There is something of a boom currently in around the world racing, with six new pro-am events set to bring the ultimate sailing feat within affordable reach. Elaine Bunting investigates
Have you ever dreamed of sailing in an around the world race, passing Cape Horn or surfing down the face of a breaking wave deep in the Southern Ocean? In your imagination you’ve pictured yourself standing behind the wheel of a yacht racing under a spinnaker tight as a snare drum, hosed by spray and wearing a rictus grin of fear and exhilaration.
In real life? No chance. But now, maybe you could, even if only for that one, giant-slaying leg.
From 2022 a clutch of new round the world events are set to start that open up big ocean racing possibilities at costs that align with private yacht ownership. There are double-handed races, solo races, non-stop and stopping, through the Tropics and deep into the Southern Ocean.
Some mix professionals with experienced amateurs and offer a chance to race against the pros, or hire pros to race alongside you. Several are specifically tailored to older yachts and in the process are remaking a ready market for well-found evergreen cruiser-racers.
Compared to pinnacle races such as the Vendée Globe or the Ocean Race, each with a ticket price of €10-15 million to reach the podium, a variety of epic events are now taking off with very different entry costs.
Golden Globe goes again
Next year will see the second edition of the Golden Globe Race. The ‘retro’ solo event set up by Australian sailor and adventurer Don McIntyre may initially have been seen as a one-off celebration of the 50th anniversary of the famous 1968/69 race, but it proved to be a hit worldwide, earning a mass audience and producing a queue of sailors wishing to take part and experience around the world racing.
With a home in Les Sables d’Olonne, where this race alternates with the Vendée Globe, the Golden Globe is now set up to be a perennial of the racing calendar. While it is not an event aspired to by elite professionals, it is a raw and relatively affordable around the world race for the everyman sailor.
Being slow by nature of its eligible pre-1988 long keel designs, the GGR replicates the exact ‘lonely race for madmen’ experience that initially ignited our enduring fascination for around the world racing.
Stripped of modern technology, from autopilots to communications to weather routing, and with no stops, it is comparatively inexpensive. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s winning yacht in 2019 was a Rustler 36, of which secondhand models change hands for around £80-100,000. “You can’t win the race with money, as boats and equipment are restricted,” says Don McIntyre.
There is already a strong line-up for the 2022 race. “The [next] edition is going to have a different feel,” says McIntyre. “Those entering this one know what to expect and there are three distinct groups: the ones who are passionate about winning, others with a wholesome attitude focussed on doing as well as they can, and a third group who just want to get round.
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“PRB will come back with Damien Guillou, an IMOCA skipper and seven times Figaro racer, with a fully funded campaign – the PRB boss went looking for a skipper. Then we have Graham Dalton [Grant Dalton’s brother and former Around Alone competitor]. He has bought Matmut, Van Den Heede’s old boat, and will spend months working it up.”
Finnish sailor Tapio Lehtinen is returning, and Indian sailor Abhilash Tomy, capsized and dismasted in the Southern Ocean, is also rumoured to want to come back.
Undoubtedly the most experienced sailor will be the enigmatic David Scott Cowper, whose multiple solo circumnavigations and polar expeditions in small boats over 40 years is the stuff of legend.
Some pundits are still sniffy about the GGR, its slow boats and proportion of older skippers. Others point to the lack of technology increasing the risks of this race, which had a 27% finish rate last time with five dismastings and four abandonments out of a fleet of 18.
The race is not endorsed by a national sailing federation or subject to World Sailing safety requirements. However, it’s hard to make a watertight argument about safety considering the historic retirement rate of the Vendée Globe.
Of all the races set to go round the world in the next two years, the Ocean Globe Race in 2023 is causing the biggest stir. The largest of the retro races imagined by Don McIntyre in terms of boat size and likely fleet numbers, the OGR has caught light in the imaginations of sailors of all backgrounds, from boat owners to professionals, and others who see potential to make this the ultimate ‘pay-to-play’ experience.
The OGR unashamedly places its heritage in the Whitbread Round the World Races of the 1970s and 1980s, when amateurs and professionals raced together, cruiser-racers could win, and before niche specialisms replaced all-round seamanship.
McIntyre argues that it also stands against the inbuilt obsolesce of modern races by giving new life to older boats, in this case chiefly pre-1988 glassfibre production yachts of 47-68ft.
The route is a simple one that mirrors the Whitbread Races over four legs, stopping in South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, before rounding Cape Horn and back to Europe.
McIntyre says: “We are nearly full with a maximum of 35 boats already. We knew it would be big.”
There are several classes: the Adventure class for listed yachts such as the S&S-designed Swan 47, 48 and Frers Swan 55, 46, 51 and 53, for which entries have already closed.
There is also the Sayula class for 56-66ft yachts, with a range of Swans plus the Nicholson 55 eligible; and the Flyer class, which can include any yacht of any length that entered in the 1973-81 Whitbreads or historically significant sail training yachts.
A further Classic Challenge is for approved Maxis from the 1985 Whitbread and Whitbread/Volvo 60s.
The Adventure, Sayula and Flyer classes share the ‘back to basics’ concept of the Golden Globe Race (although with a weird rule that modern equipment such as GPS, chartplotters, AIS and PLBs are all behind a locked screen that “two people on board sworn to secrecy can look to check this equipment and use it for MOB situations,” says McIntyre).
On the other hand the Classic Challenge in Whitbread/VO60s allows the technology of its era and will possibly sail a different course. Now-classic Whitbread yachts such L’Esprit d’équipe/ Export 33, Maiden, ADC Accutrac and King’s Legend are already entered.
Some are setting out to take part in a race they always wanted to do. “Dominique Dubois, who owns the Multiplast yard, went and bought a Swan 651 and is getting 25 of his friends together with a chef on board,” says McIntyre. “Some of the big names, front line F1 sailors, want to sail with him.”
Another who is looking at entering is Andrew Pindar, long-time sponsor of round the world yachts and Vendée sailors. He has two eligible VO60s, the former Assa Abloy and News Corp, both from 2000. “This is about reusing and repurposing boats in a world [away from] an arms race, and for people to go back to celebrating what’s been achieved in half a century. It’s wonderful,” he says.
“I’d love to go back to that era of sailors who have ended up in coaching roles but who have at least one more race left in them, people like Brad Jackson or Guillermo Altadill, 50-55-year-olds who are amazing sailors, and team them up with people who have a great competence but who didn’t choose that path and maybe went on to become accountants or lawyers. They would never get a place on an Ocean Race or an Ultime, and wouldn’t want to do it in a Class 40.”
Pindar can foresee a strong class of VO60s raced on a “high level pro-am basis”, with paying crew coming from people buying a “life experience”. Or, perhaps “a bunch of legends and the other half mentees from something like the Magenta Project [a programme to accelerate women into pro racing].”
That mix of private owner and their friends, and of professional sailors and paying crew, could make the OGR enduringly popular. Andy Schell, who is planning to race his Swan 59, Icebear, with three other professionals and seven paying crew, says the places he can offer have already been snapped up at US$32,000-$40,000 per leg and $100,000 for all four legs.
Around in miniature
A third race being planned by Don McIntyre in 2024 is a new event called the Mini Globe. This is a race for 19ft one-design plywood kit yachts round the world from northern Europe via the Canary Islands, Panama, Marquesas, Tahiti, Tonga, Indonesia, Mauritius, Cape Town and Cape Verde.
The concept echoes the somewhat cultish microyacht voyagers who have followed John Guzzwell’s circumnavigation in the 21ft wooden yawl Trekka in the 1950s and Shane Acton’s circumnavigation in the 18ft Shrimpy in the 1970s.
This circumnavigation will be via the tropics, at latitudes above 40° and will take around 13-14 months. The schedule is based on a pursuit format, with each start date set only after 15% of the racers finish the previous leg.
A build package is available either as a kit, or you can buy the plywood, plans and CNC files separately. A builders’ pack with hardware is also available from Plastimo and one-design mast packages from Sparcraft and Seldén. The budget to be ready for the transocean races planned for the class, the Globe 5.80 Transat and Mini Globe Race, is around €45-50,000, including all the safety gear.
McIntyre is about to launch hull No 1, Trekka II, for himself. “It is being built in Poland and I will be doing the first event for this class [the Globe 5.80 Transat from Portugal to the Caribbean November 2021] and testing the one-design sails,” he says. He reports interest from an extraordinary 135 builders in 26 countries.
An affordable challenge?
Another twist on the ‘accessible and affordable’ recipe is a new non-stop round the world pursuit race launched by Italian solo sailor Marco Nannini. The Global Solo Challenge will have a rolling series of starts over eight weeks between September and October 2023.
Nannini began his solo racing in a Sigma 36 in the 2009 OSTAR and went on to race in a Class 40 in Josh Hall’s Global Ocean Race in 2011/12. He says that experience was hard, and he wanted to turn away from “a format that you either have the fastest boat or there was nothing on earth you could do to win – it was like cycling on bikes with two different size wheels.
“I never wanted to do that again; it was a horrible feeling that you were part of a race… but not.”
His race is open to approved yachts of between 33-55ft with a maximum IRC rating of 1.25, “so it effectively cuts out the very latest Class 40s”. Nannini says his race, with a pursuit-style format, will instead feel like “the tortoise and the hare, David and Goliath. This is very easy for the public to understand: first to arrive wins.”
Nannini already has a number of experienced entries with eligible yachts, and the line up has a feel similar to entries in the Golden Globe Race or OSTAR.
For serious racers, the staggered start format makes this something of a curiosity, as does a dispensation to allow engine use within 500 miles of the finish line. The Global Solo Challenge is perhaps best viewed in the organisers’ term, as a ‘fantastic personal adventure’ for those who really want to achieve the feat of a circumnavigation without stopping and with the comfort of some safety in numbers.
Around the world racing for the pro’s?
Chronologically, the first of the six races to set off will be the Globe 40, a double-handed round the world race for Class 40s, which is scheduled to start in June 2022.
This is one of two new events hoping to attract professional racers and provided a possible pathway to the Vendée Globe.
The Globe 40 is run by French company Sirius Events and headed up by Manfred Ramspacher, who was in charge of the Tour de France à la Voile for eight years, has twice run the Transat Jacques Vabre, also organised the Ultimes’ Brest Atlantique Race and set up one of the leading Class 40 events, the Normandy Channel Race.
Since the box rule Class 40 designs launched in 2005, some 163 have been built, around 50 of which are actively being raced in Europe. Despite the pandemic, a surprising 15 new boats were launched last year, and more are in the pipeline.
However, despite being vastly cheaper for professional sailors than the IMOCA 60s, the Class 40 is far from a budget boat. The design is now on its fifth iteration and a new build costs around €750,000.
Ramspacher has set the rules to allow co-skippers to be changed at each port and, unlike the rival Race Around (see below) it jinks north after the Cape of Good Hope to go through Mauritius and French Polynesia.
“These boats are 12m and you need a minimum of length to be safe in the big waves of the Southern Ocean,” says Ramspacher. “But the Globe 40 will not be an easy race. Some of the legs are 7,000 miles and the race is 30,000 miles.”
So far, French legend Kito de Pavant has expressed interest in racing, US sailor Brian Harris is on board, as is and Dutch sailor Ysbrand Endt.
Another circumnavigation for Class 40s is planned to start in September 2023, The Race Around. This one will go through the Southern Ocean, with both solo and double-handed divisions. A multi-stage event beginning in France it will stop in Cape Town and New Zealand, round Cape Horn to stop in Rio, before returning to Europe.
Organisers Sam Holliday and Hugh Piggin have long links with the Class 40 association and have signed an agreement to provide its official round the world race. The event is also being validated by the Fédération Française de Voile, which would make it the only race of this group to have national body endorsement.
Uniquely, the race is working with the Futures Program to research materials that reduce carbon emissions.
Organisers plan to build a race yacht fully out of recyclable fibres, and will form a mixed gender Futures Ocean Racing Team to compete then go full circle by recycling the boat at the end of the event.
An upwelling of demand
Despite so many new races coming onto the market over the next few years, all of the above have entries and, more importantly, include unsponsored or otherwise self-funded sailors who already have yachts.
Their existence is evidence of an upwelling in demand, with the bell curve fattened by middle-aged or retirement-aged sailors eager not to miss their chance. If anything, the pandemic has sharpened that urge.
These races rely heavily on owner participants rather than sponsors, a formula that the ARC rallies, for example, have also proven to be robustly sustainable, regardless of economic climate. There seems to be no shortage, decade after decade, of private sailors with an unquenchable appetite – and the means – for a challenge.
Risk, however, is another matter and some professionals have raised concerns about the possibility of serious problems and rescues in the Southern Ocean that could threaten regulation for well-established events. The greater the number of yachts racing deep sea, the greater the likelihood of multiple failures and problems. This boom being played out over such a short timespan raises legitimate concerns.
That said, sailing commentators can be quick to misjudge the abilities of sailors they simply haven’t heard of, and usually underestimate the value of older sailors’ long-won experience. Most of these amateur or pro-am races are for well-proven, conservative designs, which may in itself be a risk mitigation.
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