vendée Globe Yacht Racing - The Route

Vendée Globe: The Route

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

Yacht racing doesn’t come tougher than the Vendée Globe: 78 days, 2,560 miles, nonstop, solo and unassisted.

The race starts at Les Sables d’Olonne in France and then it’s once around 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 2,560 miles 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 southwest. 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 embark 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 (marked in red).

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 that jut less than three feet out of the water yet still weigh 40 tons … 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 sailing into waters that might lead the inexperienced to believe they’ve left the worst behind them) than you’re confronted by the Pampero, an extremely powerful wind that blows in from Argentina. As the competitors head northeast along the coast, the storm hits the yachts diagonally from ahead. The result: extreme heeling, 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 toward the west coast of France as if on a vast, moving blue-gray highway.

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11 2016 The Red Bulletin

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