On Dec. 12, the results for the coveted sailing award, Ocean Racer of the Year, were announced. The contest, run by The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), recognizes sailors from around Australia who are sailing icons or pursue the sport just for the love of it. Darryl Hodgkinson snagged this year’s top honor for the period of July 2011-July 2012.
The award heralds the approach of one of the biggest competitions in the sailing calendar: the Sydney to Hobart race starting on Dec. 26. Yet Sydney To Hobart is just one of the world’s greatest yachting events pitting man against the whims of wind and current.
Here are five extreme ocean races.
Sydney To Hobart
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, also hosted by the CYCA, kicks off in Sydney on Dec. 26 and finishes at Constitution Dock in Hobart, Tasmania. The race, which spans some 630 nautical miles, is said to be one of the world’s most grueling. Founded in 1945, Sydney to Hobart draws maxi yachts of 70 ft. or more from around the globe. The race record was set in 2005 by the state-of-the-art 100 ft. maxi yacht Wild Oats XI that finished in 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds. According to Sydney to Hobart’s organizers, the race ranks in popularity with major events including the Melbourne Cup horse race, the Davis Cup tennis and the cricket tests between Australia and England. No annual yachting event anywhere excites more media coverage than the Sydney Harbour start, they claim.
Even by the radical standards of ocean racing, the Vendee Globe is intense. Entrants in the round-the-world, solo yacht race sail nonstop and unaided. It takes a lot just to handle the solitude, which Forbes described as “mind-numbing.” The lonely ultra-long-distance event was launched in 1989 as the brainchild of a French former deep sea diver, Philippe Jeantot. Jeantot had competed in the BOC Challenge (now the Velux 5 Oceans Race, which we will discuss later) in 1982 and 1986. Despite winning both times, he was unsatisfied by the BOC because of its stop-start nature. So, Jeantot resolved to found a nonstop race that would pose an exceptional challenge. When his creation debuted in 1989, part-time artist Titouan Lamazou won, leaving Jeantot trailing in fourth place. The next edition of the Vendee Globe happened in 1992 and has since run every four years, leaving from a western France seaside town called Les Sables-d’Olonne, which also serves as the finish. The key hurdles that Vendee Globe entrants face are primal: insane winds and monster waves powering across the Great Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica.
Volvo Ocean Race
Touted as the world’s premier offshore race, the Volvo Ocean Race is a round-the-world yacht event staged every three years. The route for the race varies, but it usually kicks off from Europe in October. It consists of about 10 legs supplemented with in-port races at stopover cities. Many Volvo Ocean Race entrants may feel that they need a disaster-proof vessel because “racing singlehanded across 30,000 miles of ocean, tortured by sleep deprivation, battered by treacherous seas and raging winds makes up the Ultimate Solo Challenge”, the organizers say. And those aren’t the only challenges. “The disgusting food, the lack of sleep and the bad smells only added to the exhaustion and hunger,” said participant Diego Fructuoso. Yet he is ready to do the race all over again.
Velux 5 Oceans Race
The Velux 5 Oceans Race has been described as the world’s longest and toughest ocean race. The original four-leg version of the Velux, the BOC Challenge, kicked off in the autumn of 1982 when the leading yacht belonging to French sailor Jacques de Roux capsized and started sinking on leg three. De Roux bailed out his boat continuously for 59 hours before Brit Richard Broadhead saved him. The modern renamed version of the Challenge consists of five solo “sprints” across five oceans in a Formula 1 racing yacht. Each sprint measures between 4,000 and 8,000 nautical miles. Just financing and preparing a boat that can compete is hard, the organizers say, but “the real battle commences once the starting gun has been fired. Now the real work begins – in biting cold, baking heat, storms, metre-high waves and whatever else the oceans can throw at them, combined with physical and mental exhaustion from many months of being at sea.”
Global Ocean Race
Like the Velux 5 Oceans Race, the Global Ocean Race has its roots several decades back. One day in 1986, race director Josh Hall was on Rhode Island, watching the launch of another, now defunct around-the-world race, the BOC Challenge. Hall was stationed in the harbor, helping entrants who needed assistance with everything from running electrical wires to grocery shopping. “I was in awe of what these sailors were about to undertake and was seduced by the spirit of adventure and camaraderie that lay heavily on the pontoons,” Hall says. In the wake of the Challenge, he saw the entry price to around-the-world races soar into the mega-millions. The 30,000-mile round-the-world race that Hall founded in response was designed to be more affordable and flexible. You can enter single-handed, double-handed or “fully crewed” – in a four-man team. The next Global Ocean Race will kick off in September 2014, starting and finishing in Europe. Stay tuned for full details after the New Year.