February Is When The Southern Ocean Takes Center Stage

(Originally published on SailingWorld.com)

It’s possible to get sick of winter weather (and here in the Mid-Atlantic, more is on the way). But I don’t think it’s ever possible for any sailor to ever get sick of the Southern Ocean or the Jules Verne (unless, of course, you’re actually in the Southern Ocean, where, by the time you reach Cape Horn, I expect you’re thoroughly tired of the Southern Ocean).

But, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, I mention this because February is prime time in the Southern Ocean. And 2011 is a serious banner year. We’ve already got the Barcelona World Racers hitting their stride as they accelerate south of Cape Town (see the tracking chart here). It involves a lot of this:

Jules Verne bidder Banque Populaire is diving south and is now into the Roaring Forties as well. No Southern Ocean vid, yet, but this will give you a sense of what’s possible:

UPDATE: BanquePop has retired, after hitting a UFO (Unidentified Floating Object) at 37 knots just after entering the Roaring Forties, and smashing up its daggerboard and daggerboard case. Like Groupama 3, the boat whose record they are trying to beat, they will have to make repairs and try again. Such are the predictable vagaries of Jules Verne record sailing, as noted below.

But wait! That’s not all. Thomas Coville and Sodebo have just departed the English Channel and will be joining the party at the bottom of the world (barring breakdown or any more near-tragedies like this—34 seconds in you will stop breathing):

And last, and I’m sorry to say least (sorry Brad!), the Velux 5 Oceans racers are about to leave Wellington on the way to Cape Horn. Yep, all four of them. Though they did make a nice music video out of the Cape Town to Wellington Indian Ocean leg:

In short, it will be plenty crowded down south, with two races plus solo and crewed Jules Verne attempts. The beauty of sailing through this extraordinary ocean is that anything can happen. So the only prediction I will make is that something dramatic WILL occur. I just don’t know what, but I do know it will involve wind, waves (hopefully not ice), and some inspiring facet of the human spirit.

As I look outside at the latest wintry blast, it’s humbling to know that over the next few weeks some three-dozen iron-willed sailors will be doing everything they can to write themselves a new chapter in the storied history of the world’s greatest sailing ground. Everything in my world will pale alongside that.

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