The Ultimate Solo Challenge
On October 17th 2010, twelve wind, solar and electric powered racing machines known as ECO 60s will thunder off the Atlantic coast of France into the Bay of Biscay. This will mark the start of the VELUX 5 Oceans single handed round the world race. With a crew of just one person, Spirit of Canada, along with the rest of the ECO 60 fleet will race a 5 legged sprint around the planet. The course traverses some of the roughest waters on earth and is in fact known as the “ultimate sporting challenge”, the ultimate race for both skippers and partners. Starting in La Rochelle Leg 1 will end in Cape Town. Leg 2 will start of few weeks later and take the racers into the Southern Ocean to the port of Wellington then off again into the Southern Ocean where at mid point of this leg the closest person will actually be in space, this leg finishes in Salvador de Bahia. Leg 4 will take the sailors across the doldrums and into the North Atlantic once again to arrive in Charleston. The last sprint, after 8 months of racing the competitors will finish in La Rochelle, France completing the 32,500nm mile race.
The VELUX 5 Oceans is the oldest single-handed round the world yacht race. Run every 4 years since 1982, the race is the longest and toughest event for any individual in any sport. Single-handed around the world’s oceans in thoroughbred racing yachts represents the ultimate odyssey. The ultimate in human endeavour, only 90 people have so far finished the challenge.
History of the Race
THE BOC CHALLENGE 1982
- Raced over four legs; Newport – Cape Town – Sydney – Rio de Janeiro – Newport
- Two classes of boat were entered: Class 1, 45-56 feet; and Class 2, 32-44 feet
- Based on David White’s original concept, the inaugural BOC Challenge got away at the end of August 1982 with a fleet of 17 boats racing via South Africa, the Southern Ocean and beyond.
- They were a rag-tag bunch, but among them one entry stood out, an unknown Frenchman by the name of Phillippe Jeantot. He arrived with a purpose-built 56 foot sloop named Credit Agricole, and went on to win all four legs of the race with an overall elapsed time of just over 159 days. Class 2 was won by a Zen Buddhist cab driver from Tokyo by the name of Yukoh Tada. As expected the race had its dramatic moments, with two rescues.
The BOC CHALLENGE 1986-87
- Raced over four legs; Newport – Cape Town – Sydney – Rio de Janeiro – Newport. Two Classes of boat were entered: Class 1: from 50-60ft and Class 2: 40-50ft
- New safety rules were introduced for this race, including compulsory watertight bulkheads and a simple stability check.
- The second BOC Challenge built on the success of the first with 25 sailors setting out from Newport, and 11 new boats were specifically designed and built for the race. Philippe Jeantot found himself up against some stiff competition.
- South African John Martin won the first leg with Titouan Lamazou took Leg 2. It was only the consistent performance by Jeantot that finally led him to his second victory, clipping almost 25 days off his previous time. American Mike Plant won class 2 finishing in 157 days.
The BOC Challenge 1990-91
- The course was changed for this edition, although it was still divided into four legs: Newport – Cape Town – Sydney – Punta del Este – Newport
- Three Classes of boat were entered: Class 1, form 50-60ft; Class 2: 40-50ft
- By now the radical Open Class designs had become even more extreme, with beamy, water-ballasted carbon fiber boats carrying massive sail plans.
- Jeantot’s more conservative design was no match against that of his fellow countrymen Christophe Auguin sailing Groupe Sceta, and Alain Gautier aboard Generali Concorde. Auguin and Gauthier took first and second places respectively leaving Jeantot a distant third. Class 2 was won by yet another French sailor, Yves Dupasquier, who won all four legs.
Around Alone 1994-95
- The course was again changed for this edition, although it was still divided into four legs: Charleston – Cape Town – Sydney – Punta del Este – Charleston
- Two Classes of boats were entered: Class 1; from 50-60ft and Class 2, 40-50ft
- The 4th race firmly established it’s place on the racing calendar, with stopover ports vying to host the fleet. Race organizers chose to begin and end the race in Charleston. France’s Isabelle Autissier sailed a flawless first leg arriving in Cape Town a full six days ahead of second place finisher Steve Pettengill.
Unfortunately the tenacious Autissier was dismasted on Leg 2 forcing a stop at windswept Kerguelen Island in the Southern Ocean. A jury rig mast was erected and Autissier set off in pursuit only to be rolled and dismasted a second time. She finally abandoned her boat and was rescued by the Australian navy. With Autissier out Auguin took his second win. Australian Dave Adams won Class 2.
The Around Alone 1998-99
- The course was again changed for this edition, although it was still divided into four legs: Charleston – Cape Town – Auckland – Punta del Este – Charleston
- Two Classes of boat were entered: Class 1, from 50-60ft; and Class 2 from 40- 50ft
- The famous Italian racer, Giovanni Soldini arrived with sponsorship from Fila and a brand new Open 60. Soldini dramatically rescued Isabelle Autissier from her upturned yacht in the Southern Ocean. British sailor Mike Golding was leading the race approaching the halfway stage but ran aground off the North Cape of New Zealand.
The field was then wide open for the Italian Soldini to take victory. With a high attrition rate in Class 1 the real attention was on Class 2 where JP Mouligne, Mike Garside and Brad Van Liew battled among themselves before Mouligne finally won.
The Around Alone 2002/03
- The course again was changed, this time spanning five legs: New York – Brixham – Cape Town – Tauranga – Salvador de Bahia – Newport.
- Although the race technically started and ended in Newport, it was preceded by a ‘prologue race’, in which the boats with crews of up to five raced to New York, to take part in Sail for America, a major event marking the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The main Around Alone event started from New York and finished in Newport.
- Three classes of boat were entered: Class 1, IMOCA OPEN 60; Class 2, IMOCA OPEN 50; Class 3 Open 40
- The 6th Race proved yet another hard fought, dramatic race with Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm winning Class 1 and America Brad van Liew taking Class 2.
- Emma Richards became the youngest competitor ever to finish the race. Derek Hatfield, in the Open 40 Spirit of Canada suffered a dramatic dismasting around Cape Horn and continued to finish the race, some weeks after the leaders. It is now 25 years since that inaugural race; from humble beginnings it has grown to become a major international yacht race with a coveted place in the offshore racing calendar and a bright future.
The VELUX 5 OCEANS 2006/07
The course changed with only 3 legs and two stopovers. Bilbao – Fremantle – Charleston – Bilbao. This edition brought VELUX onboard as a new title sponsor for the race.
- The race started with a huge low pressure system sending some of the fleet to shore for repairs to the boats before setting out again towards Fremantle
- The Open 40 class was not allowed for this running of the race as the organizers sought to tighten up the racing and shorten the length of the stopovers
- 1 Open 50 and 6 Open 60s showed up for the start of the race
- Just after turning the corner off South Africa and in the Southern Ocean sailor Alex Thompson experienced a problem with his keel – it threatened to break off, he abandoned ship with racer Mike Golding turning around and sailing upwind to his rescue. After a successful rescue Mike, with Alex now aboard turned the boat around and continued racing to Fremantle. Bad luck struck again shortly after the rescue and Mike’s boat Ecover dismasted. Disappointed he motored to Cape Town, his race was over.
- Bernard Stamm sailed a flawless race winning each leg and taking his second overall title in the event.
The History of Solo Sailing
Sailing a yacht single-handed is not for the feint hearted. Circumnavigating the world single-handed has been achieved by a unique group of only 162 people since Canadian Joshua Slocum in 1895. More people have climbed Mount Everest or gone into space than have completed a single-handed race around the world.
Racing single-handed is an altogether different game, to which only 146 individuals can stake their claim. Many have tried this extreme level of sport, competition and adventure – and many more have failed, ending in retirement, dismasting, keel failure and occasional tragedy. Like mountaineering, solo yachting takes on the full force of nature, but for the skippers being at one with the elements is all part of the challenge.
The sailors are a unique and special breed of person. Modern solo racing sailors are effectively doing the job of a crew of 12. They have to act 24/7, month after month, as skipper, navigator, tactician, sail trimmer. Plus they are constantly changing sails, doing onboard DIY in the finest solo sense, transmitting reports and pictures for race management and sponsors, receiving weather reports and occasionally eating and sleeping in 20 minutes periods. Long spells of sleep are impossible with technology advancements the boats are becoming faster and faster requiring the skippers to be on constant vigilance for other ships, icebergs or competitors.
Single-handed global yacht racing owes it’s start to people like Sir Frances Chichester, Sir Alec Rose, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, John Ridgway and Sir Clay Blyth.
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