“The westerly wind was pinning my hood hard against the back of my head so it was a Force 7 or 8, on the Beaufort scale. We were surrounded by monstrous swells, each eight to ten metres in height, which were themselves being shredded by the wind.”
This is zoologist Matt Lewis facing the full force of vicious winds in the Southern Ocean, not far from Antarctica. Describing them in his book Last Man O , he wasn’t exaggerating. This region, between the 40th parallel south and the Antarctic Circle (the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties), where cyclonic storms spin round the globe, sees the strongest average winds anywhere on the planet, sometimes exceeding 80 knots. In bad storms, waves can climb to 20 metres high, as Lewis knows, to his chagrin. In 1998, the vessel he was working on, the Sudur Havid, was flooded and eventually sunk by enormous waves, forcing him and the rest of the crew to abandon ship. He and 20 others were rescued, but 17 of his crewmates weren’t so lucky.