by Rich Wilson, Skipper, Great American III

The turning mark in the Vendée Globe is Antarctica. We will not see this cold continent as we circumnavigate it, but we will be affected by it.

Already we have passed Ice Gate #1, located to keep the fleet north of icebergs drifting out of the Weddell Sea. Six more ice gates across the Indian and Pacific Oceans serve a similar purpose. When the Southern Ocean’s low-pressure systems hammer the fleet, they will do so with strong winds, big seas, and with frigid air spinning clockwise and north from Antarctica. 

Many failed expeditions to the South Pole have proved it a brutal, inhospitable place. Yet it is also a place that reveals great courage and leadership, as with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary expedition.

Diplomatically, the Antarctic Treaty, which reserves the continent for scientific research and prohibits mineral exploitation, is a fantastic example of how people can cooperate internationally when they act as planetary citizens. Research conducted on this massive continent revealed the ozone hole in the earth’s atmosphere; information on global warming and the planet’s past climate comes from studying Antarctica’s ice cores; and the seas surrounding the continent are teeming with penguins, birds, krill, and phytoplankton used for scientific study.

Although sailing past this time, I want to visit Antarctica some day, to see the white, to feel the cold, to experience the bottom of the world.