No Southern Ocean for world races

Published on December 12th, 2022

In the fabric of around the world races is the extreme conditions of the lower latitudes. When passing the tip of Africa, easterly routing descends south for better winds and shorter courses, but this is no easy ride. Massive waves and freezing temperatures are legendary.

To both simplify this section of the earth, and to brand it with terminology that shivers the spine, the span along Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, and South America’s Cape Horn has been referred to as the Southern Ocean.

Note the uppercase and singular spelling, as this refers to a specific place. However, when the oceans have gathered at parties, the table had only four chairs for the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. But this all changed on World Oceans Day in 2021 when the Southern Ocean was formally recognized.

Although sailors have been referring to the icy waters around Antarctica as the Southern Ocean for decades, it had been a battle among the international scientific community to define its boundaries.

Sail GP

There was also a debate about its name, as the same region had also been unofficially referred to as the Antarctic Ocean. But when the International Hydrographic Organization asked its 68 member countries to agree on a name, 18 of the 28 responding countries voted in favor of calling it the Southern Ocean.

So now where is it? While the other oceans are defined by the continents that fence them in, defining the location of the Southern Ocean was less obvious.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) flows from west to east around Antarctica, in a broad fluctuating band roughly centered around a latitude of 60 degrees south, so this is the line that is now defined as the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean.

All this is good news as the Southern Ocean is official except for one nagging detail. For the Golden Globe Race which is currently in the southern latitudes, and for The Ocean Race which starts in January, the boats never get to the Southern Ocean.

As competitors face the horrendous conditions of this race course, they will be in the Indian and Pacific Oceans only.

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