There’s little that compares to the thrill of voyaging the seven seas, the blistering, briny ocean lashing your face as your sturdy vessel negotiates tempestuous waves.
While many sailing enthusiasts will stick to tried and tested routes, preferring calm waters and gentle breezes, plenty of hard-core sailors prefer something a little more testing. Here is a look at some of the toughest sailing routes in the world, cruising journeys that will test your nerve as much as your skill, but voyages that reward with natural grandeur and a sense of achievement. A quick jaunt around the Greek islands these ain’t.
Bay of Biscay
Extending from the tip of Brittany in France to the most western regions of Galicia in Spain, the Bay of Biscay is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most challenging cruising areas. A shallow continental shelf for much of this marine region, and open access to the worst weather fronts from the Atlantic Ocean, ensure that seas here are always rough and ready. Gulf Stream storms move into the area with particular frequency, blanketing the seas in thick fog and bringing loud thunder and startling lightning displays to the region. The natural bowl shape of the bay itself also gives waves little chance to fully dissipate, while the jagged cliffs along the coast make for treacherous journeys as proved by the ill-fated Costa Concordia. Yet, if you are brave enough to venture into Europe’s most brutal seas on a bareboat charter, the Bay of Biscay can also prove enchanting and captivating, with whales and dolphins to be found in abundance. The Bay also happens to be the world’s best place for spotting beaked whales, making it a popular destination for budding marine biologists. The coast here is also full of vibrant destinations, from gritty, cultural Bilbao on Spain’s northern coast, to sedate and serene Biarritz in France, now known as a top surfing location.
Most experienced professional sailors tend to agree; the Southern Ocean is the toughest railing route in the world. Lying due south of Cape Town, Tierra del Fuego and Tasmania, this sea surrounds the bleakest and coldest continent on the planet, Antarctica, and regularly features weather conditions that can only be described as savage. Round the world sailing events frequently run into trouble when competitors have to negotiate the epic waves here, while even in calm weather the threat of icebergs means that sailors have to remain eternally vigilant. So if you are thinking about braving the hardest cruising conditions in the world, you may want to consider trading in your yacht charter for something a little more robust – say, an icebreaker?
Strait of Malacca
Historically the Strait of Malacca was one of the most dangerous sailing routes in the world for a variety of reasons. The shallow and narrow pass here has long been one of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, and the chances of a collision with another vessel are higher than just about anywhere in the world. Big tankers and container vessels from ports such as Singapore voyage side by side with junket ships and Indonesian fishing boats, making seas congested and crowded. What’s more, forest fires from nearby rainforests frequently smother the Strait in thick smoke, rendering visibility at near zero. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Strait is also one of the most active regions in the world for piracy, with up to one-third of all global pirating attacks occurring in this relatively confined area.
Not all difficult sailing areas pose problems due to extremely violent weather, for some areas, the very opposite conditions prove challenging. The Doldrums, low-pressure areas of sea around the Equator, and most common in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, are characterised by calm air, flat seas and the frequent absence of wind. In fact, so calm and peaceful are these regions that sailors relying on wind-power to navigate can often be stranded for days, or even weeks, while they wait for the wind to pick up and move them forwards. If you dare venturing into the deceptive, dangerous tranquillity of the Doldrums, make sure your boat is equipped with a reliable motor.