What a ride it’s been.
Today marks 45 years since the first edition of the race, which saw 17 boats and 167 sailors take the start line off the maritime city of Portsmouth, on the south coast of the UK.
Those first races were co-organised by the Whitbread brewing company and the Royal Naval Sailing Association, and called the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.
The inaugural race was won by skipper Ramón Carlin and his crew on the Mexican entry Sayula II, a brand new Swan 65, which completed the course in a corrected time of 133 days and 13 hours. The first race started and finished in Portsmouth and had three stopovers: Cape Town, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro.
Those early races took place every four years and if the first edition appealed to those with an adventurous spirit, it wasn’t long before the sport became more and more competitive and the race would quickly be seen as the ultimate test of seamanship, skill and teamwork.
By the time Volvo took over ownership of the race in 2001, legends like Conny van Rietschoten (the only skipper to win the race twice), Peter Blake, Grant Dalton and Paul Cayard were being celebrated for leading teams to victory in the ‘Everest of Sailing’.
Although technology would continuously make the boats faster over the years, they were no less difficult to sail. Quite the opposite, in fact. The demands and deprivations imposed on the crews remain to this day unlike that in any other sport.
And while better communication tools allows us more immediate insight into life on board, the experience of the race remains unique to those who take on the challenge.
New legends like Torben Grael, Franck Cammas, Ian Walker and most recently Charles Caudrelier, have seen their names added to the pantheon as winning skippers over the past few editions.
Looking forward, the race is once again entering a new era. After 45 years, new ownership will bring innovation while respecting the great heritage of the race.
The next edition, starting from Alicante in 2021, will see the challenge take place on incredible IMOCA 60 boats – foiling monohulls that begin to lift out of the water at speed.
Racing these boats through the Southern Ocean promises to test the sailors as never before.
But as in the previous 13 editions, the challenge of the competition, of battling against the fiercest conditions nature can offer, and the camaraderie of the crews who take to the seas, will ensure the next race is of a kind with those from the past.
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