Please select your home edition
RS Sailing 2020 - Summer Offer - LEADERBOARD

Vendée Globe: A course defined by Capes

by Vendee Globe 12 Aug 21:28 PDT
La Fabrique - Vendée Globe © Alan Roura / La Fabrique

From Cape Finisterre on the north western tip of Spain to Cape Horn at the tip of Tierra del Fuego, the sailors of the Vendée Globe pass several world renowned Capes, each an emblematic landmark in its own right. Often the Cape in question marks the end of a continent, but inevitably each has its own maritime history which enhances their reputation. And during the Vendée Globe the passage of each Cape is always important chance to tick off another phase of the notoriously tough solo passage around the world.

Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn: the trio of the three great capes of the southern oceans should be really complemented by a fourth one, Cape Finisterre. Even if it is only one or two days of sailing from Sables d'Olonne, nevertheless it marks a really important stage of the course, both on the way out and on the way homewards to the finish line.

Farewell to Europe

Finisterre bids farewell to Europe. Cape Finisterre (not to be confused with the French department of Finistère), is actually not the most westerly point of continental Europe, that is Cape Saint-Vincent in the north of Portugal's Algarve.

But the passage of Cape Finisterre usually marks the exit of the Bay of Biscay and the strong SW'ly winds which blow there. Once around Cape Finisterre the skippers can hope for a rapid shift in direction of the winds along the Iberian Peninsula, catching the Portuguese trade winds, the powerful northerly winds which will allow them to accelerate south in a brisk, but often stable regime which allows some routine and respite after Biscay.

Cape Finisterre is a granite promontory on the end of the Costa da Morte, whose name alone highlights its feared reputation. Over 140 metres above sea level, Cape Finisterre has an imposing lighthouse. On land it is of course home to another huge odyssey as the pilgrims come there from Santiago de Compostela to burn their clothes or their shoes or leave them as an offering at dusk.

There is not usually a special offering made here by the Vendée Globe skippers, a sigh of relief for sure, having made a good start around the world when the Cape disappears literally or figuratively in the wake.

Good Hope, Aptly Named

Without doubt as the Cape of Good Hope bears its name because of its location as the theoretical turning point east from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and so into the Southern Ocean. In truth the Cape of Good Hope neither marks the tip of the African continent nor does it constitute the transition between the Atlantic and Indian. It is the Cape Agulhas, some 150 kilometers to the south east.

But for the historical great explorers, the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope became the first major turning point east. And so when the Portuguese merchant convoys on their way to India passed the Cape of Good Hope they could finally put a little easting into their course.

And now for the sailors of the Vendée Globe, the Cape of Good Hope marks their entry into the Southern Ocean. For the next several weeks they will have to contend with the unique challenges of the Indian Ocean and then the Pacific, racing far from any outside assistance. It is always with some apprehension and adrenaline that skippers pass this entry point. But it is very, very rare for the skippers to actually pass close to the Cape because of the contrary Agulhas current which also kicks up a nasty sea as it is against the prevailing wind and also the shortest route course around the world is over a thousand miles south of the Cape.

Leeuwin, Lesser Nnown But a Key Milestone

Cape Leeuwin is at the southwestern tip of the Australian mainland. Vendée Globe sailors are not done with the Indian Ocean until the longitude of Tasmania has been crossed and between the two, it is almost 2,000 miles that solo sailors will have to cover before their entry into the Pacific. But it is a key milestone to pass and mentally the sailors feel closer to land again after the frozen wastes of that stretch of the Indian Ocean. In agreement with the maritime authorities there the Vendée Globe course sets a southern limit which must not be crossed when the fleet is south of the Australian continent. This is required by the MRCC to keep the fleet within reach if rescue is required. This is precipitated in part after the incident in 2008 whenYann Eliès was the victim of a very serious accident. He could have been recovered by an Australian Navy frigate quicker had the route passed further north.

The passing of the longitude of Leeuwin serves as a reference point for the records for sailing in the Southern Ocean.

Horn, Nothing Short of Deliverance

To cross Cape Horn is every ocean racer's Holy Grail. At the Horn the Vendée Globe is far from but the sailors are leaving what Titouan Lamazou called the oppressive grey of the "shadowy lands" for what should be warmer and less windy latitudes. Above all they are emerging from the maritime desert of the south where the competitors can only rely on themselves to be back in closer touch with the South American continent.

Crossing Cape Horn is an opportunity to pass the very southernmost latitude of the course. And is usually accompanied by some kind of celebration marking deliverance from the south and the passage of the iconic, lonely rocky islet. The big bonus is seeing Cape Horn itself and being able to take photos or video images of the passage. In theory life is getting a little less wild, even though there are still three weeks to one month still at sea before reaching the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne.

The temptation is to come and sail as close as possible to Horn Island, to pass the foot of the cliffs of Tierra del Fuego, to have the chance to see the lighthouse guarded by a Chilean soldier and his family. Today it does not feel quite as lonely as cruises are organized to reach Cape Horn from Ushuaia or Puerto Williams. When the weather permits semi-rigid inflatables then land on the island at the end of the world. That maybe the case but true Cape Horners have passed the Southern Oceans under their keels (or foils as the case may be) and will forever covet the memories of their passage of the most famous Cape of all.

Related Articles

Meet the Vendée Globe skippers: Manuel Cousin
A business executive who is chasing his dream He is a business executive who is chasing his dream, after 20 years in the motor industry he moved to Les Sables d'Olonne to further his IMOCA project as he transitioned to full time sailor. Posted on 28 Sep
Vendee Globe: Sleep is an essential requirement
With a direct impact on safety and performance In the very specific, rarefied world of solo ocean racing, sleep has a direct impact on safety and performance. In this first part, we begin with the subject of data with Thomas Ruyant. Posted on 24 Sep
2020 Vendée Globe on course to be exceptional
The official press conference was held on Thursday in Paris The official press conference for the ninth edition of the Vendée Globe was held on Thursday, September 17 at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. Posted on 18 Sep
Vendee Globe: Hugo Boss completes final tests
As well as servicing the boat, the team also undertook a 90 degree test of righting ability British sailing team Alex Thomson Racing has completed the final service of its IMOCA 60 racing yacht, Hugo Boss, ahead of the highly anticipated Vendée Globe race, which begins in less than two months' time. Posted on 11 Sep
Meet the Vendée Globe skippers: Alex Thomson
A solo sailor who really has built a global following Starting the Vendée Globe for his fifth time and as a solo sailor who really has built a global following, he needs no introduction. He grew up in Wales initially where he developed his love of sailing fast as a windsurfer. Posted on 5 Sep
33 solo sailors set to start the Vendée Globe
The entry record is broken with this record sized fleet A new record sized fleet will compete in the 2020 edition of the Vendée Globe as 33 competitors are now registered to be on the start line off Les Sables d'Olonne on November 8. Posted on 4 Sep
Meet the Vendée Globe skippers: Kevin Escoffier
A member of the famous Saint Malo sailing dynasty The time is right for Kevin Escoffier. A member of the famous Saint Malo sailing dynasty, Escoffier has won the Volvo Ocean Race with Dongfeng, the Trophée Jules Verne with Banque Populaire among his many sailing honours. Posted on 30 Aug
How much speed has been gained in four years?
Things have certainly changed in the IMOCA class since the last Vendée Globe In 2016, foils first appeared in the non-stop solo round the world race. Since then, progress in terms of design choices has further boosted IMOCA monohulls, which now reach speeds similar to multihulls from around 2010. Posted on 27 Aug
Meet the Vendée Globe skippers: Jérémie Beyou
The three times winner of La Solitaire who will start the Vendée Globe for the third time He is the three times winner of La Solitaire who will start the Vendée Globe for the third time. Meet Jérémie Beyou, winner of the recent Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne, who, on Charal, starts the 2020 race as one of the outstanding favourites. Posted on 23 Aug
What foils will it take to win the Vendee Globe
What appendage can deal with problems over 21,600 miles? While it is highly likely that the next winner of the non-stop solo round the world race will be aboard a foiler, what type of appendage will be able to deal with all the problems over more than 21,600 miles? Posted on 20 Aug
ETNZShop-SAILRACING-728X90 HR BottomNorth Sails 2019 - NSVictoryList - FooterOfficial-Event-Store-Red 728x90 BOTTOM