Whitbread Race Redux

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Boats of yesteryear will once again race around the globe

The way they were: racers head out to the start line of the 1973 Whitbread race

The way they were: racers head out to the start line of the 1973 Whitbread race

Many sailors of a certain age look back fondly on the Whitbread round-the-world races of the 1970s and ‘80s as the pinnacle of ocean racing, the glorious Corinthian days preceding the Volvo Ocean Race era and its glossy multi-million-dollar campaigns. As if to prove the conjuring powers of nostalgia, there’s a new round-the-world race in the works, and it’ll be sailed in the same kinds of boats that created the Whitbread legend.

Starting from an as-yet-unspecified European port on September 10, 2023—the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Whitbread race start—the Ocean Globe race will replicate the original’s course, with just four stopovers.

Instead of the tortuous courses of the Volvo race, which evolved to meet the demands of high-dollar team sponsors, the route will follow the classic track around the world—from Europe to South Africa, South Africa to Australia or New Zealand, then to a South American port, and finally back to the starting point in Europe.

The boats too will remain true to the original zeitgeist of the first Whitbread, in which an eclectic mix of boats competed, most of the production boats crewed by hard-sailing amateurs as opposed to today’s highly paid pros.

Race founder Don McIntyre, who also came up with the Golden Globe singlehanded round-the-world race that finished earlier this year, intends to make this race as true to the spirit of the original as is possible in this age of foiling boats, instant communication and electronic navigation.

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Entry is limited to fiberglass production boats designed prior to 1988. They will compete in two classes—Adventure, for boats from 47ft to 56ft, and Sayula, 56ft to 66ft (named after the Swan 65 that won the first Whitbread). A third class, Flyer, is open to actual race boats that competed in early Whitbreads and to “class surveyed” production sail training yachts up to 68ft.

The boats must not be modified from their original specifications, except to add bunks and storage and beef up standing rigging and deck gear. They’ll be allowed to carry only a limited wardrobe of Dacron and nylon sails—no laminates—and navigators will have to dust off their sextants and start collecting paper charts, as GPS is forbidden. Radar is allowed but may not have a GPS readout, and communications are restricted to SSB and VHF radios. Crews will also have to start foraging for cassette tapes, as iPods and their ilk are not allowed. However, a sealed locker in each boat will contain a satellite phone, AIS and a GPS-enabled chartplotter, and boats will also carry satellite tracking equipment.

McIntyre is limiting the entry to 30 boats and expects a minimum of 16 to start the race. He says a campaign could be put together for under $400,000, including purchasing a boat like an older Swan 55 (for example) and using crew labor to refit the boat—which could then be sold at the end of the race.

McIntyre expects to have a title sponsor and full list of stopover ports in place by the end of the year. In the meantime, if surfing Southern Ocean waves has always been on your bucket list, and you’re prepared to be without your smartphone for weeks on end, go to oceangloberace.com to find out how you can go about it.

September 2019

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