Living the terror in the southern oceans

Published on March 16th, 2023

The shortest course through the southern oceans is to the south, but the risk is icebergs and freezing temperatures. While The Ocean Race 2023 has an ice exclusion zone to protect teams from routing toward danger, that was not always the case.

To get a feel for what it’s like to be onboard in the deep south, back when sailors were on deck during the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race, Gordon Maguire on News Corp shares this heart-felt and eloquent account of how raw life is on board:

The scenario: evening watch, last half-hour, it’s getting dark, last light, everything’s getting really dusky with about 400 yards visibility, and you’re looking at your watch which has 20 minutes to go. You’re thinking about I’m just over this. It’s blowing 35 knots, you’re doing 25 knots of boat speed, you’re hanging on the wheel, you haven’t lost it, you haven’t wiped out, everything’s under control.

It’s just another day in the office when the Navigator sticks his head up the hatch and reports an iceberg on the bow, one mile ahead. But one mile at 25 knots, you don’t even want to think about it. It’s like three minutes and you’re on top of it. So all of a sudden the heart starts going and the whole thing’s now elevated to a level that you just didn’t need.

It’s the end of your watch, you’re over it but now sweats coming down the back your neck. Your feet are ice blocks, your hands are ice blocks, your face is raw red from the salt spray and all of a sudden, you’re being told iceberg on the bow, one mile.

When you’re driving those conditions, you have what we call a 10-degree envelope to steer in. You can go up five degrees or down five degrees but either side of that is a wipeout, so you’re quite limited on where you can steer. You have very little time to react, you have to react instantaneously as once you get the call for an iceberg, you react.

So we come up five degrees and the Navigator disappears to the radar, and then comes back up to report a second iceberg on the port bow. Unbelievable, you ask, “Is it the same iceberg?” He doesn’t know, but you are basically arriving in this scenario where you are not sure whether these two blips on the radar is one iceberg or two, and if there is a gap between them, how big is the gap?

During all of this you have just four or five hundred yards visibility in front of you. It looks like somebody’s just frappe’d an iceberg right in your path and it’s all come out in assorted bits, and you have a guy that stands up by your shoulder and he basically directs you through this pack of ice, picking out the big bits to miss.

All the time, in your mind, you can’t remember how somewhere somebody in school was trying to tell you how much ice there was under the water, but you can’t remember how much and you don’t want to as 80% of it is under the water. Then you look at your watch and there’s five minutes before the end of your watch and you think about how I just do not need this in my life.

All the time you’re doing 25 knots, the hammer is down fully, you’re just going. The boat is rocking down and you just think how if we hit something bigger than six or eight feet across, we will actually compromise the hull and go down.

But then you go down below and you take your gloves off and your feet are frozen, your hands are frozen, you curl up in your bunk and you just pretend you’re not there, and how I don’t need to do that anymore. That’s my last time, I’m over it.

Race detailsRouteTrackerTeamsContent from the boatsYouTube

IMOCA: Boat, Design, Skipper, Launch date
• Guyot Environnement – Team Europe (VPLP Verdier); Benjamin Dutreux (FRA)/Robert Stanjek (GER); September 1, 2015
• 11th Hour Racing Team (Guillaume Verdier); Charlie Enright (USA); August 24, 2021
• Holcim-PRB (Guillaume Verdier); Kevin Escoffier (FRA); May 8, 2022
• Team Malizia (VPLP); Boris Herrmann (GER); July 19, 2022
• Biotherm (Guillaume Verdier); Paul Meilhat (FRA); August 31 2022

The Ocean Race 2022-23 Race Schedule:
Alicante, Spain – Leg 1 (1900 nm) start: January 15, 2023
Cabo Verde – ETA: January 22; Leg 2 (4600 nm) start: January 25
Cape Town, South Africa – ETA: February 9; Leg 3 (12750 nm) start: February 26
Itajaí, Brazil – ETA: April 1; Leg 4 (5500 nm) start: April 23
Newport, RI, USA – ETA: May 10; Leg 5 (3500 nm) start: May 21
Aarhus, Denmark – ETA: May 30; Leg 6 (800 nm) start: June 8
Kiel, Germany (Fly-By) – June 9
The Hague, The Netherlands – ETA: June 11; Leg 7 (2200 nm) start: June 15
Genova, Italy – The Grand Finale – ETA: June 25, 2023; Final In-Port Race: July 1, 2023

The Ocean Race (formerly Volvo Ocean Race and Whitbread Round the World Race) was initially to be raced in two classes of boats: the high-performance, foiling, IMOCA 60 class and the one-design VO65 class which has been used for the last two editions of the race.

However, only the IMOCAs will be racing round the world while the VO65s will race in The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint which competes in Legs 1, 6, and 7 of The Ocean Race course.

Additionally, The Ocean Race also features the In-Port Series with races at seven of the course’s stopover cities around the world which allow local fans to get up close and personal to the teams as they battle it out around a short inshore course.

Although in-port races do not count towards a team’s overall points score, they do play an important part in the overall rankings as the In-Port Race Series standings are used to break any points ties that occur during the race around the world.

The 14th edition of The Ocean Race was originally planned for 2021-22 but was postponed one year due to the pandemic, with the first leg starting on January 15, 2023.

Source: The Ocean Race

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