After last week’s Inport Race, we are now there. The boats are “warming up their engines” and crews are preparing to set sail from Alicante, for a first leg that will see them make it all the way to Cape Town. Click here to find everything you need to know about the new edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
A regatta that, with all its technological evolution, still remains one of the greatest challenges a sailor can face. We look back on forty years of great challenges in oceans around the world!
FORTY YEARS OF GREAT CHALLENGES
Seventeen boats participate in the first Whitbread: there is also the legendary Eric Tabarly with his Pen Duick VI. Three Italian boats at the start: Giorgio Falck’s Guia, Doi Malingri’s CS&RB and Eric Pascoli’s Tauranga. Mexican Ramon Carlin aboard the Swan 65 Sayula, with a crew of family and relatives, wins.
The 1977/78 Whitbread enshrines Dutch industrialist Cornelis Van Rietschoten who wins aboard the ketch Flyer. His secret? An approach that we could already call professional, with long periods devoted to testing the boat’s performance and training sessions for the crew. The only Italian boat to take part in this round-the-world race is B&B Italia, captained by Corrado Di Majo: at 24, he is the youngest skipper in the history of the race. B&B closes in ninth place.
In 81/82 It was Van Rietschoten again who dominated Flyer II: he is still the only one to have won two world tours. As many as five Italian crews: Giorgio Falck’s Rolly Go, Roberto Vianello’s Ilgagomma, Doi Malingri’s Save Venice, Beppe Panada’s Viva Napoli and Claudio Stampi’s Laboratorio.
Whitbread begins to change: those who want to win show up with ultratuned boats. The era of legendary navigators is ending to make way for the era of regatta sailors. Lionel Pean on L’Esprit L’Equipe wins. No Italian crew is participating in this edition.
Twenty-three boats at the start, including 15 maxis. There is no more room for older hulls now. Giorgio Falck returns with Gatorade (which placed eighth). But eyes are on one such Peter Blake, who aboard the ketch Steinlager II won all six legs of the regatta triumphing ahead of another New Zealander who will make a career, Grant Dalton.
The sixth Whitbread event comes with a novelty: a new class governed by the box rule, the Wor 60, is introduced alongside the maxis. There is an Italian boat, Brooksfield, skippered by Guido Maisto, which will finish sixth among the Wor 60s despite a serious rudder failure. Also aboard was Mauro Pelaschier, who will leave the team in Fremantle due to disagreements with the crew. This is the last Italian experience at the world tour. Yamaha wins, among maxi triumphs New Zealand Endeavour.
The latest Whitbread-branded edition has ten boats at the start: this is the first time a comparison of very similar boats, all being Wor 60s. Rankings are drawn up by virtue of placings in each of the nine stages and no longer on the basis of compensated time. Triumphing is the Swedish crew of EF Language captained by “mustache” Paul Cayard.
In 2001/02 the race became Volvo Ocean Race, with the Swedish automaker joining as a sponsor. Eight teams are at the start, new and unprecedented stages (such as Gothenburg and Kiel) are introduced to go along with Volvo’s market strategies. Much damage is reported, and in the end the German crew of Illbruck Challenge, skippered by John Kostecki, manages to come out on top. The crowds of people welcoming crews in Gothenburg and Germany were not even seen in the America’s Cup.
2005-06 Seven boats, 10 stages: and the appearance of the new Volvo Open 70s, two meters longer and one ton lighter. Holland dominates, winning with Mike Sanderson’s Abn Amro I (Sebastien Josse’s twin ABN Amro II finishes fourth), the brainchild of Juan Kouyoumdjian.
2008-09 The 2008/09 edition has eight Volvo 70s at the start: the differences between the boats are minimal. After 10 legs, with stopovers in India, Singapore and China, the Swedes of Ericsson 4, skippered by Torben Grael, won ahead of the Americans of Puma Ocean Racing captained by Ken Read and the Spaniards of Telefonica.
The last edition run so far is the scene of many, too many breakdowns and dismastings involving the six participating teams (an all-time low) from the very first leg, from Alicante to Cape Town. What’s more, to ward off pirate danger, during the second leg the boats are escorted to a secret port (later discovered to be Malé, in the Maldives) and from there transported by ship to within a few miles of Abu Dhabi, just for the final sprint. In the end, the French Groupama 4 with Franck Cammas won the day.