vendée Globe Yacht Racing - The Route

Vendée Globe: The Route

Photo: B.Stichelbaut
Words: Alexander Macheck, Arkadiusz Piatek and justin hynes

Vendeé Globe is the world’s toughest yacht race, where competitors take on skyscraper-size waves, howling gales and freezing temperatures on a solo, unaided 40,000km voyage around the world. These are the most dangerous parts of the course…

The race starts at Les Sables d’Olonne in France and then it’s once round the globe, always heading east, skirting the capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn on your left with the frozen wastes of Antarctica on your right. It’s 40,000km in all.

These are the most dangerous parts of the course… 

  1. The Bay of Biscay
  2. The Doldrums 
  3. Indian Ocean 
  4. The Pacific 
  5. The South Atlantic 
  6. The North Atlantic
Vendee Globe Route Map

The graveyard

Beware of storms from the south west. The Bay of Biscay is one of the world’s largest shipping graveyards. And there are also strong winds from the north. If you catch one of them, you’ll sail at high speed past the westernmost point of Spain, beyond Madeira and the Canary Islands and on to Cape Verde.

Every Sailor’s nightmare

The Doldrums are largely calm, but several times a day the serenity is interrupted by torrential rain, thunderstorms and squalls that blow in every direction. Skippers study weather data hour by hour to find the best route through the weather. But they’re wasting their time, or at least that’s what old sea-dogs say. When push comes to shove, the Doldrums will do whatever they damn well like.

On November 6, 30 of the world’s best yachtsmen will set off on this, the eighth edition of the ultimate solo sailing race

© youtube // Sailing News

The shadow world

That’s how Titouan Lamazou, winner of the first Vendée Globe, described the dark wilderness between the Cape of Good Hope and Tasmania. Hardly any light, gigantic waves, freezing, damp weather, howling winds and not another soul for miles. Heading as far south as possible would be the most direct route, but that way lie icebergs. So the sailors power their way north of the ice line.

Iceberg slalom

En route to the legendary Cape Horn, the boats come dangerously close to the ice line. Go south of it and the risk of colliding with an iceberg is too great. But even north of the line there are smaller boulders of ice which jut less than a metre out of the water yet still weigh 40 tonnes… and they can’t be picked up by radar.

Headlong into pampero 

No sooner have you passed Cape Horn (exiting the iceberg danger zone and sailed into waters that might lead the inexperienced to believe they’ve left the worst behind them) when you’re confronted by the Pampero, an extremely powerful wind that blows in from Argentina. As the competitors head north east along the coast, the storm hits the yachts diagonally from ahead. The result: extreme tilting, which puts huge pressure on both skipper and boat.

The icy motorway

The end is in sight. But first you have to wrap up warm as you’re heading north. The reward is that there’s a zone of reliable westerly winds that constantly blow the boats towards the west coast of France as if on a vast, moving blue-grey motorway.

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11 2016 The Red Bulletin

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