I can tell you one thing for sure: all the folks in th­ese two Golden Globe tribute events will catch hell out there, and many or most them will not fin­ish the course. I will be a lit­tle sur­prised if they all come out alive. Which is not an ar­gu­ment for call­ing the whole thing off, but it is an ar­gu­ment for pay­ing both th­ese events the at­ten­tion they de­serve. I, for one, will be fol­low­ing them closely at longuer­oute2018.com and gold­en­glober­ace.com. s

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