credit: Gatorade Race Team

11th Hour Racing Team navigator Simon Fisher talks about the ice exclusion zone and managing the ice limit

11th Hour Racing Team navigator Simon Fisher talks about the ice exclusion zone

If you’ve been following Legs 2 and 3 of The Ocean Race on the race tracker, you’ll notice there is a southern boundary to the race course… and it isn’t Antarctica.

The race organisers have established an ice exclusion zone based on satellite imagery that shows where full fledged icebergs, as well as smaller – but still dangerous – mini ‘bergs, or growlers, are likely to be encountered. 

The idea is to keep the boats and the ice separate. 

But why is it necessary to have an exclusion zone? Surely the sailors wouldn’t want to encounter ice either?

That’s where it gets tricky. Whilst leg 3 looks like a straight line to the east on the race tracker, in reality, it’s a long, slow curve to the right – about two-thirds of a circumnavigation around Antarctica.

And that means the more to the right you are – the further south – the more you’re on the inside lane of the running track, and therefore racing a shorter distance. So there is a huge compettive incentive to sail as far south as possible. 

The Ice Exclusion Zone takes that tempation away and the obvious reward of a high-risk decision. 

Simon Fisher (Si Fi), the navigator on 11th Hour Racing Team, offers his thoughts on how the ice exclusion zone is managed by Race Control:

“In the south we have a big ice exclusion zone, which is the limit of how far south we are allowed to go and we aren’t allowed to cross the line. That line is formed by (Race Control) doing scans in the south for potential icebergs, and looking at sea temperature and potential drift, and based on the advice from a company called CLS, they define our ice limits which we have to respect.

“Sometimes it can limit how south we can go and you get days like today where really for the weather we would go more south if we could, but we are forced to gybe down the exclusion zone, down the hard limit.

“Generally the icebergs drift to the east or north east, and when they hit the warmer water they tend to break up or fragment, and that’s where you get lots of bergy bits and that presents the biggest risk to us in the fleet. At the speeds that we do in our carbon boats, the last thing we want to see, or hit, is an iceberg and the technology exists to scan the ice accurately.

“Back in the day when the guys were spotting icebergs, there wasn’t the technology and it was harder to mitigate the risk. The consequences of sailing through an iceberg at 10-12 knots is significantly less than us flying along with foils out the side of the boat doing 25-30. It means a few more gybes at times, maybe we stay a little bit further north than the traditional clipper route, but it is all for our safety which is probably a good thing.”

If you want to understand the way it used to be, “back in the day” as SiFi says, check out this interview from the 2001-02 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, where race legend Gordon Maguire opens up to reporter Guy Swindells about what it was like steering a Volvo 60 through an ice field… You can understand why things have changed. 



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