An open letter to Richard Brisius and Johan Salen –  organisers of the Ocean Race

From Barry Pickthall – journalist and yachting historian

Dear Richard and Johan

What is happening within the Ocean Race organisation?  Your PR support for the media is appalling, the Ocean Race web site is falling down and just this week your team issues a press release re-writing the history of the first Whitbread Round the World Race

Let’s start with your PR support. I emailed your press office on 10th November asking for help compiling a definitive list of multi-crew circumnavigators, specifically those who completed all legs in the last two Volvo Ocean Races.

No response.

I persevered, but your press officer, clearly a graduate from the ‘Don’t know, Don’t care, Don’t bother me’ school of PR, failed at every level despite having access to a comprehensive library of books covering all previous races that you inherited from Volvo. I know, because I co-wrote six of them, including Sailing Legends, a complete history of this once great event to mark its 40th Anniversary.

Perhaps she tried to access the information from the Ocean Race website instead of walking over to the bookshelves. Fat chance. An analysis of the Ocean Race website uncovers no less than 49-page breaks within the history pages alone.

This lack of interest stems from the top. I sent a request asking if both of you could at least confirm the circumnavigators within the crews you sailed with during previous Whitbread Races. Johan responded within 7 days, but four months on we still await the Brisius list of circumnavigators aboard the Whitbread 60 yacht Brooksfield!

The International Association of Cape Horners has now published an 1,850-strong list of multi-crew circumnavigators https://www.capehorners.club/main/roundingsregister.php

The incomplete entries listed in red stand as a damning indictment to the lack of interest the Ocean Race organisers have in regard to the Race history. It can only be hoped that this critique will alert those forgotten Whitbread and Volvo Race veterans to register their well-earned achievements themselves.

And now to your press release issued on 11th March spotlighting the pioneers who organised and competed in the first Whitbread Race back in 1973. https://www.theoceanrace.com/en/news/13000_The-French-Connection-Series-in-The-Ocean-Race-part-1-The-pioneers-of-the-crewed-round-the-world-race.html

Was this an attempt to re-write history or simply a reflection of the same sloppy understanding of the great race you have inherited? Here are a few misnomers

You accredit Sir Francis Chichester and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston as the ones who first thought of the idea of a multi-crew yacht race around the World.


That accolade goes to Anthony Churchill, the publisher of the British magazine Seahorse, and publicist Guy Pearce who first published a pamphlet about the proposed event during the 1971 Cowes Week. Unable to raise sponsorship, the two handed their race format and a list of potential entries to the Royal Naval Sailing Association which already had the Whitbread Brewery as an interested party.

Chichester may well have been consulted – after all, he had been sponsored personally by Col. Sam Whitbread during his solo one-stop circumnavigation in 1977/8 – but your writer is confused between your race and the 1968/9 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race where Chichester became Chairman of the Race Jury. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston won that race – he was the sole finisher – becoming the first to sail solo non-stop around the world in his yacht Suhaili. Knox-Johnston did not become involved with the Whitbread race until the second event in 1977 when he co-skippered the British maxi yacht Heath’s Condor.

Another major error concerns Eric Tabarly and his 73ft Andre Mauric designed maxi yacht Pen Duick VI. Yes, they competed in the 1973 Whitbread but not with a spent uranium keel. That issue occurred during the second Whitbread in 1977/8. Pen Duick was disqualified for not having a valid rating certificate (because of the keel) and was only allowed to continue the leg around Cape Horn to Rio after Knox-Johnston petitioned the Race Organisers to allow Tabarly to race as an unofficial entry. For the last leg back to Portsmouth Pen Duick competed for a private wager against Knox-Johnston’s Heath Condor which won the bet by 100 miles.

It would be understandable if this slap-happy  approach was down to a lack of money. It must be hard to operate without the many millions of Euros once provided by Volvo. But then again without a title sponsor in place and just 10 months to the start in January 2023 the question has to be asked: Will the Ocean Race happen at all?

I hope it does, but to many observers, the two of you are looking increasingly like Emperors without clothes.

Barry Pickthall