In the Southern Ocean, when one of the iconic low pressures spins off the South Pole, the boats racing in the Volvo Ocean Race brace themselves for high winds and incredibly big seas. In the Southern Ocean, thousands (and thousands) of miles from land, waves exist that are so big, they swallow the 20-metre boats whole – only just spitting them out on the other side.
Like mountains, their sheer scale is incredible. The waves are harsh, they’re intimidating, and as you stare up at the crest from the bottom of the trough, you can’t help but say a little prayer. Simply put: the waves are enormous. These waves are the mountains of the sea.
Unlike the monsters that hit the coasts of Portugal and Hawaii, these offshore waves are unobstructed by land, so they’re not jacking up on a reef and cresting in a traditional way. But they’re still big. In the Southern Ocean, they’re already double, triple, over the head of a 1.8-metre man, who is already 2 metres off the water’s line. So you can imagine that once the waves hit land, they’ll be the notorious waves that big wave legends are riding.
In the Volvo Ocean Race, weather is everything – being on the right side of a storm means a big win or loss for a team as teams are either catapulted forward or left in the calm behind the storm. Navigators are constantly watching weather patterns, looking out for low and high pressures; they must ensure the team gets the most out of a weather system, which can often mean bringing the boat as close to the heart and the swell of the storm.
Although big waves mean big winds and big speeds, it can also mean not so comfortable living conditions. And the Volvo Ocean Race sailors live for upwards of three weeks in these harsh conditions.
If you want to see just how uncomfortable, harsh, and wet their reality is check out this video.