Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters
Email this review


“They surfed at breakneck speeds of twenty-five knots or more down waves like steep hills in winds of near-hurricane strength”: Just another day on the VendÇe Globe, one of those single-handed, round-the-world sailing races that “answer to the needs of sailors eager to reach their uttermost limits,” vibrantly captured by Lundy (Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy, not reviewed). The VendÇe Globe demands that sailors take their boats 27,000 miles, unassisted and nonstop (the winner takes about 15 weeks), from France down to Antarctica, pull a clockwise turn about the Pole, then beat it back to France. This means that most of the time the boats will be in the Southern Ocean, Lundy points out, that malevolent stew of relentless, homicidal low-pressure systems that are also known as the roaring forties, furious fifties, and screaming sixties. Lundy follows the 1996—97 race, which featured the surreal contemporaneity of some boats finding the charmed path while others were so piteously beaten by heavy weather they would have been happy with 80-foot waves and at least a part of their masts. Call it apocalyptic sailing in what one sailor terms “a miserable, mean, vicious place,” the kind that attracts sailors not given to solemn ecstasy; they court this insanity and it all feels a little pathological. Few got to enjoy “the exhilarating flat-out, downwind rush of Southern Ocean sledding”; more typical were acts of extreme heroism. You don’t abandon someone in trouble in so remote a place; at one moment they sail through the point on earth farthest from land, some 1,660 miles out. “Only a few astronauts have ever been farther from land than a person on a vessel at that position.” And the astronauts weren’t in a capsized sailboat, with a finger chopped off, up to their neck on a freezing ocean, and without food or water. Lundy does a marvelous job of keeping all the contestants in the action and unspooling this tale of high-seas terror with flair rather than melodrama. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: May 21st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56512-229-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999