Telefonica being knocked down twice during leg 5 of the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race.
I’ve talked a bunch about leg 5, how it’s “the” leg in terms of the history of the race. I wanted to explain a little more about why it’s is a big deal to me.
Commerce during the Age of Sail meant sailing around the “Great Capes” that separate the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans and entering the Southern Ocean, the great expanse of water that encircles Antarctica. It’s a region of strong westerlies, frequent storms, and, if one sails far enough south, ice.
And it has waves like nowhere else in the world.
Waves are a function of wind; the stronger the wind the bigger the waves. But there’s another factor: fetch. The greater the distance the wind blows across the water the more time it has to build up bigger waves.
The Southern Ocean basically has infinite fetch. Its waves sweep around the world and just keep going, growing into fast-moving mountains of water. Sailing legend has it that helmsmen in the old days were forbidden to look behind them while surfing those waves, for fear they would become so terrified they would abandon the wheel.
It’s not just the size of Southern Ocean waves that makes them problematic. It’s that they’re so chaotic. As storm systems track eastward the wind changes direction rapidly, creating waves running in opposing directions that collide unpredictably.
That’s what’s happening to Telefonica in the video above. They’re surfing down one wave, when another slams into them from the side. In those conditions it’s easy for a sailor to be washed overboard. And going overboard in the Southern Ocean is almost always a death sentence.
Sailors try to stay clipped in with safety harnesses, but in the rush to take care of the boat and the pressure of competition they sometimes don’t. Even when clipped in, it’s possible to be torn free by a strong enough wave. Three sailors died in the Southern Ocean during the first Whitbread race (the forerunner of the Volvo) in 1973. Since then two more Volvo racers have died, most recently when Hans Horrevoets was washed overboard from ABN Amro Two during a storm in the Atlantic in 2006.
In its early days, the Whitbread/Volvo was about getting down into the Southern Ocean and taking the fastest track around the world, stopping in just a few places: South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, and South America. These days the course takes them north to stopovers in host cities situated in more benign latitudes. But leg 5, the longest leg, still takes them down into the Southern Ocean and keeps them there for thousands of miles, exposed to its winds and waves as they travel to and around the most feared and revered of the Great Capes: Cape Horn.
Sailing into the Southern Ocean in any boat is a significant act. Doing it in a 65-foot planing dinghy is an act that defies human limitations.
Reposted from http://ift.tt/1EbHmem.