Calling it like we see it
Published on November 18th, 2019
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
No one plots a course through the southern latitudes without trepidation. Massive winds and mountainous waves can do that. Then there is the kind of real cold found in the lower latitudes. Extreme sailing conditions with snow… next level madness.
And madness makes bad things happen, but when boats break, the closest humans might be on the International Space Station. You are never more alone than when in this region. Tight roping without a net.
Typically referred to as the Southern Ocean, it is sailing’s Mount Everest. Everyone knows it as an undertaking like no other, and we can only suspect it is for this reason, for the images of human challenge the reference evokes, that the oceanic term is typically misused.
For any course that circles the earth, we can guarantee that as soon as the adventure turns the corner at the tip of South Africa and aims eastward, the stage will be reported to have entered the Southern Ocean. But it hasn’t.
Originally, the countries of the world agreed on four oceans – Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic – but there is now general agreement that the waters encircling Antarctica deserved to be termed a fifth ocean – the Southern Ocean.
But while its southern border is along the Earth’s southernmost continent, its northern border is where liberties are taken when yacht races plunge into the lower latitudes. It turns out that when plunging into the Indian Ocean, or more so, the South Pacific, this does not sufficiently tell the story.
I am as motivated as the next person to promote all forms of sailing, and to share our version of climbing Earth’s highest mountain, but I’d rather not rewrite the International Hydrographic Organization’s declared boundary of the Southern Ocean, which is below the line of latitude at 60 degrees South.
You got to go way down there, past the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, to arrive at the Screaming Sixties, and truth is, most round the world races don’t let you go there. While descending south offers stronger wind and a shorter course, race organizers establish limits due to the threat of ice.
So, with apologies to any sailor that has endured the evil weather found while extending east from Cape Agulhas off South Africa to Cape Horn off Chile, we will be calling your route as we see it, and not as it is promoted.