OK this one is personal to me as someone who participated in three Whitbread Round the World races back in the ’80’s. I had heard rumors of this happening and indeed had the idea myself a few years ago, so when I got a formal announcement this morning I was thrilled. My friend Don McIntyre, who founded the retro Golden Globe Race, has announce a retro Whitbread race set to depart from a northern European port in 2023. Details are, of course, quite sketchy but the idea has been thrown out there and let’s see who bites. I personally think that it’s a great idea.
Progress inevitably put the Volvo Ocean Race (now The Ocean Race) beyond the reach of most sailors. The budgets are sky high and the ability to sail one of those boats at the relentless pace needed to win is only in the realm of (young) professional sailors. The retro Whitbread will bring back the true spirit of the earlier around-the-world races and at a much more affordable price.
The race will follow the traditional route with stops in South Africa, somewhere in Australasia and South America with the start and finish in Northern Europe. Race organizers are inviting potential stopover ports to put in bids to host the event.
Entries will be limited to ‘approved’ fiberglass production yachts designed prior to 1988 from 47 feet to 66 feet segregated into two groups; The Adventure Class for yachts from 47 to 56 feet and the Sayula Class for yachts from 56 to 66 feet. Sayula of course being the name of the yacht skippered by the Mexican sailor Ramon Carlin that won the first Whitbread Race back in 1973. This new race, named the Ocean Globe Race will take place on the 50th anniversary of that historic win.
Just like the 2018 Golden Globe Race this new fully-crewed challenge will be equally retro, sailing similar well proven yachts to those entered in the first Whitbread and with technology limited to what was available back then. This means no high tech materials, no computers, no satellite systems (including phones and GPS) and definitely no mobile phones.
Navigation will be limited to sextant plots on paper charts, communications will be via single-sideband and VHF radios and music will be played on cassette tapes (if you are able to find those antique relics). Don McIntyre reckons that you will be able to buy an old Swan, refit it, take on some paying crew to help defray costs, and after you sell the boat once the race is over you are in for as little as $150-$200K, a fairly reasonable number given the high cost of offshore racing these days.
I like this idea for a number of reasons. There is still a yearning for pure adventure and I constantly meet sailors who tell me that they would have loved to do a Whitbread or an early Volvo Ocean Race but now it’s simply out of their reach. Too much money and the boats are too much of a challenge to be sailed by an average sailor. The early Whitbread races were a thrill to be a part of. True adventure. We were at sea for five to six weeks at a stretch with only weekly communications via single-sideband radio. Folks back home had little clue where we were and that was part of the fun.
We would show up in the next stopover unshaven, unwashed and as happy as one could be. There were some great sailors that participated. Peter Blake, Eric Tabarly, the great Connie van Rietschoten who won the race twice, Skip Novak, Grant Dalton to name just a few. This race will provide the opportunity for a new generation of sailor/adventurers to leave their mark on the world of offshore ocean racing. The only thing about this notice is that it made me realized how bloody old I have suddenly become. I still feel like that scruffy, adrenalin seeking kid when in reality I am a paunchy old dude with grey hair prone to sea sickness…:) – Brian Hancock