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Vendée Globe: The hotspots on the route around the world

Skippers cover around 28,000 nautical miles on the Vendée Globe. These can be divided into three main stages: the first third in the Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and the last third again in the Atlantic. The sailors not only have to master a wide variety of wind and wave conditions, but also cross different climate zones with autumn weather at the start, heat at the equator and subpolar cold in the south.

In addition to the correct setting of the yacht in order to sail at the highest possible speed, so-called weather routing is one of the most important tasks on board. Using weather forecasts and appropriate software, such as the Adrena routing program, the skippers try to find the best course past calm zones and around heavy storms. They are only dependent on their own knowledge; Outside help, such as external weather experts, is prohibited. Although the programs are fed with the corresponding forecast data, they can already look ahead several days and sometimes weeks, but these are always only calculations of probabilities. In the end, it is up to the knowledge and experience of each skipper to follow the suggestions of the software or to rely on your own intuition.

Through lulls, storms and different climates

In the first phase of the race, the participants usually give full throttle, by the time they reach the Southern Ocean, the wheat has usually been separated from the chaff. Because whoever reaches one of the strong winds of low pressure areas moving from west to east can hardly be caught - like with a chairlift in which you catch the first gondola. With the further developed foils and the higher speed, the boats can sail longer than before with these low pressure areas, so that the phases with less wind in between, in which the field can collapse, decrease. However, the virtual ice border brings the participants closer to northern high pressure areas than before, which could result in interesting constellations.

When you reach Cape Horn, the last stage begins. Here, those placed in the front try above all to secure their position to the rear. Exciting boat-to-boat battles can develop because of the changing conditions.

In the following we show the most important hotspots on the route:

YACHT / N. Campe The main hotspots of the Vendée Globe

1 Biscay
If the Azores high extends far to the east at the start, moderate conditions are to be expected. It looks different when one of the low pressure areas stretches from Newfoundland to Europe. Then it can be a very tough first day with a lot of wind and sometimes chaotic waves

2 Azores high
The mostly light wind zone should be avoided, so don't sail too far to the west

3 Canaries / Cape Verde
The archipelagos offer a variety of tactical options. Accelerating jet effects can form between the islands, but in the lee of them there are also cover and slack zones

4 doldrums
In this area, also known as the intra-tropical convergence zone or Kalmen, the two trade winds, the north-east and south-east trade winds, collide. Thunderstorms, sudden strong gusts and calm as well as sometimes very high waves characterize this area

5 St. Helena high
The pronounced light wind zone blocks the direct route to the south and is bypassed to the west. The skippers try to catch the smaller low pressure areas moving east from the Brazilian coast. However, they want to stay as far away from the coast as possible, otherwise they would sail too much. There is only a narrow band available for choosing a course

6 ice line
To prevent collisions with icebergs and growlers, the race management has set up a protection zone, the Antarctic Exclusion Zone (AEZ). It is an imaginary circle around the Antarctic between 45 degrees south on the Crozet Islands and 68 degrees south near Cape Horn, between these marks there are further GPS points, which together form a line. This line must not be crossed. The zone is adjusted during the race depending on the ice conditions

7 Southern Ocean
Circumnavigating Antarctica makes up almost a third of the total distance and is considered the toughest part. Cold, a lot of wind and high waves shape it. After leaving the South Atlantic, on the way east, you have to catch one of the low pressure areas as quickly as possible, which come from Brazil, Madagascar or New Zealand. These move in a west-east direction, so the Antarctic circumnavigation usually takes place in strong winds

8 lulls
The ice line forces skippers to take a more northerly route than before, and there is a risk of getting into one of the high pressure areas of the Indian Ocean or Pacific

9 Cape Horn
Its expansion to the south brings the yachts below the 56th parallel south and thus into the "angry fifties" notorious because of their stormy winds

10 way back
In the last third you have to master the same navigational and weather tactical challenges as in the first part: the St. Helena high, the Doldrums, the Azores high and the Biscay

This article is part of a big special about the Vendée Globe in YACHT 23/2020. The issue is until November 17th. available at the kiosk or ordered digitally here.