In the 18th and 19th centuries, whaleships traveled thousands of miles from New England, around Cape Horn into the Southern Ocean in heavy, wooden ships armed with little more than a compass, sextant, and the stars to guide them. Facing unpredictable winds, cold temperatures and with minimal navigation equipment, these whalers were pioneering extreme sailing.
Some 200 years later, the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race’s Southern Ocean leg will take sailors through what are widely considered to be the most demanding and dangerous sailing conditions in the world, contributing to the race’s motto, Life at the Extreme.
Today, the Volvo Open 65s are highly tuned carbon racing machines designed to handle whatever the Southern Ocean can throw at them. Equipped with high-tech electronics, teams are able to make real time decisions about weather patterns, headings and sail changes. Despite the technological advancement, Volvo crews often face the worst, from dismastings to broken rudders and keels hundreds of miles from shore.
The 2014-2015 race will take the crews through a region very close to what is known as the oceanic “pole of inaccessibility,” or Point Nemo, the furthest point from land on earth. The Volvo teams will truly be on their own some 1,600 miles from the nearest shore. Crews will be on the lookout for icebergs in the cold waters threatening to punch holes in their boats and facing high winds and higher seas.
Then comes the rounding of Cape Horn. Cape Horn is known to sailors for its treacherous waters. The Horn has claimed many errant ships as inconsistent winds and rough conditions created by the funneling of water through the mere 500 miles between South America and Antarctica prove a challenge for even the most veteran captains. Teams will have to make the choice of risking the rocks near shore, but taking a calmer route, or taking it wide and facing the high seas and winds.
Once the crews round, it’s smooth sailing into Itajai—if they can dodge the thunderstorms.
Missed the Leg 5 Start? Check out the recap here.