Retro Whitbread coming our way

1 Jul
Alaska Eagle – my ride for the ’81/82 Whitbread Round the World Race


OK this one is personal to me as someone who participated in three Whitbread Round the World races back in the ’80’s. I had heard rumors of this happening and indeed had the idea myself a few years ago, so when I got a formal announcement this morning I was thrilled. My friend Don McIntyre, who founded the retro Golden Globe Race, has announce a retro Whitbread race set to depart from a northern European port in 2023. Details are, of course, quite sketchy but the idea has been thrown out there and let’s see who bites.  I personally think that it’s a great idea. Progress inevitably put the Volvo Ocean Race (now The Ocean Race) beyond the reach of most sailors. The budgets are sky high and the ability to sail one of those boats at the relentless pace needed to win is only in the realm of (young) professional sailors. The retro Whitbread will bring back the true spirit of the earlier around-the-world races and at a much more affordable price.
The race will follow the traditional route with stops in South Africa, somewhere in Australasia and South America with the start and finish in Northern Europe. Race organizers are inviting potential stopover ports to put in bids to host the event. Entries will be limited to ‘approved’ fiberglass production yachts designed prior to 1988 from 47 feet to 66 feet segregated into two groups; The Adventure Class for yachts from 47 to 56 feet and the Sayula Class for yachts from 56 to 66 feet. Sayula of course being the name of the yacht skippered by the Mexican sailor Ramon Carlin that won the first Whitbread Race back in 1973. This new race, named the Ocean Globe Race will take place on the 50th anniversary of that historic win.
Sailing aboard Drum in the ’85/86 Whitbread race
Just like the 2018 Golden Globe Race this new fully-crewed challenge will be equally retro, sailing similar well proven yachts to those entered in the first Whitbread and with technology limited to what was available back then. This means no high tech materials, no computers, no satellite systems (including phones and GPS) and definitely no mobile phones. Navigation will be limited to sextant plots on paper charts, communications will be via single-sideband and VHF radios and music will be played on cassette tapes (if you are able to find those antique relics). Don McIntyre reckons that you will be able to buy an old Swan, refit it, take on some paying crew to help defray costs, and after you sell the boat once the race is over you are in for as little as $150-$200K, a fairly reasonable number given the high cost of offshore racing these days.
I like this idea for a number of reasons. There is still a yearning for pure adventure and I constantly meet sailors who tell me that they would have loved to do a Whitbread or an early Volvo Ocean Race but now it’s simply out of their reach. Too much money and the boats are too much of a challenge to be sailed by an average sailor. The early Whitbread races were a thrill to be a part of. True adventure. We were at sea for five to six weeks at a stretch with only weekly communications via single-sideband radio. Folks back home had little clue where we were and that was part of the fun. We would show up in the next stopover unshaven, unwashed and  as happy as one could be. There were some great sailors that participated. Peter Blake, Eric Tabarly, the great Connie van Rietschoten who won the race twice, Skip Novak, Grant Dalton to name just a few. This race will provide the opportunity for a new generation of sailors/adventurers to leave their mark on the world of offshore ocean racing. The only thing about this notice is that it made me realized how bloody old I have suddenly become. I still feel like that scruffy, adrenalin seeking kid when in reality I am a paunchy old dude with grey hair prone to sea sickness…:)
Me – in white shirt – at the start of the ’89 Whitbread aboard the Soviet entry Fazisi

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Ken Miller

    Richard Spindler once said, “Why don’t they organize races people want to sail?” I love that I’ve lived long enough to see a retro Whitbread appear! This race as well as the Worrell 1000 captivated me as a high school sailor sanding down my Flying Dutchman. I’ll tune in!

  2. Mike Tatham

    Hey Brian, As one “paunchy old dude with grey hair” to another I cant wait for this thing to take off as it surely will! having done the Clipper 15/16 race I too have dreamed of doing the Volvo but have know that that is an impossibility. And I have a unique selling point to be part of anyone’s crew, I have a box of around 300 cassette tapes from that era!!

  3. Don McIntyre

    Thanks Brian..yes it is bringing the fun back to Ocean Adventure Racing and just a comment to those worried about safety and electronics…you can watch the intro 8 minute video on the website and you will see we have all the gear..GPS, chart plotter, Ais and all linked to man overboard systems etc..but with a simple alarmed cover. Two people onboard called the MOB MEN (not the navigator), open and check it any time and do not tell anyone…if there is a man over board all crew have the works…etc ..we have worlds best practice safety and survival gear this space…..all the best :) .. Don

  4. BW

    And Adventure was the Royal Navy Nicholson 55 yacht that sailed twice in the Whitbread race, which was was run originally by the Royal Naval Sailing Association! Nice tie in I am sure you will agree ?
    As for fully crewed I think this a big ask and perhaps issues over Duty of Care. 😏 Chay Blyth tried to run a similar event in mid 2000’s and its didn’t take off, but good luck.

  5. Scott Wilbur

    Incredible that modern electronics are banned. Seems very unwise, as they are an aid to navigation. This should be reconsidered IMHO

  6. David Walsh

    I like the idea with exception of the electronics rules. At a minimum There should be appropriate emergency only capabilities. IMHO

  7. Mike Lahrkamp

    I like the idea too. Mostly. Especially in making it accessible to more sailors from a budgetary viewpoint. I’m not into the argument about limiting electronics. Can’t see why we would send someone to the moon today using the same tech from ’69. Medical emergencies, broken boats and other life threatening emergencies may happen that require assistance. If the availability for something exists, like modern AIS MOB, then I’d be happier knowing that the overboard crew has a good chance of rescue as opposed to living by some over romanticized notions about adventure. I’d expect there’d be lots of adventure with the boat as it is without adding ancient less reliable electronics to the mix. Hey… will the crews have to dress like we did in the ’80s as well?

  8. Michael Thomson

    I’m really looking forward to this race Brian! I think it’s great for our sport.
    Cheers, Mike

  9. Ted Daniels

    Hey, you can’t be that old as you can still remember being young – unlike myself who can’t remember my own birthday, let alone my wife’s.

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