In the Southern Ocean, when one of the iconic low pressures spin 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 of miles from land, waves exist that are so big, they swallow 60-foot racers whole — only just spitting them out on the other side.
The waves are harsh and intimidating. As you stare up at the crest from the bottom of the trough, you can’t help but say a little prayer. Like mountains, their sheer scale is incredible and amazing to look at.
Unlike the monster waves 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. In the Southern Ocean, they’re already triple the size over the head of a 6-foot-tall person, who is already standing 6 and a half feet 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 as teams are either catapulted forward or left in the calm behind the storm. Navigators are constantly watching weather patterns and looking out for low and high pressures. They must ensure their teams get the most out of a weather system, which can often mean bringing the boat as close to the heart and swell of the storm.
Although big waves mean big winds and big speeds, it can also mean uncomfortable living conditions. The Volvo Ocean Race sailors live for upward 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.