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…
- The Bay of Biscay
- The Doldrums
- Indian Ocean
- The Pacific
- The South Atlantic
- The North Atlantic
1 THE BAY OF BISCAY
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.
2 THE DOLDRUMS
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.
3 INDIAN OCEAN
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.
4 THE PACIFIC
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.
5 THE SOUTH ATLANTIC
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.
6 THE NORTH ATLANTIC
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.