The conventional route around the world is from west to east, sailing with the prevailing winds on a fast, predominantly downwind ride. The ‘wrong way’ round is a slower and far more uncomfortable route. “Sailing into headwinds is massively harder than sailing downwind,” says Mike Broughton, specialist weather router for the Aviva Challenge. “It’s hard-going beating against any strong wind, even in flatter seas, but add bigger seas and high winds, while pounding into the teeth of a gale for example, and it makes life much more difficult.”
Sailing up to 28,000 miles the hard way, Dee’s westabout route is one of the toughest tests in the sporting world.
The first challenge will be the busy shipping waters of the English Channel as she makes her way to the official start line between The Lizard, UK and Ushant, France. Once across the line set by the World Speed Sailing Records Council, the Aviva Challenge officially begins and Dee will head out into the Atlantic.
The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), also known as the doldrums, is likely to be her first major obstacle. An often windless area of low-pressure just north of the equator, the doldrums could seriously hinder her progress. Dee and Mike will carefully plan her route through to avoid the anguish of becoming becalmed so far from the finish line.
Heading south towards Cape Horn, Dee says “the big build up to the Southern Ocean” will dominate her thoughts. “As she gets down to the Cape we’ll be picking out currents that could go against her,” says Mike. “Close to the headland, big waves are generated by the Southern Ocean depression systems. If a current goes against this big breaking waves can occur, which are dangerous.”
Once round the legendary Cape, she will be stealing herself for the notorious wilderness where fierce wind and waves barrel across from the west uninterrupted by land. “It can be like dealing with brick walls of water down there,” remembers Dee.
An important consideration for the Southern Ocean will be how far south Dee sails. “The shortest course would actually take her right over Antarctica, which we would need wheels for,” says Mike, “so one problem will be working out where the ice goes to.” Safety will be of paramount concern of course as even small chunks of ice known as growlers could damage Aviva’s steel hull.
Personal Coach Harry Spedding believes one of the major psychological landmarks will be heading north again once she has gone deep-south under Australia. “That will be a lift because it will feel like she’s heading for home,” says Harry, “but I imagine a couple of weeks later when she realizes that she’s still deep in the Southern Ocean and only slowly getting out will be a low point.”
Having passed Cape Horn and Cape Leeuwin, the Cape of Good Hope will signal the start of the homeward stretch. “In my mind, it’s one of those major hurdles,” says Dee, “when you know you’ve cracked the Southern Ocean it can only get better and you know you are on the home run.”
Heading back up through the Atlantic will still require careful planning but Dee’s confidence will have peaked and her goal of the finish line between Ushant and the Lizard will be in sight.