The further the Whitbread Race and its successors move away from its roots the more the event struggled. Something that has not escaped the attentions of oceanic racing impressario Don MacIntyre...
Southampton used to be known as the “home of ocean racing” when large sailing events were hosted in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Now it will be the start and finish port again. MDL Marinas (MDL) will host the first Ocean Globe Race at its Ocean Village Marina before the 14-boat fleet sets out from the Solent o n 10 September to once again race around the world. This will be a four-leg, 30,000-nautical mile marathon that harks back 50 years to the very roots of ocean racing. It will finish at Ocean Village around 1 April 2024.
The Ocean Globe Race has been conceived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973-74 and, with perfect synergy, MDL is celebrating 50 years since the company founded its flourishing marina business on the River Thames.
The fleet will gather at Ocean Village in September for a 13-day assembly period before the gun fires and the fleet sets sail once again for Cape Town, South Africa. MDL has dredged areas of the marina for the fleet and set up a Race Village for the crews, teams, race officials, sponsors and supporters, and of course the public. Just like the old days.
‘By hosting the start and finish of this retro edition of this historic race at our Ocean Village Marina, we’re hoping to recreate the jubilant atmosphere of the early races, welcoming crowds of supporters and capturing the imagination of visitors and inspiring the next generation of ‘round the world sailors,’ explains Tim Mayer from MDL.
Back where it all started
The Whitbread Round the World Race, which later became the Volvo Ocean Race and is now The Ocean Race, first started in 1973 as an amateur event, available for anyone with offshore experience and sufficient dedication. Now, celebrating the anniversary, the Ocean Globe Race will bring it back to where it all began.
The gun will be fired in Southampton on 10 September this year. The fleet of 14 yachts are divided into three classes, which will set off on the classic 30,000- nautical mile route around the world: First leg to Cape Town, second leg to Auckland, third leg to Punta del Este, and fourth and last leg back to Southampton. The race is set to finish at the beginning of April 2024, a journey of about eight months. And this adventure is possible with a budget that’s within reach for a lot of amateur sailors: ‘Our calculations show that a campaign for the Ocean Globe Race in the Adventure Class can be done with a total cost of as little as 125,000 euros,’ says Ocean Globe Race founder, Don McIntyre.
It’s no news that offshore races have developed over the 50-odd years since they have existed in an organised form. But they haven’t just developed. They have morphed into something completely different. Today, all-professional crews sail extremely specialised and technologically advanced machines across the oceans, steered by autopilots at speeds that were unconceivable a few decades ago. Not only is the average boatspeed doubledigit, team budgets are too – counted in tens of millions of euros.
‘Modern offshore races are a fantastic spectacle’, says Don McIntyre, founder of the Ocean Globe Race, ‘and I love to watch it. They are amazing sailors and the boats are incredible. But it's not achievable for normal people anymore, and it's driven largely by machines and computers, backed by expert shore teams. My vision is to bring back traditional offshore events, where ordinary people again can face these challenges in classic boats, and where modern technology doesn't play such a big part. And also, where budgets are within reach without huge sponsorship deals’.
McIntyre knows what he’s talking about. He is the founder and race chairman of the Golden Globe Race, a nonstop singlehanded round the world race in classic boats with two editions completed since 2018. An experienced circumnavigator himself, he finished second in class in the 1990-91 BOC Challenge solo around the world race. In 2010, he led the successful four-man Talisker Bounty Boat Challenge to re-enact the Mutiny on the Bounty voyage from Tonga to West Timor. In 2021 he raced solo across the Atlantic in the Globe 5.80 Transat. He has been leading annual expeditions to Antarctica for 23 years and lived in the Kingdom of Tonga from 2008 to 2020. Since 2020, McIntyre has been based in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, which is the start and finish port for the Golden Globe Race.
Two of the three classes are defined by size: The Adventure Class is for boats 47-55ft and the Sayula Class (named after the Mexican winner of the first Whitbread) is for boats 55-65ft. Finally, the Flyer Class is for previous participants in the Whitbread – more specifically those that took part in the seventies and eighties. In this class, five true legends have been refitted and made ready to go around the world one more time. They are all part of offshore racing history and have ignited the dreams of many people in the past. Now they will do it again.
At 58ft, the Bruce Farr-designed Maiden is probably the most famous. In the 1989-90 edition of the race, skipper Tracy Edwards led an all-woman crew to an astonishing second place in her class, winning both of the Southern Ocean legs. At the time this was no less than a revolution, a feat that has inspired female sailors ever since. Edwards was awarded an MBE and became the first woman to receive the prestigious Yachtsman of the Year trophy. The film Maiden was released in 2018. In 2021, the boat was refitted and embarked on a world tour, a mission to educate, empower and elevate young women and raise money to fund girls’ educational projects around the world. The all-female team now takes a break from their world tour to participate in the Ocean Globe Race.
Pen Duick VI
Another household name for those interested in the roots of offshore racing is Pen Duick VI. This 73ft aluminium ketch entered the very first Whitbread in 1973, with high hopes of winning the event. The skipper was a man who might be considered the father of today’s French ocean sailing dominance: Eric Tabarly. Unfortunately the ketch-rigged yacht broke her mainmast on Leg 1 after 25 days at sea and headed to Rio under jury rig. A military aircraft was sent from France with a new mast and sails and she set sail for Cape Town, arriving two days before the leg start. On Leg 3, 200 miles after the start, the mainmast was broken and the rig cut free with all the sails and rigging. Although replacements were flown from France, she took no further part in the race.
The boat and skipper returned under the name Euromarché, but was outdated by more modern designs and ended midfleet. Nonetheless, Pen Duick VI always had a special place in Tabarly’s heart and has had many great adventures. Through the decades, Pen Duick VI has been kept in good condition and has sailed countless miles in races and expeditions. She will be skippered by Tabarly’s daughter Marie in the Ocean Globe Race.
The press eagerly followed Clare Francis and her ketch-rigged Swan 65 ADC Accutrac in the 1977-78 edition of the Race, when she and her team finished in fifth place. This was a standard production boat although in the interest of saving weight, all the doors and half the water tanks were removed. This was the first boat ever to be skippered by a woman and Francis made headlines all over the world – this happened at a time when women were not believed to be capable of heading a race team and sailing around the world. Francis never did the race again, but became a best-selling author. For the Ocean Globe Race, the boat sails under the name Translated 9 and is skippered by two Italians: Marco Trombetti and Vittorio Alingri.
Below: Tracy Edwards’ all-female Maiden crew became Whitbread legends when they won both Southern Ocean legs in the 1990 edition and finished second overall in Class 2
The 58ft Philippe Briand-design L’Esprit d’Equipe was the overall winner of the Whitbread in 1985-86 on corrected time. This was her second try – the one-off aluminium yacht first took on the 1981-82 edition under the name 33 Export, but dismasted in the Southern Ocean and retired. She carried the smallest crew with only eight on board. In 1989, this time under the name Esprit de Liberté, the yacht was rebuilt and entered a third Whitbread, again scoring a win, this time in Class D. There was drama when her shore manager left the project in Punta del Este at the finish of leg 1, taking with him the crew passports and other vital documents. A problem that was solved in due course. After many years as an expedition boat in Antarctic waters, she now returns to racing, skippered by Lionel Regnier.
Neptune is a French 60ft one off, built in aluminium and designed by André Mauric. She was largely a private entry in the race with some support from the French yachting magazine whose name she bore. She took part in the second Whitbread Round the World race 1977-78 and finished 8th. She was refitted as a charter yacht and spent many years in the Caribbean, where she was severely damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 after breaking free from her mooring. She was damaged on the entire port side and the replacement of the damaged parts caused electrolysis because the aluminium replaced was not compatible with the aluminium used during construction. In 1995 she was refitted as much as possible to her origin and has raced in the major Caribbean regattas since. Now she is back to race around the world, again with a French team led by Tan Raffray.
The Swan heritage
Back in the day, before the Volvo Ocean Race days, the main substance of the race consisted of standard production boats. And anyone just slightly familiar with the Whitbread story will know which brand had an almost total dominance: Most teams without budgets for one-off campaigns went for a Swan, knowing that the legendary build quality, speed, and offshore capabilities from the Finnish yard were hard to find in any other production boat. The winner of the first Whitbread, Mexican Sayula, was a Swan 65 and since than countless Swans took part in the race. Nine of the 14 boats taking part in the Ocean Globe Race are Swans.
Today, the race committee for Ocean Globe Race has approved a number of yachts that have a proven offshore record and live up to the defined technical specifications. On the list are Baltic 48, 51, 55 and 64, as well as Nicholson 55, Oyster Lightwave 48 and Grand Soleil 52. Nonetheless, the Swan heritage is very visible on the list of Ocean Globe entrants in the Adventure and Sayula Classes.
So, everything is ready for a world class event based on an alternative approach to offshore racing – one that honours history and the human aspect. ‘One thing is certain’, says McIntyre, ‘the passion of people to follow adventure sailing and challenges based on human endeavour and extreme endurance is huge. The Golden Globe Race proved that. Our research clearly shows that slowing down and following heroes brings out core human values – intense emotions that ordinary people, mums and dads, can relate to and understand. In this fast world we now live in, sometimes looking back is the best way to go forward.’
After what promises to be an epic race around the world, the Ocean Globe fleet will return to MDL’s Ocean Village next April, no doubt to a rapturous welcome. A waving crowd of 50,000 was there when Maiden arrived back, in May 1990. Don’t miss this chance to be part of the thrill once more. Champagne will be flowing as a pair of important birthdays are celebrated together.
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