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East-about or west-about? Which is the right way to sail around the world?

by Global Solo Challenge 2 Apr 2022 06:18 PDT
Dee Caffarri is the first woman to have sailed solo, non-stop, around the world, in both directions © Global Solo Challenge

"Sailing East and West are a bit like chalk and cheese. They are opposites both figuratively and literally" says Round the World Queen Dee Caffari*.

Sailing around the world can be done in several ways. Cruising boats from Europe typically start their journey between November and January, heading towards the West Indies. Before the onset of the following hurricane season, they head towards the Panama Canal and the Pacific, stopping and going according to the seasons. Eventually, cruisers will sail north of Australia and towards the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. The circumnavigation is, therefore, from East to West, anti-clockwise. The correct maritime term refers to a West-about (westward) circumnavigation.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Clippers dominated the seas before the advent of steamships. With no canals in Panama and Suez, boats leaving Europe had no choice but to head towards Cape Horn first to reach the far East. Many foundered in the treacherous seas of the Drake Passage. Those that reached Asia picked up precious cargoes of spices and tea before heading back to Europe via Cape of Good Hope. Most Clipper routes involved a West-about circumnavigation in very different conditions than the traditional cruising route.

By contrast, when it comes to offshore yacht races, most are East-about (eastward), going the other way around. From the North Atlantic, the route is to Cape of Good Hope, followed by Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn, before heading up the Atlantic again. The route takes advantage of following winds and a shorter distance sailing at higher latitudes in the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties.

The Global Solo Challenge follows the traditional East-about route, from A Coruña to A Coruña by the three Great Capes, the same followed by the Vendée Globe that starts a little further North in Les Sables D'Olonne.

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